CW: Public attention from creepy dudes.
Most of my transition blog posts have been either general observations about an aspect of transitioning, or specific discussions of experiences I've had. This is... half way between the two. I'm going to describe it as if it was a specific, distinct event, but what I'll be doing is fictionalising something which has happened to me in some variation a small handful of times in the past year.
But first, for context I need to mention three things: I have a very mid-range voice. It's not very deep - so much so that during my pre-transition years I trained myself to lower my voice, out of fear I wouldn't seem "manly" enough (the irony of which once I accepted being trans hit me like a freight train). However, my voice isn't very high-pitched, either. So for a woman, my voice is... a little deep. Not enough that I wanted to do vocal 'training' to sound more like some person's idea of what a cis woman sounds like (in reality, cis women have hugely varied voices - many deeper and more resonant than mine - who knew?), but enough that I occasionally get self-conscious about my own voice.
Then there's my body.
I look feminine. A little tall, and "more tits than arse", but I have a fair degree of cis-passing privilege. This is, to be clear, a very good thing - at least from a personal safety standpoint. I get gendered correctly and rarely suffer much transphobia from strangers.
One final note before I begin the story: this is not something 100% unique to trans women. It's a little different, but very similar to stories I've heard my cis friends tell. Thing is (and this may surprise you if you're a cis dude) the core of this story is something that happens with enough uncomfortable frequency, in some form, that it's unlikely to be a thing your female friends will have told you about unless the subject came up. It can become not so much 'normal' as an occurrence that gets at least partly forgotten fairly quickly after it's over. It doesn't happen to everyone, either, but sometimes you're just unlucky and incidents like it happens a few times in a week.
You're walking down the street, minding your own business. You're not late for something, but still trying to walk with purpose. You look forwards and, if you ran into a friend, you'd probably get told you had a solid "don't fuck with me" or "resting bitch face" going on. One you've practiced, consciously or not, for a long time.
Then you hear his voice. "Hey, baby."
At first, you keep walking and hope he's talking to someone else. But no. He calls out again, "Hey, you with the [insert identifying characteristic here]!"
You keep walking, but out of the corner of your eye you can see him approach, and even if you're kinda used to it, your heart probably picks up a bit.
He walks up beside you. "Hey stop, I just want to talk."
You ignore him. You say nothing.
He is in your peripheral vision, walking along side you while trying to make eye contact. You refuse to do so.
Then his line of questioning gets more intense.
"Hey, stop walking, I just wanted to say you look cute," he might say. Or perhaps he thinks he's Not Being Creepy, and his line might be, "You look really interesting". Or even neg you. "You're kinda hot for a chubby chick." A back-handed compliment intended to make you even more off-balance.
You begin to walk a little faster.
"Hey, what's the matter? Slow down, babe."
Or, if you have headphones in (yes, this even happens with headphones in), "Hey, stop your music for just a sec - I wanna say something."
You think about where you're going. Without visibly reacting too much, you try to take stock of where you are. How close are you to your destination? Is the destination somewhere you'll instantly be safe? A friend's place? Is it one you MAY be safe, if he decides not to pursue you into earshot of others? A bar? A supermarket? Or is it somewhere he might just stay and talk to you, like a nearly-empty train platform you'll be waiting on for five minutes or so?
He repeats himself, this time sounding a bit more intense.
Then, finally, he escalates. He reaches out to put a hand on your shoulder.
This is where the story diverges a bit, if you're trans. Or, more specifically, if you're me. I know trans people who, when they hear this story, fully agree. Others less so. But either way, here's the thing:
The "you" in this story didn't respond. Didn't tell him to go away. To leave you alone. To fuck off. (Though, for the reference, saying this is like responding politely to a spam email - it rarely does more than qualify as engagement, and a reason to continue talking at you.)
"You" didn't respond... because once it's clear he isn't going to leave you alone, you worry what his response will be if he begins to suspect you're trans. He won't be hitting on you then. Will he scream the T word in your face and leave? Worse? What if, in this variation of the story, his friends are across the street, watching with amusement as this unfolds?
Or what if he's already clocked you're trans, and he's just fucking with you, waiting for a chance to say something abusive?
These things are all going through your head, and the whole time your heart is racing faster and you're asking yourself: will things be better or worse if I talk? What if I'm polite? What if I'm terse? What if I'm rude?
If you're very lucky, you never get to find out. After what seems like an eternity he'll say, "Fuck you bitch, I just wanted to talk!" or maybe "Fuckin' bitch! I just gave you a fuckin' compliment!"
Or maybe not. Maybe you'll be walking down the stairs onto a station platform with this guy following you.
But that stress - "Do I talk or not?" is made so much more intense when you fear, however irrationally, that somehow just talking, even a few words, will give you away.
For many of us, even if we haven't been misgendered or clocked as trans based on our voice for years, this kind of thing sticks with us. We are literally silenced by our own fears.
This event I'm describing? It doesn't "need" to happen often. Once or twice to this extent is enough. Enough that when you hear that initial, "Hey, baby" or similar being called from behind you, across the street, or from some dude standing half in your way with a sleazy grin on his face, your heart picks up and you pre-emptively begin to go over all the things I mentioned - where you are, where you're going, if he's alone...
These incidents make even otherwise-comfortable situations suddenly nerves-inducing at best, scary at worst. Once I heard someone calling out at me and approaching from behind, and I all but panicked before realising it was a friend who was running up in excitement to say hi.
When you ask for advice from other women, the most common response is... "you get used to it."
They're talking about the first part of the experience, of course, not the trans-specific fears that go with it, but that doesn't make it any better. I doubt it's much less scary and gross and uncomfortable for cis women than it is for me. This is something which we tell ourselves to just suck up and take. To get used to.
There's no training to deal with this, cis or not. Nor should there have to be. The practical part of my brain thinks that some useful tips of the psychology of dealing with Creepy Dudes Who Think You're Fuckable would be a useful thing for someone to write. But the idealistic part of me would rather, instead, that men are taught to respect personal space.
It'd be a huge shift, though. Trust me, I know - I spent my teen years feeling deeply uncomfortable as I was pressured to be assertive. Be strong. Be sexually forward. Mocked for the slightest "non-masculine" behaviour at a shitty public school. I've seen the social environment put that means certain boys grow up to be That Guy Who Won't Take No. I was there, and now I'm seeing the effects. I reckon I could even tell you, retrospectively and with reasonable accuracy, which of the dudes I grew up around have done this to other women - and genuinely thought they weren't doing anything creepy or wrong.
Because before anyone calls out, "Not All Men", no SHIT not all men. But it doesn't take ALL men. Just that one dude, out of literally thousands you pass every day in a major city like mine, is enough. That one incident happens, and it may not happen again for months, years - or even never - but you begin to look for it. It affects how you walk. How you behave in public. Where you choose to walk.
It feeds into other parts of your life, too.
You may wake up, like me this morning, having just had this precise incident play out in a dream, leaving you unsettled right from the beginning of your day.
When I go out for coffee today, I'm going to be thinking about that. Paying just a little more attention than usual to who I can see on the street and what his body language says, despite the fact that in all probability I will be ignored entirely by everyone but those I directly address.
Those small handful of creeps? Their behaviour has fucked up my Monday, a full few months after the last of them tried to "hit on me" in public.