Archive for the 'Londonista' Category

Unsafe but undeterred

NS November 22nd, 2009

Last night, I marched through the streets of central London with 2,000 other women and dozens of police escorts, holding a sign that said “End violence against women.”

Last night, I used my voice to chant and shout about sexual violence, unsafe streets and women’s rights.

Last night, when I should have felt at my most powerful, most inspired and safest, I was sexually assaulted.

I had to stop typing there for a minute and make sure I’d written that right and that it wasn’t just a strange dream. But yes, I was sexually assaulted at a march protesting sexual assault. How’s that for irony?

As we came through Leicester Square, a man pushed his way abruptly past the barrier and with one swift movement of his outstretched arm, managed to push me backwards and roughly grab my breasts at the same time. I swung at him with my right hand but he’s already stormed past so I only made contact with the back of his shoulder before he disappeared out the other side and down a side street. My friend Jen and I looked at each other in disbelief and shock. I hadn’t seen him coming until he was centimetres away and before I noticed the arm coming at me, what I undeniably saw was a face riddled with disgust and anger.

He, along with the man who had spit towards us earlier, and the one who had stood on the side shouting “Boo! Boo!” with his thumbs and his mouth turned downwards, and the significant number of men I saw mocking us — laughing, rolling their eyes and grabbing their crotches — were obviously disturbed by our presence. Perhaps we were reminders of violence they had perpetrated themselves, or a catalyst for the potential violence bubbling within them, just beneath the surface, like a nearly-boiled kettle. Maybe they felt threatened by our numbers and our voices and our demands. Maybe they were scared.

But whatever the reasons for their animosity, they will never know what it’s like to be scared of being humiliated and violated, in public, by people who feel they have a right to our bodies, our smiles, our time and our compliance. They will never know what it’s like to trade stories, with friends of the harrassment, abuse, assault and violence nearly each and every one of us has experienced, some of us in many different ways. They will never understand that we call these ‘war stories’ because every day is a battle and we are tired of feeling like soldiers, fighting off an enemy that has the better, more powerful weapons. They will never experience life and humanity the way we experience life and humanity because their view is unobstructed. They stand on the shoulders and backs of so many people, so many women, to survey their kingdom and claim rights to us, its spoils, with indifference and greed.

They will never know how powerless and unsafe I felt, despite my outward calm, even there amongst thousands and with police all around me, simply because of my gender and for daring to speak out. They will never understand why my heart leapt into my mouth when I approached the bus stop later that night on my way home only to see five loud, drunken men and why I stood 20 feet away with one hand clutching my keys (pointy sides out) and the other holding my phone in my pocket.

But what I know is that I will never stop chanting, or shouting or marching. I will never stop hitting back when I am hit, or stop demanding when I am commanded. Because too many women are not able to. Too many women never get up again when they are knocked down. Too many are beaten and raped and intimidated into silence. For them, and for myself, I will march.

And if I am ever assaulted in the street, yet again, I won’t hesitate to chase that motherfucker down and have him arrested.

Transforming our views of transgender

NS November 20th, 2009

transgender remembrance

Do you ever read an article about a transgendered person (most likely about his or her death) and think nothing of the reporter’s use of quotation marks around “he” or “she?”

Have you ever stared openly at a woman on the bus wearing a skirt but sporting somewhat masculine hands, eager to determine ‘what’ she is?

Have you ever called a person whose gender you can’t readily identify according to the biological and social cues you’ve been conditioned to look for a “tranny” or “shim?”

Do you consider yourself a kind, compassionate, open-minded and progressive person?

If the answer to any or all of these is ‘Yes’, please stop. Stop and consider what your words and actions and prejudices mean and how they compromise not only your own ability to be truly accepting of who people are, but the very safety of those who identify as transgendered. As Ruth stated so eloquently, simply not hurling abuse at them yourself is not enough. We need to address transphobia when we see it happening before our very eyes or hear transphobic ‘jokes’ with our own ears, by our very own friends and family. Because 162 trans people being murdered in the last year is no joke. 162 people trying to go about their lives as who they are, murdered for skewing someone’s rigid view of Male and Female and daring to cross those lines, is not the mark of a progressive, open-minded society. It’s 162 too many and we can all do our part to remember those who have lost their lives to senseless hatred and endemic violence. Read this and this and this for more personal insights and information on what you can do to remember and honour them.

