It isn’t you. But it’s not me, either. You saw the way I stiffened when you sat down, didn’t you?
You saw me flinch.
And now you think it’s because I think I’m too good for you. Or that I think I deserve a seat to myself. Or that I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. You think it’s about your race or the way you dress or any of the other things society has left you expecting insults for.
It’s not. It’s not you. I want you to know it’s not.
It’s because you’re a man. In my space.
It’s because other men on the bus have leaned into my space and whispered in my ear, put their hands on me, threatened me. Done things that, if done by people I knew, would have constituted abuse.
It was abuse.
I have been propositioned, followed, and felt up. Once, I had to call the police. Officers came and questioned the guy at a bus stop while I was able to get on another bus–away from him. He had approached me at the stop when I pulled out my laptop, and when he started talking to me about “playing with me tonight,” I told him I was sorry, but I really needed to get my work done. He jutted his chin over my laptop screen and started screaming at me. Even when I got up and walked away, the verbal assault continued.
I don’t go to that stop anymore. I don’t take shifts at libraries in that neighborhood.
But I still have to ride the bus.
Maybe you’re not a stalker. Maybe you’ve never raped a woman. Maybe you’re the kind of man who waits to be sure the woman wants sex, the kind of man who listens and waits for that hungry yes. Maybe you’re even the kind of man who knows that one in two women have experienced some form of sexual violence, mostly from men they knew and trusted, so you understand how much more frightening strangers can seem–men who have nothing to lose from assaulting me. Maybe you only sat beside me as a last resort because all the other seats are full, and I looked like the safest option.
I get it.
But I want you to understand that my first priority is to keep myself safe. To keep my personal history of three sexual assaults from turning into four. Simply sitting next to someone on the bus may not seem threatening to you, but it can scare the fuck out of me. If you’re aggressive. If you get an attitude about my disinterest in chitchat. If you persist in talking to me after I’ve disengaged.
Because I’ve learned that’s how it always starts. And I don’t know you, so I have no reason to trust you.
That’s why it’s got nothing to do with you. And nothing to do with me, because I did everything I could to avoid those assaults. But they still happened. And now I’m living life after trauma, and public spaces look very different for me than they do for you.
Maybe you want to show me you’re a good guy. You just want to be neighborly. But if you know about trauma, you know that anything similar to the original event can fire off some serious PTSD. And being cornered into a conversation I’m too scared to have can remind me of other times I was cornered, other times men have forced me to do things that turned my stomach and made me hate myself.
So next time you sit next to a woman on the bus and you feel like giving her lip about her pissy attitude, remember this post. Remember that in all likelihood, she isn’t pissy–she’s just scared. And trying desperately to hide it. She’s waiting for you to pressure her into an interaction she isn’t ready to have. She’s waiting for proof that you’re just another one of the bad guys.
Prove us wrong. Be one of the good guys. Leave us alone and tell other men who harass us to leave us alone, too. It will make the world seem a little safer, and it will sure as hell go a long ways towards helping us begin to heal.