I Might Have a Nice Ass, But You’re Still an Asshole.

This is an article I wrote for Hollaback Philly, a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment. They’ve posted it on their blog, which I really hope you go and check out. Hollaback is in many other cities as well.

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I distinctly remember walking down the sidewalk with my friends at the age of thirteen, getting honks and lewd comments hurled at us. I repeat: WE WERE THIRTEEN. Imagining ourselves cool and grownup, we would give offending drivers the finger and gleefully yell “Perv!” as loud as we could. After the shock of the first time or two, I considered it old hat in the nonchalant way that kids who don’t know better have. Maybe it had happened to me earlier even than thirteen, because I developed very early — but if it did, it was too traumatizing for me to not block out of my memory.

I’m in my early thirties now, and not much in the way of street harassment has changed. I’ve heard everything from “Nice ass,” and “Show me your tits,” to the relatively milder “You’re looking good today,” and “Hey baby.” I’ve heard it all, and I don’t care what the words are, I hate them all. I no longer have the blase attitude of laughing and yelling back, because no matter what I do, I’ll be called a bitch, or maybe worse. I hate that I have to fear speaking up, fear threats of violent confrontation, fear for my safety for the grave crime of being a woman in public. “What, I give you a compliment and you don’t even look at me? Bitch.” “You act like I’m not here? Bitch.” “I was being nice. Bitch.” Bitch. Bitch. Bitch.

Street harassment is not about compliments. It’s certainly not about being nice. It’s about intimidation and dehumanization, about objectification and making the recipient feel powerless and scared while the perpetrator feels powerful and aggressive. It’s about keeping its targets firmly in a place of submission and fear, and perpetrators (in my personal experience, they have invariably been men, of all races) in a place of power.

I’m a survivor of abuse. It happened early and often up through my early to mid 20’s, and I’ve spent years coming to terms with it and learning that healing is a journey, not a destination. For me, part of being a survivor and not a victim, part of continually healing, is speaking up — of ensuring that through my words and actions that neither I nor others are silent victims ever again. But even this is a journey, not a destination. It’s exhausting at times, terrifying, daunting; but also exhilarating, empowering, and deeply fulfilling.

Street harassment almost always catches you unaware. I am usually biking, concentrating on navigating Philly traffic and deep in my own thoughts. “Nice ass,” along with a jeering face staring back at me from a car as they drive ahead of me, violently tears me out of the present and can take me all the way back to my abuse — despite the years of therapeutic work I’ve done for myself. It doesn’t matter whether a flashback lasts for seconds, minutes, hours — or even if I’d never been abused at all, and there was nothing to which to flash back. Street harassment makes my heart pound, makes my stomach churn, and it makes me absolutely seeing-red livid. It doesn’t matter whether I’m wearing a potato sack or a ball gown, or even, as in the case of Philly Naked Bike Ride, nothing at all. You have no right to talk to me like that. Harassment is illegal in the workplace, at school, at home — pretty much anywhere that’s indoors. So why is it that when we’re outside, it’s like the Wild West? It’s violent, it’s wrong, and it needs to stop.

I am deeply passionate about fighting injustice with my words, which, paired with my intelligence, are the mightiest weapons I possess. I use words to reclaim myself, to reclaim my body and my soul. I write romance, and I write erotica, and I love that I am able to make a living at it. I write other genres too, and plan to eventually publish those as well. I love my queer sexuality, and I love that I am free inside myself to be able to claim it without shame or self-reprisal. I love that I can use words and verbal images in any way I like to reclaim my soul from my broken past, and to create my own future.

Despite what the children’s chant says, words can hurt you — but it fails to mention that they can also heal you. That’s why the growing Hollaback movement is so damn brilliant. It fights words with words, voices with voices, and shows the silent ones that it’s okay to speak up, that they are not alone. It empowers the victimized and gives them a constructive outlet for their fear and rage. Hollaback is a brilliant concept, one that I hope will soon create positive change in policies, laws, and cultures.

Not all words are created equal, and we all know it. You have a voice. Use it for positive change.

A Death in the Family

I don’t have much in the way of family. My mom passed away unexpectedly four years ago this month. I’ve been estranged from my father since I was 14, and my younger sister for a number of years now.

I had helped Snicky’s mother give birth to him on June 30, 1999, and kept him warm inside my shirt when he was a tiny newborn kitten as his littermates were born. There were eight in all, with one stillborn.

When my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2009, I took Snicky in. He was a beautiful Maine Coon-Persian mix. He was so scared, and he clung to me; I cooed to him, telling him it was all right and don’t worry. I don’t think he ever forgot that… he was devoted to me for the rest of his life.

Snicky was originally her cat, and one of the most loving, affectionate cats I’ve ever met. Snicky loved people, and loved to talk — very opinionated, in fact. He was quite dog-like in a way; he would always greet me at the door, and would hang out with me and my guests if anyone came over. He would jump up into strangers’ laps, and charmed everyone he met, even self-proclaimed cat haters. He invariably followed me around the house and always wanted to be where I was. He was a charismatic people person, for sure.

If I was doing a sewing project, or any kind of interesting unusual thing, he would sit right next to me, watching and supervising. I used to say he was my project manager. He spent a lot of time shoving himself between my lap and my keyboard, insisting on blocking my view and making it hard to type.

He liked to knock over the kitchen trash if there was anything interesting in there (he loved raw chicken and beef, and would go crazy any time he heard the pop of the vacuum-sealed containers. I’d give him the empty ones and he’d lick up the juices.

I had trained him to jump up on laps, and he loved to sit in my lap — especially when I was busy doing something like knitting or computering.

He used to be an outdoor cat when he was my mom’s, but when I took him in after her death he was exclusively indoors. He would sit in the window and stare at the birds. Pigeons were particularly daring, sitting right on the window sill while he made those anxious little hunting cat clicks and whirrs, flicking his tail. He was a great mouser, as well. When he was outdoors, my mom had said he would bring home 4-5 mice a week. In my apartment, he caught at least two that I know of, though it was probably more.

He loved to sleep in bed with me, and often he would curl up in my arm, just like a teddy bear. Many times I’d wake up to find him there. Sometimes he’d sleep on my chest, or if I were on my side, drape himself over my waist. He liked being picked up and cuddled, and had a bit of a ragdoll temperament. He was a huge purrball, and he loved to purr, often and loudly. When he was really happy, he’d give me little kisses (gentle licks with the soft tip of his tongue). He liked to “monorail” my arm; he’d lie along the length of my arm, his warm belly pressed against my forearm.

Snicky had kidney disease and some upper respiratory problems due to the slight flattening of his face, putting pressure on his sinuses. It’s a common thing with Persians, although he didn’t have one of those super-squished faces. He was very sick towards the end, and antibiotics weren’t helping. I was going to take him to the vet today, but when I went to get him, I found him dead.

He was the only family I had, and now he’s gone. I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore, and he knew he was loved, and loved unconditionally in return.

I love you, Snicky. I hope you’re with Mama now.

Snicky, 30 June 1999 – 30 April 2013

My not-so-helpful helper
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