A public advertisement in Madrid against domestic violence — “Give a red card to the abuser.”
One of the most interesting realizations I had during Guiseppe’s amazing workshop about the Museo Travesti del Peru (see Dec 1 post) was that I experience much less harassment in Madrid that in DC. This came during our discussion of places of both pleasure and violence – when Giuseppe challenged us not just to identify places where others experience violence and pleasure, but to identify places where we personally had felt pleasure and/or faced violence. As I considered where I had experienced violence, whether physical or otherwise, in Madrid, and compared it to DC, I realized that I had had very few moments of sexual or gender harassment since being in Spain. In DC, I get cat-called or homophobic/transphobic harassment almost everyday, often several times a day. A far cry from the very few moments of such harassment that I’ve had in Madrid.
Ironically, Guiseppe’s framing of the question hits on an issue I’ve thought a lot about and talked through with some friends. Most of my friends are girls, whether trans or not. Moving through public space, those of us who are trans often experience the same sexual advances of men in the street and other space as my non-trans female friends, as well as, for some of us, transphobic and homophobic harassment. Both these types of verbal violence can sometimes lead to physical violence, no matter who is targeted.
Having lived in my neighborhood for about ten years now, I know the block that I avoid because the guys there incessantly subject me to harassment on the basis of being trans – singing “Chi-chi man,” calling out “That’s a dude!” or whatever else. I also know the blocks where I can be sure to get at least one “Hey mami” or “You lookin real good.” For me, at the end of the day, I vastly prefer the latter. When I’m feeling down or rough, sometimes it can feel like a (dysfunctional though it may be) compliment and affirmation of my womanhood. And even on the shittiest of days, at least it’s not guys singing about dousing me in gasoline and lighting me on fire.
Some of my trans female friends actively seek and enjoy (at least on the surface) the same sexual advances in public that many of my non-trans female friends can’t stand. Depending on the day, my mood, the person, and other factors, I may feel one way or the other. And while I feel it’s wrong for a friend to yell at a guy sexually harassing her “Woman don’t want that!” I also don’t think it’s right for another female friend, while enjoying being hit on, to give the impression that all women enjoy it. There must be a way to recognize the role that sexual harassment plays in maintaining patriarchy and sexism, while also affirming that not every single woman finds it violating – and that those who feel that way are not guilty of not being “conscious” enough.
Obviously an important aspect of any system of oppression is division – pitting different oppressed folks, and those experiencing the same form of oppression, against each other. White supremist patriarchy, or patriarchal white supremacy, demands that we choose whether sexism or racism is the worse form of oppression. Heterosexism demands that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals argue about who has it worse. So it’s only natural for sexual harassment, as a tool of sexism, to divide women. And where it intersects with transphobia, to further cause divisions. To beat it then, we need to understand each others’ experiences, acknowledge them as simultaneously real rather than mutually exclusive, and figure out the best ways to respond to it. That’s easier said than done, though.