As for what I’m doing to remember and to fight…I’m marching through the streets of London tomorrow evening, demanding an end to violence against women and claiming our right to be safe in our city’s (and every city’s) streets. Even though I know the Reclaim The Night march is a contentious issue amongst feminist and trans groups and that many trans people have called for a boycott of the protest, I hope they will understand my reasons for going. I am going not because I don’t care about the need for more explicit inclusion (and not just vague tolerance) of trans women at events like these, but because it is my chance to make my voice heard and speak for ALL women who have experienced violence at the hands of misogynist and transphobic and homophobic people.

It may not mean much to anyone else, but it is very important to me that I publicly express my personal anger and discontent with the current state of affairs and I will not hesitate to ask my fellow marchers to pressure the London Feminists Network (with a petition perhaps?) to openly and actively include self-identified women on the literature and PR for next year’s march, and to halt any and all associations with feminists who deny transgendered existence or seek to minimise and ridicule it.

This is how I will remember and this is what I will do. I know it’s not enough and it’s probably not even adequate but it’s a start. I urge you to find your own way to start transforming your views and the views of those around you. It’s the least we can do for the 162 who aren’t able to.

Photo credit

Wordless Wednesday: Father and Daughter

Fresh off the boat

NS October 25th, 2009

richmond view

He walked up behind me at the bus stop, where I had just arrived moments earlier. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye and found nothing warranting closer inspection. Late 30s, dark suit, dark hair, briefcase in hand. Nothing more than a guy on his way to work, though it was well past rush hour and most businesspeople had already been in the office for an hour or so. I lifted the corners of my mouth in the almost-imperceptible ‘this is London and I don’t know you so I’m being a bit wary’ smile and turned back to looking for the bus, which was due any moment according to the electronic message board.

He took one step closer and asked, while gesturing towards the message board, “Do all of these buses go to Richmond station?”

“Yes, it’s only the 65 that goes past here and they all go to the station. Should be one here by now but that thing has said ‘bus due’ for a good five minutes now. You know how accurate these things are,” I said with a shrug and an subtle eyeroll, to indicate my disapproval of London’s public transport system, a required topic of conversation while waiting for a bus or train.

“I just got here yesterday so I’m not sure how this all works. How much does it cost?”

I explained about Oyster cards and cash fares and the benefits of travel cards and in the course of hearing his replies, recognised his accent as Australian. I asked him if he was over here on business or had actually moved over and he affirmed it was the latter. He’d been in Hong Kong for a year previously and was now being relocated here. His family would follow in December, once he’d gotten the house sorted and organised. He’d only arrived yesterday and this was his first attempt at navigating his way through a strange transport system in a strange land and he had no idea what he was doing.The hot water and heating weren’t working in his new house and he’d had the pleasure of a cold shower on his first morning. What a suitable introduction to Britain, I thought!

I told him not to worry, that I was an expat too, and that I’d been just where he was before. This seemed to really put him at ease and he started asking me questions about London. I answered them as best I could, trying to balance practical tips and insights with avoidance of information overload. I asked him where he would be working and helped him figure out the best route for getting there and advised him on which fare option would be cheapest. He said he hadn’t been on a bus or a train for so long that he wasn’t even sure how they worked anymore. Bless him. I remembered so vividly feeling the same way when I first arrived here, having no idea what I was doing or where I was going.

When the bus arrived I went ahead of him and showed him how to press his Oyster card against the reader. He looked up and then around him and asked me how he let the driver know when he wanted to get off. I laughed and said “Were you looking for a bit of string at the top to pull? That’s what I did as well,” and he sheepishly said he had. I showed him the red ‘Stop’ button and explained that you used the rear doors to exit only.

The bus was crowded so it was hard to chat much once we were on board, but I watched him out of the corner of my eye as we progressed along the road and the Thames came into sight on Richmond Hill. It’s a great view even on the greyest of days but with the cloudless blue sky, dazzling mid-morning sunshine and autumn leaves at their most glorious, it was truly spectacular. When I saw his eyes light up and his neck crane to take in more of the view as we flew down the road, I felt a sharp pang of wistful nostalgia hit me in the stomach. Oh, to be fresh off the boat again! To be on such an adventure, seeing everything in a new and wondrous (albeit slightly scary and confusing) light. To not know what is around the corner or what will happen next. To not be afraid to talk to strangers waiting for the bus or openly reveal that you don’t know where you’re going. To not be so accustomed to and weary of navigating London that you don’t stick your head out the window to see just a little bit more of the Thames before it’s gone again, or the historic cobblestone streets and centuries-old churches and pubs that make up the living, breathing fabric of this city.

