My First Lesson in Violation
Yesterday started out on a disturbing foot. I had awoken from a dream yelling “HELP ME!” so loud that my wife had heard it from down the hall, and came to check on me. I’m not prone to vocal outbursts while I sleep; and thanks to having previously lived next to an airport, I can sleep through most noise. My dream started out as a literal shitty dream; I was in what felt like a rectory (like you’d ever catch me in a church) with a toilet and several water dispensing fixtures. Trying to simply clean myself became a calamity of errors worthy of a Benny Hill skit. Water fixtures kept breaking or springing leaks as I desperately fought for the right to simply have clean hands. When a sprinkler in the room activated, I’d hit my breaking point and yelled out. The dream was over, my wife by my side; we laughed at how ridiculous it was, but I still felt uneasy, and unclean.
Our Saturday was mostly going to be banal; a few chores, and a mid-day nap to compensate for an anticipated long night. We aren’t “party people,” and if you catch us at a bar, it’s because we’ve been pursuaded by others to make an appearance. On this evening we had been asked by our friend Lana to participate as judges in a Karaoke contest benefiting OKC Pride at a bar called Alibi’s.
I knew that it was going to be a trying evening for me. As I had previously written, I have become overwhelmed by social anxiety as of late. Large groups of people, especially ones whose proximity to one another create proximity issues for my own safe sphere, really make me uneasy.
We arrived at the bar about an hour before the contest was to begin; enough time to have a couple drinks and get as comfortable as we could. It should also be noted that neither of us are smokers, and these environments are usually rendered more uncomfortable because of the caustic air. By the time the contest began, the bar was packed to the hilt, and undoubtedly in violation of the fire code. I even quipped that if there was a fire, we’d never make it out alive.
My wife and I both sat on a panel with four other judges in the middle of the room; directly in front of where the performers would sing. This wasn’t comfortable placement for me. As a consequence of being openly Transgender, and now having a metered level of paranoia regarding how the world receives me, I tend to prefer seating that allows me to see people entering the space, and people seemingly trying to approach me. It’s not the most intuitive thing, but I literally prefer having my back to a wall; that’s one angle of attack I don’t need to concern myself with.
Alibi’s is a gay bar, so if I should be able to let my guard down anywhere, it should have been there. But an incident surrounding another local Trans woman getting assaulted in a different gay bar has given me a good reason to pause and think about my own matters of safety. The places I think I should be safe aren’t always safe. And those who know me personally have recently heard me say that I am questioning whether I even want to attend Pride this year.
This feeling is an odd one for me to be wrestling with, especially given my stature and imposing presence. The tattoo itself sends a very strong “don’t fuck with me” message — or so I thought. Unfortunately this evening I came to learn that that message is undeliverable to Cishet men who think it’s kosher to get touchy with people in gay bars.
In the middle of the contest — and while a performer was giving her all for the room and the judges — a man approached my corner of the table. The chronology of the conversation and event feels skewed now. He said the woman performing was his sister, and asked about my tattoo while touching the whole surface of my head and neck; all while pretending he had no clue we were there to judge her. I’m not sure what his intent was, but it felt like an attempt to sway the vote. His sister wasn’t the strongest contender, and his gropey nature did nothing to influence my vote. If anything, he likely hindered it. The rest of the judges (including my wife) saw this whole exchange. The song ended, and Mr. Level 5 creeper returned to the shadows; presumably to praise a tweet by our President.
The second this guy was gone there was conversation about how uncomfortable that made me feel. Maybe “conversation” is too strong a word. I think it consisted mostly of eye-rolls, and mouthing “What the Fuck?”
That one creepy exchange, violation of my bubble, and absolutely skeevy touching of my whole head left me even more uneasy than I already had been. I spent the remainder of the contest trying to reign-in my feelings of utter violation back to something much more stalwart, but I think everyone knew that — like an Oklahoma home caught in a twister — I had been pushed off my foundation; I could see it in their eyes. I kept thinking about “what I should have done.” Only now do I realize this is exactly what every victim goes through. As I sat there, I framed my future reaction to this situation in my head. I was less about what I should have done, but more about how I will handle it in the future. Little did I know “the future” was about to happen.
As the contest drew to a close, and the highest ranked contestants came up; one of them just happen to be the creep’s sister. He once again stuffed his face into my bubble; I lost my shit! I wasn’t going to be his victim again. I told him to go away, and when he retorted I stood up. My chair flew to the floor impeding my wife’s ability to step into this situation. I loudly told him to get away from me; at which point one of my friends promptly showed the creeper to the door. As I was firmly ready to defend myself, I found this situation quickly defused by some people I knew and several I didn’t know. They prompted me to sit, at which point I became overwhelmed with emotion. Is this what it’s like to feel violated? Is this what it’s like to HAVE to stand up against someone who makes you feel “less-than?”
I’m left wondering just how powerless I must appear now. There I was, a 6'1" 260 lb Transwoman (and wearing 3" heeled boots) looking down on a man who didn’t seem willing to back away until a 5'8" man (wearing a shirt that read “No One Knows I’m Trans”) had to show him the door. Have I finally reached a level of womanhood that I struggle with asserting my sovereignty against a male presence? Have I given into some internalized belief that as a woman, I am not entitled to question these acts; or that in spite of how they make me feel, I am now conditioned to allow them to happen? Have I succumbed to Patriarchal standards of how men think women should be subservient? That this is somehow something I deserve?
I lost something last night. Innocence, naivete, self-respect; I’m not sure — perhaps all of those things. I just feel gutted.
When it was all said and done and the emotions washed over me, I was left feeling very supported by my friends who stood up for me. The ones who comforted me after it was over. The ones who affirmed my validity, and the legitimacy of the feelings I was having. I am even grateful for those who walked us to our car knowing that I didn’t know where the man had gone, or if I needed to still be worried about another violation in the parking lot.
As I look back at the dream that lead into my day, I can’t help but wonder if the universe was trying to warn me. The imagery of unending water sources leaking or erupting without cause; while my only desire was to wash my hands… It feels like a metaphor for how I’m left feeling unclean, and no amount of water can wash this off. The bellow “HELP ME!” — that so abruptly ended my slumber — seems even more apropos now.
I legitimately don’t know if there is a prerequisite for what deems a person worthy of proclaiming #metoo, but today I get it more than I ever have. What happened was really removed from the horrors of a sexual assault, but I have literally never felt so violated in my whole life. If such a seemingly benign interaction with a drunken jackass can cut so deep, I may be ill-prepared for the less benign experiences that will be coming my way.
It’s safe to say that in spite of my social anxiety, I will need friends; new and old, who will watch out for me. Friends who read my signs, ask me if I’m okay, and stand up for me when necessary. I need to acknowledge those who saw my signs last night, those who comforted me, and those who took a stand. I was woefully unprepared for this, but even though I’ll carry this scar for life, I’m honored they validated these feelings.
The good people still outnumber the bad; it’s important to remember that. Of course, it’s also important to remember that evil thrives when good people do nothing.
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