It was 3 am on Feb 4, and me and a pack of other queers had been celebrating a friend’s birthday at Prism, Victoria’s lonely gay bar. After the club closed, we moved en masse to Second Slice for pizza, then dispersed for home in cabs, cars and little groups of two or three.
I stopped at the corner of Fisgard St to wait for the light, and a guy about my age stopped beside me. He was dark-haired, dressed stylishly in slacks and a leather jacket, and about ready to fall over drunk.
“Hey bud,” the guy slurred at me. “What’re you doin’ out tonight?”
“Just walking home from the bar. You?”
“The bar? Naaw, yer kiddin’. How old’re you, little guy?”
I smirked at the confusion on the guy’s face. The crosswalk light popped up; we resumed our trek down Douglas St.
“Yer not 21… yer like, 12 or something.”
“No, buddy. I’m 21.” And then I made a stupid move: I gave Ryan my cutest all-teeth smile and told him I’m female, which was as close as I could come to explaining myself. I doubt he would have understood the words ‘faggy dykeboy.’
“You gotta pussy?” were the first words out of his mouth.
“Let me touch it.” The guy motioned towards an alley and tried to grab the crotch of my jeans. I smacked his hand away.
“I don’t think so, dude.”
I hadn’t noticed the guy’s friend walking ahead of us, but saw him now as he stopped to open his car. “Let’s go, man,” he called, as we approached.
“Yer not really a girl, are you? C’mon guy, show me yer pussy.”
The guy’s hand landed on my shoulder. I was in between him and the open door of his friend’s car now, and suddenly he was leaning his weight against me, pushing me towards it. “Why doncha get in the car.”
“Get in the fuckin’ car!”
The guy grabbed me, thrusting all this body weight towards me. I thanked God, as I squirmed out of his grip and ducked under his swinging arm, that I am fast and small–hard to hang on to, I’ve been told. Coming up behind him, I shoved him in the middle of the back. He stumbled off the curb, colliding face first with the side of the car.
I jogged backwards, middle fingers in the air. “Fuck you, asshole!”
And that was it. They didn’t try to chase me, and I finished the rest of my walk in peace, hands sweating in my pockets, my stride twitchy from adrenaline.
I told this story to some friends a few days later. I had a beer in my hand at the time, and a few in my veins, which is probably why I was so easy with the details.
I was working on a paper about socially constructed sexual hierarchies and, having just experienced the reality of my own diminished sexual status on the basis of my gender presentation, was both excited and inspired to write it. I didn’t think too much about the benefits of keeping my mouth shut until it was time to go home.
“I’ll walk you,” Jesse said, as I shouldered my jacket.
“What? No, you don’t live anywhere near me.”
I cleared my throat, and was about to break into a good excuse when she squeezed my arm. “It’s alright, little one. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
There are consequences to breaking the guy code. Since I told my story, my friends no longer treat me as a physically autonomous individual, able to look after my own body. No, my masculinity has been compromised.
It’s as if I’ve broken some unspoken pact by admitting my vulnerability, thereby shattering the illusion of my masculine invincibility and exposing the weakness in us all. To use a war metaphor, I broke ranks. This is exactly why bio-boys don’t talk about sexual assault, either. In the end, it’s better to just cut your own balls off in front of a public audience. At least then you’ll still look tough.
Last summer, I helped a butch friend unpack after a move. We’d been sitting on her new front porch drinking beers and sorting through boxes all afternoon when she suddenly passed me a photo of a five-year-old kid.
“Who’s this?” I asked.
“My son,” she said. We stared at each other for a long time before she added, “I was raped,” and snatched the photo back. “I dunno why I just told you that. I never told anyone that.”
What happened to me was much less dramatic. I’ve never been raped and I’m grateful for that. Regardless, my recent experience is still enough that my butch friends now insist on walking me home from the bar when all I want to do is stretch my legs alone in the peace and cold of a Victoria night.
It’s not that the streets got any less safe or that I got any more vulnerable–it’s just that I admitted that being a boy didn’t make me immune. Now I’ve gotta pay the price for that betrayal because boy rules are harsh, and masculinity self-preserving.
I think now I know how frustrating it must feel to be a femme, constantly being “protected” by a bunch of butches who are as vulnerable as I am. I’ll never insist on walking anyone home again.
“That’s interesting,” a lover said to me, when I told her what had happened. “I mean, I have friends who have been raped, but… they’re all femmes.”
A whole wash of memories came over me then, and I surprised myself when I said, “We just don’t talk about it.”
I remember all those nights over beers, when conversations between old friends led suddenly in unexpected directions and someone said, “Yeah… it happened to me.” And then, quick as anything, we rushed in to help them cover it up, lest we all be forced to face the reality that we’re not the invulnerable dudes we think we are. That sometimes we don’t get to choose who penetrates us, and that the thin little bodies beneath our clothes aren’t always strong enough to fight.
I remember cupping Jay’s face in my hands as he turned his eyes away.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
He laughed, gave me the shit-happens shrug of butches. “Why would you be sorry? You weren’t the one who did it.”
But I was sorry anyway and still am, because whatever “it” is, it makes it harder for all of us to speak.