Two Weeks of (Gasp) Sidewalk Sanctuary

I hadn’t intended to publish this piece right now. By now you can tell by now I don’t publish things in chronological order (I just posted about Caribana which was in August). Instead, I listen to the pieces. I let them tell me when they need to be released. I drafted this piece in August, and have been revisiting it ever since.  However, due to recent events and conversations I’ve been privy to I know that this is the time to post this, despite my still working this.  Additionally, once I return from upstate New York, I will be organizing some type of coniscousness raising, brainstorming/vigil/ rage session for the murder of Mary “Unique” Spears (who had 3 kids), was gunned down on the street because she refused to give her number to some man. Five other members of her family were also shot. This can’t happen without some type of conversation. If it ends up just being me and one other person voicing our frustration or simply crying in a room that’s fine. But this issue of sidewalk violence has been more potent in my life than ever and I need some, any type, of communal experience. I’ve participated in a number of conferences, organizations and have similar facilitated events. However, I haven’t even organized my own. If you have any type of advice or suggestions that would be great.

I spent two weeks walking the streets  of Toronto feeling surprisingly safe. (As “safe” as any person of color can feel on the streets). I haven’t felt this safe since my time in South Korea, (scratch through) actually I probably felt safer in Toronto because although I spent my time in Korea with only mild hints of racism thrown my way, I know that other people of color (particularly  men of color) have had far more traumatizing experiences while existing in South Korea. (Briefly google blackface in South Korea,  and will see examples from prime time television on air from the last few years continue to do it despite being told that it’s never okay under any circumstances.) Not to say the Canada is without fault, but the level of obvious racism in South Korea is surprising.

So, back to the topic at hand. I pranced around the city of Toronto for two weeks and was not cat-called once. Let me repeat that, I was not cat called, yelled at, followed or stared at uncomfortably for two weeks. It was unbelievable. I’m not sure if it was the area of town I was in, though I was pretty mobile traveling from West Dufferin to Queen & Jarvis and lots of places in between, and was treated like an actual human. It felt like an alternate universe. I kept my headphones for the sole purpose of enjoying my music, not to tune out unruly guys or pretend not hear all the ignorant shit that whizzes past me on a daily basis. I walked fast because I speed walk around New York, not to outwalk wondering hands grabbing at unattainable flesh, impervious to personal space. There were who men who tried to talk to me, but they actually approached like I was a whole person. Not just curves and hips and tips.

Though this was my experience, it’s not a universal one. A friend who lives in TO told me that this is not her usual experience, so maybe the universe wanted me to have a calm vacation for once. Or maybe I gave off that unfriendly, I’m not from around here, so don’t fuck with me vibe, perfected in the streets of NYC, but either way, it was surreal. I heard words follow me when I passed occasionally, but they were kind words (“oh, she’s pretty” or “I like her style”) spoken to another, without the expectation that they deserved a response, as opposed to  words treading on terror (“I would fuck the shit out of you” or “damn, bitch, you can’t say hello”).

These incidents are so terribly frightening because often they’re manifested into action. I’m a small women, standing at 5’00 and weighing in between 103-110 pounds at any given time. However, that does stop me from preparing to fight men. I generally don’t believe in harming another human, but sexual assault is an exception. I’ve been at parties and cussed out boys (after one stuck his hand through my hair to my scalp to see if my blue afro was weave), cornered them until I get an apology (after this guy positioned himself against me and began grinding, then offered my male friend an apology after motioning he was my boyfriend. I explained that he was apologizing to the wrong person and would not move until he looked me in my eyes and apologized for his transgressions) and even shoved this guy so hard he stumbled and nearly crashed to the ground (after he my breasts because he saw that my nipples are pierced, he tried to explain afterwards).

I am a fighter. It scares my mother, because she knows how volatile I become when disrespected in that way. She worries about me. I worry about me. My safety is at risk, but I refuse to back down. These situations involve men with no respect for me, so imaging the jump from grabbing me to striking me doesn’t take a lot.  As a survivor, this type of triggering behavior, that completely ignores my humanity, takes me to another realm of reality. A place I don’t want be.

Many sexual assault/domestic violence survivors demonstrate symptoms of PTSD similar to soldiers returning from combat. I do. Though it’s mild, and I’m healing through it, these moments of relief are transformative for me. The simple act of walking around a town for two weeks, escaping this shadowy realm in my mind, provided some healing for me. The men on TO unknowingly offered some quiet epiphanies, silent healing. I began to forget the route to this place, the map began to blur, the passage and middle ways to the place becoming faint. I returned to NYC and quickly remembered. I returned to NYC and continued the proactive healing that I’m committed to.

If you want to read more about Unique’s infuriating death: http://jezebel.com/woman-shot-and-killed-after-refusing-to-give-man-her-ph-1643634425

& others who are talking and thinking and finding ways to end this shit: http://www.forharriet.com/2014/10/why-we-cant-wait-ode-to-mary-spears.html

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