Before my transition, when I was presenting as male, I could walk down the street or take the train late at night relatively free of fear. No one turned their heads as I walked pass or undressed me with their eyes. No one made unwanted or unreciprocated advances. No one followed me home. Unless they were homophobic and read me as gay, I usually walked through the world free of the fear of harassment.
Now, 3+ years years into my transition, I am almost always read as a woman. I have a lot of passing privilege and a lot of pretty girl privilege. And I’m certainly not complaining about that. I love the way I look, the way I present myself today and I know that it is only because of my relative class privilege that I was able to transition early and have access to the health insurance necessary to transition safely and effectively. Not to mention the fact that my family didn’t disown me or kick me out of my home, which is a HUGE blessing. I don’t know where I would be today if that weren’t the case. I have been very, very, lucky.
What I am complaining about, and what frustrates me to no end, is the fact that now that I am read as a woman, I’m getting harassed nearly everyday! I can’t tell you how many times someone has assaulted me with their eyes or made unwanted advances all with the unspoken assumption that I MUST reciprocate, validate and want that attention. I cannot enumerate for you all the occasions in which some cis, straight, man (both white and brown) has harassed me in public. Obviously, some are worse then others (I’ve only been followed home once but being stared down happens almost everyday) but they all contribute my general sense of dis-ease and wariness when I’m out and about. What, then, is the under lying cause of this?
It is because brown women’s bodies are considered public property.
The reason for this is because we exist in a racist, sexist and cissexist society that places ownership on, and strips agency from, anything that is not white, male, cisgender, straight, able-bodied etc. From the exotification of Black and Brown women in the media (you know, the Foxy Brown Lady who constantly oozes sex and wants to sleep with EVERY white guy) to the majority of sex workers being Black and Brown, it’s clear that our bodies are free-game to whomever wants a grab.
If you are a brown transwoman, then you are doubly fetishized not only as “exotic” but also as “freaky” or “strange” or that you are not truly a woman, so that the man that you have to sleep with will get “best of both worlds”. On top of that, if a white person is dating a brown woman then he has “jungle fever” and will eventually leave her for a civilized, marriable white woman.
And we must never forget the long, brutal, history of white slaveowners raping their black slaves. The long brutal history of white conquistadors abducting and raping Native women. All of them thinking that this was the right and proper order in “God’s” world because brown people are inferior and white people must manifest destiny.
This is not a thing of the past, either. This system that is alive and well today strips us of our agency and appropriates our sexuality as it’s own. In the minds of most white men, especially in a subconscious level if they haven’t interrogated their own privilege, our sexual agency and freedom of choice is in their hands and they call the shots. And to deny them results in retaliation and physical/sexual assault. This all might have gone underground but it still manifests in subtle, insidious ways.
And while the sex-positivity movement and the sex worker rights movement has done a lot to challenge this and articulate the need for consent, most of these primarily white movements have failed to incorporate the effect of white supremacy into their power analysis. Many women of color can’t find power in the world slut, for example, because of what racism as wrought on their bodies. Claiming the identity of slut will put us in greater danger because we are sluts by default and our sexualities are not our own. Much of the sex worker activism is done by white, hotel- or home-based sex workers who are, in many ways, free of harassment and are able to take only the clients that they want. Little is done to reach out to poor, street-based sex workers of color, both transgender and cisgender, or to represent and advocate for their needs and concerns.
How, then, do we interrupt, interrogate, and begin to dismantle this system of power? The first thing is to shed light on to this unspoken problem. We start by talking about it, with each other. We share our stories with one another for solidarity and healing. We share our stories so that we know that we are not alone and we can begin to organize. And by organizing, we can start to manifest a world in which EVERYONE can walk through this world free from harassment.
I would invite all of my brown sisters of any gender to share their stories in the comments, if they so choose. I would also encourage everyone to watch the video below and visit Meet Us On The Street to find out how to get involved in International Anti-Street Harassment Week.