This started as an audio recording I made after being sexually harassed on the street in Tacoma, Washington in March of this year. It is representative of all of my experiences of sexual harassment over the years, starting right here in Portland when I was 13 and followed by a junkie (but that’s a story for another time). I wasn’t ready to share this story then but I found the forgotten recording today and have decided to join the “Me Too” movement. This is almost an exact transcript so please forgive the grammar.
It started out as a compliment on my outfit. “Damn girl! You got a great outfit! Look at that!” I smiled shyly, receiving the compliment and thinking to myself for the briefest moment, that that’s all it was, a compliment on my outfit. Nothing about my body, just about my clothes. Even the way he said it was fine. It seemed genuine.
But then as I passed him, he kept talking… and as he kept talking, he started propositioning me. I didn’t have to hear every word he said to understand his intent. I think he said something about going back to his place. The last words I remember him saying were about how sexy I was too.
Suddenly, I felt very different. I even felt myself readjusting my walk, my gait, in case the way my hips moved was too feminine, too attractive, too sexy, that he might say something again before I got to my car. As I got to my car, I looked ahead and saw he was still wandering back and forth on the street where I had passed him. Part of me thought, “I need to drive the other direction, I don’t want any chance of him looking at me. Of any kind of encounter.” I worried he might walk up to my car, tap on the window, and try to start again. Then another thought crossed my mind, a darker thought, “I could go the way that he was, I could go back down that road and hit him with my car.” But I quickly dismissed that as too violent. I turned on my GPS, I thanked the Lord (that I don’t believe in) for rerouting me the opposite direction of the man I had passed on the street.
No, he did not touch me. But his words caressed my arm. His words whispered in my ear, uninvited, even though he was standing several feet from me. That sliminess that can only be felt from interactions like these is becoming all too familiar. I’ve felt it in every city I’ve ever been in, in every town. Sometimes it comes out and speaks and every once in awhile it just crosses my mind and its there lurking. I’m always optimistic about humanity and I think, “No, this won’t happen to me here, not here! No, it will be a compliment he’ll say! It will end with a compliment, a really nice compliment that doesn’t have anything to do with my sexual appeal.” But oh so many times I am wrong whether it is words or noises.
When I was in Prague, I was cat-called by a man who called me beautiful (one of the few Czech words I knew at the time), as I walked home with my groceries. But I had picked the wrong alleyway! Just like I did today. I had picked the wrong alleyway. I had miscalculated the chances of me walking two blocks (in both cases) to get to my destination without running into someone who felt the need to tell me just how they felt about my body in that moment. It is always uninvited and covered in slime.