This is What We Mean
[madmaryholiday asked me to repost this in a rebloggable form, so here it is.]
Since it happens—-literally and without hyperbole or sarcasm or any of the other facetious verbal tics I use to deal with serious issues in a way that doesn’t make me want to claw off my own face—every time I leave my house without a companion and most of the times I leave my house without a male companion (I need everyone reading this to think about that for a minute…every time. I am subjected to unwanted, threatening, possessive, insinuating, etc male attention every time I am outside. Every. Time.) it’s actually incredibly difficult to recall every individual instance, even the bad ones. It’s sort of like asking a combat veteran about every time someone shot at them.
But I’ve been thinking about this question for a few days and I think maybe I have a few interesting ones.
There was the time I was 16 years old and riding the Greyhound bus to Seattle to see my long term committed boyfriend at the time, who was 22 and was routinely abusing me in his own capacity (but that’s a different kind of story, and then again the same), and a middle aged man sat down in the empty seat next to me, trapping me against the bus window, and spent the next hour staring fixedly at me, telling me about how he had gotten out of prison that day, how he liked my waist-length, copper ringlet hair, and the nice outfit and makeup I had put on for my 22 year old boyfriend, who had insisted earlier that day via IM that I make myself look “fuckable” (his word) when I came to visit him that weekend.
And when I turned to look out the window, smiling as gently as I could, smiling to keep this man sitting next to me from feeling like maybe I wasn’t being nice enough, like maybe he would have to do something more than just talk at me to make sure I was paying attention, I turned to face the window and the setting sun got in my eyes and I knew even before he said it that I would not be able to keep him from seeing they were green, that I was “a green-eyed redhead”, fitting neatly into a premade slot for women and girls who can check off certain clusters of traits and become a “type” rather than a person—I was a green-eyed redhead.
Of course he noticed, consuming the sun in the bowls of my irises the same way he was consuming the scent of my conditioner, the pretty colors of my nailpolish, the lipstick I was wearing for my abusive boyfriend. ”Green eyes,” he murmured, wondering, as if at a waterfall or a doe who hadn’t seen him yet, walking in front of his gun. Like this man had been sent to bookend me into the window seat until I got to my other male guardian—like he was walking me down the aisle of I-5, my honorable escort to ensure I passed from one custodian to another.
With my red hair and green eyes and ghost skin and doll face I was “fiery” and “exotic” but in a completely white, accessible, rich, European way. Like a unicorn, though my hair color was fake, never looked anything but fake, but these men don’t care. The symbolism of the Type is there and that’s enough. It’s as good a reason as any to massacre your hair color into livid teals and bruised purples and anemic grey-greens—colors they don’t have words for and for which there are no slots. It’s a good reason to pierce your face, to wear loud lipstick and no concealer, to shave your eyebrows, to tattoo your neck and arms. Poisonous frogs wear the same colors for the same reasons.
There was the time, just a few months ago, where a clubgoer (this is a night club, where I work as a gogo dancer—it is important to note for the purposes of assholes who will demand to know, to make judgments, that a gogo dancer is disctinct from an exotic dancer or stripper.) tipped me three single dollar bills and told me I was a wonderful dancer, and stared at me—leered actually, there’s a difference—for a full three hours. He approached my dance platform three times that night. The first time to tip me. The second time to scratch one finger down my fishnetted knee uninvited (I was crouching, checking my phone, drinking water, powdering my sweat down) and ask me out to dinner.
"Because," he said, "I can tell [not ‘you seem’, but, ‘i can tell’—this is meaningful] that you’re a really nice person.”
"No," I said. "And I’m not." I laughed a bitch laugh. The sneering, joyless laugh from gorgeous Disney villainesses, where you toss your hair and settle your handgun’s gaping muzzle at Bond, legs wide and locked, one hand on your hip. Men hate it. It will shut down most of them, drive them away, because men like that are babies, easily moved by cartoon gestures and female disapproval. The creep test, the stalker test, the drunk-enough-to-be-dangerous test, it’s when you exert outright aggression and disdain, and they keep coming. That’s when you find your baton, your taser, your mace—and if you are living anywhere but a nanny state, your ladylike little black snub .22 caliber—and you make sure it has clearance to come sliding out of your pocket or purse. Because they aren’t listening to you, and they aren’t afraid of your ridicule, which means they’re prepared to see you in pragmatic terms: just a smaller, softer, physical body. Someone easily subdued with a rohypnol or an arm bar. It means they’ve probably had practice, that they may have done this before, that they are prepared to overcome "obstacles", that your "no" is nothing more than a "bitch shield"—not anything having to do with your intelligence or agency, you see. Simply another object to assert authority over.
I walked away, knowing I’d be dealing with his shit for the rest of the night. Later that same night, an acquaintance who was also a masseuse was rubbing my shoulders while I sat on a bar chair. The guy comes up and, just pat as can be, lifts his hand to my throat and slithers his fingers over my neck. I freeze, having to make a decision about what to do in the middle of a crowded nightclub with a physical assault that no one saw. I did nothing, except glare at him. The woman kept rubbing my shoulders, oblivious that she just kept me from attacking a man. I wasn’t about to drag her into a melee.
I left. On the way out I told the bouncers what had happened and that if the shitbag followed me, to tell him I had my baton and was expecting him. All they said was, “Oh, Ramsey? Yeah, we hate that guy.” That was all.
I was almost on the onramp before I changed my mind and turned around. I drove back to the club, and I raised hell. I strode back into the club, and found him. I called him out in front of the bouncers. I told him if I ever saw him touching any woman in the club without written consent in triplicate, I would make shit real for him. I gestured with my baton. I got in his face. Then I turned my back on him (showing him I felt no fear and no respect for his horseshit) and walked out to the sidewalk and found the managers. My whole body shook, I yelled, I pointed. I told the bouncers, I told the owners, I told every person in any position of authority I could, positive that at a countercultural club of all places, there would be a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy in place, at least to protect employees. Ramsey stood across the street and leered at me the entire time. I pointed to him standing there. They sent a bouncer to walk me to my car.
The next week, he was back. Though he kept his distance from me, I watched him every chance I got, coiling up to stop him from shitting on someone else’s night.
Then the next week.
Weeks of emails between me and the club management. I had to threaten to quit in order to get them to do anything. Ramsey was banned from the club for exactly one month. He’s back.
When it happened, which was back when I still had Facebook, I posted about it there, hoping to warn other women who go to the same club. The comments I got were incredible. Everyone knew who he was, everyone had similar stories of him assaulting women in clubs with zero consequences. He was embroiled in a murder investigation. He was a drug dealer. Many women wrote me privately to tell me he had been strongly suspected of dosing drinks, and that he was almost certainly already a date rapist. One of my friends from Seattle, who had moved to SF recently, told me she didn’t go to clubs at all anymore because he was always there. From the bouncers at my club, I heard that Ramsey is friends with members of the SFPD and so no one ever fucked with him because the Liquor Board gestapo in SF can shut you down for literally nothing.
This is what we mean when we say Patriarchy. The vast support structure of both official and unofficial networks that enable rapists and abusers is in full force even at a goth club. Reporting my harassment was a waste of my time, because blockades had been erected before I even arrived that ensure that club owners have no earthly reason to make it difficult for male attendees to assault women.
His full name, by the way, is Ramsey Abouhemeh. In case any future potential employers or girlfriends are wondering.
Or in case I disappear.