Tonight I was waiting in the subway station as I do nearly every day when I have to work downtown (yes, I still live in LA, for those of you who are questioning my riding a subway). I like taking the train because it's fast and I can avoid traffic. I hate taking the train because of the people on the train. There are 50 different varieties of homeless people, from the ones that sleep across two seats and smell like piss to the ones that decide to make the captive audience their personal donation fund, walking back and forth spouting the same bullshit about needing change.
There are elderly Asian women and teenagers of all races, tourists and locals, people like me who have jobs downtown and people who were just given a Metro card on their way out of the county jail. Despite the cast of characters, I've never once felt like my personal safety was in jeopardy or that I was likely to be robbed. However, there are plenty of people, both crazy and "normal," who try to talk to me. I don't like this. Usually I put my headphones in with the cord attached to nothing inside my purse just so it looks like I'm listening to something so people won't talk to me.
I left my headphones at work today. It was a deliberate decision, not an accident - I thought "why roll them up and put them back in my purse when I won't use them until I am at work again tomorrow?" This was a bad decision.
It was 8:30pm and the metro station wasn't full like it is in rush hour. I walked down the stairs and stood waiting for the train as I played Candy Crush on my phone. There was a homeless dude sleeping on the bench, a group of mid-twenties black kids with skateboards and big headphones, and an older woman who may or may not have been homeless but was wearing a knit cap on top of a hood, which was just weird.
I'm going to address this because it exists and it's relevant to the story: I am not racist. I'm not "scared" of black people. I don't pull my purse closer to me when I see a group of black kids. I take all my cues from the way people act, regardless of race, and base my actions on that. In fact, the woman with the double head-warmer had a sketchy look in her eyes and kept getting close to me so I decided to avoid what I feared might be a potential pickpocket and moved away from her to stand near the group of black guys because they were simply talking amongst themselves like normal people.
I'm playing Candy Crush for about two minutes when one of the guys approaches me. I look up, and he says something I can't hear because a train is coming through. I ask him to repeat it. It was something along the lines of "You look pretty." I politely thanked him and went back to my game. But he kept talking. Telling me how nice I looked, how he thought I was just super cute, how he loved my hair. I thanked him again, because I do honestly think he was being sincere and I didn't feel threatened by him - just uncomfortable to be singled out.
It, to me, was the same as someone whistling at me on the sidewalk, or catcalling me as I walk by. I shouldn't have to justify what I was wearing, but for the record it was jeans, a long-sleeved striped shirt with a high collar, and a gigantic shawl/scarf wrapped around me for warmth. It was possibly the least slutty thing I could've worn. While he wasn't being vulgar at all, he was only talking about my looks, over and over again. Then he went a little further and started full on talking about how we should hang out, how I should take his number, how he wanted to touch my hair. Other than the hair touching part, nothing he said was really over the line. I think he just honestly thought that was how you get a girl to go out with you.
Now here's the caveat - had this guy been a white guy, I would have shut him down with snark in a hot second. If you're bothering me and making me uncomfortable, I have no problem walking away and being a bitch. This goes for people on the street, on the train or in a bar. However, I felt like I needed to be nicer because he was black. I didn't want him to think I was racist, or that I was rejecting him because he was black. I have witnessed friends who were either hit on in a vulgar way or catcalled by a black guy and when they ignored him (because his comments were inappropriate and warranted no response) they'd yell "Oh it's cause I'm black, huh?" as we walked away.
I was rejecting him because he made me uncomfortable. Because I have no interest in meeting a potential date in a subway station. Because he treated me like I was just something to look at. Because my polite refusal to give him my number didn't deter him. Because I have severe social anxiety and don't like to talk to ANY STRANGERS. Because he either couldn't see or ignored the fact that I was getting progressively more uncomfortable. Because he would not leave me alone.
When the train came, I got on a different car than he did, and he yelled "You want me to come sit with you?" I shook my head no and quickly found a seat next to an older woman. I felt so vulnerable because I let it go on so long. I was angry at myself that I let race factor into my decision not to stand up for myself in the likely bitchy way I wanted to. And because of that, the comments started to make me feel like less of a person. Not a 3-degree-holding attorney, but a delicate flower that exists only for the amusement of men.
I almost had a panic attack on the train. I felt like I wanted to cry and throw up at the same time. It was tough to hold the tears til I got to my car 10 stops away. Was I weak? Was I racist? Why am I so uncomfortable with people? Why did he choose to talk to the one person in the train station that had crippling social anxiety? Why do I look approachable?
I've been catcalled and I hate it, but this was like catcalling a captive. I couldn't escape. I was trapped.
Why do men think this is okay? How can you not tell you're making me uncomfortable? Why do you keep going until I want to scream "GO AWAY"? Why do you then think it's okay to get angry with me?
Is there somewhere other than Asia where this is not a thing? Because Asia's awfully far away. Maybe I need to get back in the courtroom in my suit and fuck some shit up. I don't know, but something needs to change.