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“Hi,” he says to me, and smiles, I think, as I get off the subway, a human river pushing us past each other. There’s something icky about him, I think, but then again it’s such a brief interaction. I shrug it off and follow the crowd up to the yellow line train heading north, and he follows me there. Or maybe not, maybe it’s just a coincidence. A lot of people head north on the yellow line, after all – there’s at least a hundred on this platform with us.
I begin to walk down the platform as I catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. He’s shorter than me. “You’re here! Hi again,” he says to me as he approaches and I walk down the platform. I duck behind one of the columns holding the thousand tons of earth above us and, mercifully, he doesn’t follow.
I’m not used to this kind of attention from men. I’ve only been a woman, noticeably so at least, for a year, after all. But I recognize lust. I hear the train arrive, and hope it’s one of the older trains, the ones with segmented cars. I’m far enough down, I think, that he’d board a different car. No such luck – it’s one of the new ones, the ones that are just a continuous tube. If he wanted to, he could patrol the train up and down until he found me, and then I’d have no choice but to interact with him. Maybe tell him to stop following me, and rely on the people around me to stand up and help, but it’s not wise for people like me to rely on the kindness of strangers.
I sit close to the window and make myself as small as possible. I’m only going two stops away, and there are at least a dozen more stops until the train reaches the end of the line, so odds are this guy is going to keep riding and I’m done with him. Still, he might follow me as I get off the train. As it reaches my stop, I wait until the doors start to close before I jump off the train. The crowd is big enough that, hopefully, he won’t notice.
I walk up the stairs toward the station’s exit. I don’t see him, but then again there are a lot of us. Maybe he’s not following me, I think. Maybe he really just was being friendly, and my imagination is spinning a deeper motivation from a pair of barely seconds-long interactions. And yet my heart still beats harder, movement on the periphery of my vision more noticeable. As I continue to gaslight myself, I exit the station and see him walking away from it, in the same direction I have to go. The pit of my stomach drops like a sledgehammer on the plunger of a carnival strength-tester. I look around for an escape. There’s an alleyway I could duck down that would take me in the same direction I need to go, but that’s probably far less safe, and then again there’s a fence blocking it now – that wasn’t there last time I was here.
I get a better look at him this time – he’s wearing a blue jacket and a red hat. I don’t see what’s on his hat, but I know from experience that people with red hats are unlikely to be friendly to people like me. He’s got shaggy black hair and a sparse goatee. He looks a lot like Shigeru Miyamoto, actually, though I’m wondering if that’s actually true or if I’m just subtly racist. I try not to look too long, though – people can feel when they’re being watched, after all.
I walk past him, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. Of course he notices me. I’m six feet tall, and he picked me out of a crowded subway twice in a row. I should have waited in the station for a few minutes, I think.
“Hi again,” he says.
“Yes, absolutely,” I say to nobody, my phone against my ear, as though it were a shield to block his words from reaching me.
“Hi,” he says.
“No problem, do you want me to pick something up?”
“Hey, do you hear me?”
Did nobody ever teach this guy manners? I’m on the phone. I clearly don’t want to talk to you.
“I know what you are, and I like it.”
God, I’d like nothing more than to just turn around and knock him out. That’s what I would have done before, when I was pretending to be a man, but then again I never would have been in this situation before. Even still, I recognize how futile this will be. The type of guy who follows women and harasses them on the street isn’t the type of guy to pick a fight with. Who knows what he’s carrying?
My hand slides into my purse, grabbing my travel-size bottle of hairspray I keep with me for emergencies. After he starts to walk away, I call my friends, for real this time. They agree to come meet me, along with their dog.
I’m speed walking toward my friend’s street, now looking behind me, watching him on the other side of the street talking to someone else, now looking forward, hoping to see my friends come round the corner to rescue me with their presence. One of them is a man, and I know this guy won’t mess with another man. I hate that I have to rely on this. I hate that I need a man nearby to feel safe. I hate that this is the reality of being a woman, of being a visibly trans woman. I hate that I am a visibly trans woman. I miss my male privilege – as ill-fitting as it was, at least I could ride the subway without being harassed. I hate that I’m a magnet for tranny chasers who fetishize me because of what they perceive to be in my pants.
I wish regular creeps would follow me.