Thank you, Aussie-guy-at-bus-stop, for making me remember what makes this place great and what makes the expat experience so exhilirating. For all its frustrations and sadnesses, living a life where there are always surprises and moments of childlike wonder is a gift, one that can be unwrapped over and over again.

Image credit: jochenWolters’ Flickr photostream, via a Creative Commons license

Babble, brought to you by the letter B

NS October 21st, 2009


Things are a little quiet here. I’m feeling a little quiet. Introspective, even. It’s no big surprise, really. I think most bloggers go through short periods of time every so often in which it seems better to be taking things in that churning them out. I’ve taken breaks before and I’ve always come back. I ain’t quittin’ you, Internet, and this isn’t an official ‘break’, but I’m just not going to force myself to blog about nothing if that’s all I’ve got to say. Though…isn’t that what I’m doing right now?

Maybe it’s the change in season or my decision to start looking at going back to work and all the planning that is going into that, but I’ve been finding myself crunching numbers for our childcare budget and reading in bed with cups of tea more appealing than sitting in front of the computer getting angry at all the douchebags, numbskulls and ignoramuses out there.

Like the guy who wrote the book pictured above. I picked this book up at a secondhand shop on Sunday whilst out for a boozy lunch with my good friend, H. We’d had two bottles of wine over a gorgeous Turkish meal and had left more than a little tipsy. Seeing as I’d been for my bibliotherapy session earlier that morning, we’d stumbled over to the bookshop on the premise of finding the book I’d been ‘prescribed.’  Lo, we could not find The Last Samurai and had to settle for the ridiculously titled Sperm Are From Men, Eggs Are From Women: The *real* reason men and women are diferent to amuse ourselves with as we went off in search of another pub. At least twice per drink, H would shout out a page and paragraph number and I would do a short dramatic reading of that passage while sloshing my drink around as I gesticulated wildly.  Another bottle of wine and a couple of gin and tonics later, I was reading passages out loud to people on the train on the way home.

What can I say, I’m a literate drunk. I’m sure the other passengers were thrilled.

At one point, while gesturing with the hand holding a lollipop I’d found in the bottom of my handbag and which I was happily licking between bouts of indignant gesturing, I dropped it on the floor near my seatmate’s shoe. Charming.

At least I wasn’t dropping atomic bombs on anybody because, apparently, I am responsible for that as well, as one of those evil American types. Or at least, so sayeth a man in the park earlier that day who, upon hearing my accent, launched into a diatribe about it and demanded I give him some answers. Seeing as it all happened 34 years before I was even born, I had none, sadly.

Ever since Obama came into office I’ve seen a sharp decline in the amount of anti-American encounters I have, which were at their height during the Bush years, so I was taken a little more off guard than I normally am. From 2002 through most of 2008 I wouldn’t have blinked an eye if someone wanted to shout at me about bombs, though usually the diatribe was aimed at the variety being rained down upon Iraq and Afghanistan, not The Big One during World War II.

Still, this is something I’ve just gotten used to the longer I’ve lived here. Having an American accent will, for the moment, always mark me out as different, as privileged and (usually) as either a bit off my rocker, slightly stupid or ragingly arrogant. Such appealing stereotypes to face on a daily basis, no?

Conversely, having a British accent in America marks one out as exceedingly intelligent, humorous and polite, if a little stuffy and prudish. It’s not surprising that I had little sympathy for The Noble Husband when we were living in the States and he would complain of being teased for the way he said ‘water’ or ‘pawn’  or ‘tuna’. Most of the time people were falling all over themselves to hear him speak and thought he was the epitome of class and charm. Repeat after me: poooooor widdle thing!

Anyway, that concludes my inane babbling about breaks, budgets, books, booze and bombs. Hopefully, I’ll get my blogging mojo back soon. Until then, I’ll be curled up in my duvet thinking about one of the aforementioned Bs.

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