“The greatest reward of this constant interrogation [of how one should live within a black body- and in my case, a black women body], of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and girded me against the sheer terror of disembodiment.” – Ta- Neishi Coates, Between the World and Me
Last night a man followed me.
He was, before even getting on the train, obnoxious and scary. He took up too much space and seemed to revel in it. He perched himself on the stairwell and howled like a dog. Shouting the words that poured through his headphones, he rocked back and forth, and uncomfortably close to the ending of the subway cliff. Feet nearly toppling over it, he danced around and atop the thick yellow line that separated him from life and possible death if a train came speeding by. He smelled of liquor, and this footwork, the shuffling to and fro the edge, did not seem to end just there, but his entire demeanor alluded that he was dancing on the edge of something else; his sanity, alcohol intake, life?
Finally, the train pulls up and we all load onto the already packed train. Needing a moment to regroup from the heaviness of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, I glanced up and accidentally locked eyes with the man. Instead of immediately looking away, I let the glance linger, for just a few seconds, searching for the humanity I know was there. His attitude was arrant, but inside that black body I know there was humanity.
I know many would read into my actions as the catalyst for inviting undesirable interactions with men. Honestly, I know most men invite themselves to my body regardless, so I may as well continue this necessary quest. This search is crucial to keep my own humanity in tact. Constantly being inundated with messages of black sub-humanness, it’s easy to slip into believing. After having an adolescent full of experiences, that without a nuanced and critical examination of history, circumstances, and policy, could possibly confirm these ideas, I make it my business to actively fight against the loss of belief in my people within myself. I need to look into the eyes of my people. We need to see each other, even the one’s walking on the brink. We looked at each for a three seconds at most, and in there, somewhere, I longed to find a glint of something beyond everyone’s surface level perceptions.
Instead, I found pools of attraction. Great, now he’s going to try to talk to me.
The next stop was mines and as everyone barreled off, I glanced back to make sure he stayed. He did for a moment, but upon seeing me exit, headed towards the door. I hoped I was wrong, and instead, he had realized at the last moment that this was also his stop. I began walking towards the stairway, and noticed that he holding back on navigating until he saw where I went. It was obvious now that he was following me. I turned around and asked him why he was following me. Before he could answer, I told him to stop. I climbed up the second set of stairs and looked beside me to see him standing to my left, asking me my name. I told him that I didn’t want to share my name.
At this point we were street level, and I have redirected my path, because I don’t really want him to know where I’m going. He was restless, still attempting to get my name and ask me out. I told him I don’t have to tell him nor do I want to go anywhere, and say sorry. Fuck! Why did I apologize I think to myself, I’m not the one following anybody. He’s getting agitated that I keep saying no, and he’s obviously really drunk, and the alcohol smell is even stronger than before now that we’re at closer together. I walk across the street and he’s followed me, insisting on at least taking me out to coffee. I repeat that I have no desire of going out with him or giving him my name or continuing this conversation, and that I have somewhere to be so he needs to stop following me. I speak firmly, but without too much edge, because this man, who has gotten off at the wrong stop, followed me out of the train and across the street in the cold, is clearly not stable. After my minor soliloquy, I say “thank you,” and afterwards, I once again mentally kick myself for offering that.
And I stood outside the subway on that cold New York night, waiting until I felt like it was “safe,” to go back in. Waiting at least until I felt a Iesser chance of being thrown onto the subway tracks (such as a transwoman who was thrown off the tracks last year, or the several women who have pushed into train tracks because they were thought to be Muslim) or being killed like Maren Sanchez, a 16 year girl who was killed because she said no to a peer’s invitation to prom, or Janese Talton-Jackson, who was murdered last week because she refused to give her number to a man who kept asking for it, and the list goes on. Fortunately for me, this happened at a really populous train station/ area of town, which may have deferred the man from causing bodily harm. Or maybe my polite thank you’s and sorry’s softened my definite no, or maybe he just was stable “enough,” to not think that hurting me was the best option.
Either way, the reality is that this body I inherit is not a safe one.
And I got back on the train, still afraid, looking around for the guy, and crying tears on anger, at and on my reality. Knowing that my body is not my own, and that no matter how I alter and adorn, or how many pole classes I take and teach, that it will never be fully “my own,” and what to do with this reality that has been etched into my skin. That doesn’t mean I give up the fight though.
I shall end with a link to Las Hijas de Violencia; an all women Mexican punk band who fires guns of confetti and sings punk music about sexual assault to guys who harass them on the street.