As I was on my way home from a New Year party at a friend’s, I was waiting for the 501 Queen streetcar at Sorauren and Queen with someone else who was at the party. While we waited, two young men (who I assume were in their 20s) approached us, asked where we were going, and then said we should head out with them to one of their places (or both their places, it wasn’t clear). As pick-up lines go this was extremely brazen and entitled. Their attitude seemed to be one of: if we ask these girls to come home with us they will, because we’re men.
Yes. They did refer to us as “girls” even though both of us were well beyond being girls.
They kept trying to engage with us. When we continued to refuse them, they were insistent, and one said we were hurting his feelings and he would be all alone that night. My response to him was that he is responsible for his own emotions. This is when it got particularly concerning and potentially much more dangerous.
Both men responded that they didn’t have emotions. One stated that they were psychopaths and take what they want. From the start of the engagement I had entered into a state of being focused on them, but also aware of what else was going on around me. This statement raised my alert level to that of being ready to fight, if needed. Yet, my verbal reactions also went into what I realised afterwards was a trained response similar to a muscle memory. I was picking up on cues from them and processing them on an automatic level. As they continued to try to engage I did not engage them on their level, but in a way to try to diffuse the situation and cause them to leave. It was clear to me from near the beginning that merely ignoring them was not an option.
When they still wouldn’t leave I employed The Voice, but only at about half power. As my friends who have experienced it full force can attest it can be quite powerful and gains the attention of those around when used to its full impact. In this case it was a forceful, “Leave now.” In a tone of command and lowering my pitch only slightly from my usual speaking pitch. I projected my voice slightly, but did not raise the volume all that much. Nowhere near full power. After the first bit of back and forth in the encounter I was also making sure to maintain eye contact. After their comments I increased the intensity of the eye contact to send a nonverbal message that they really didn’t want to mess with me. Not based on physical threat—they were both more physically imposing than I am—but in terms of setting my own personal space and boundaries. I was showing that they were not intimidating me and backing up my words with my body language. They tried saying a few more things, but I only responded with a hard, no-nonsense, look. They finally did leave and there was no physical violence.
Throughout this encounter I was well aware of the physical danger we were in. Women face this type of encounter far too regularly. We might not face it individually every day, but it happens to women every day. There was a good chance that they would try to sexually assault one or both of us. Further, there was the risk that they would realise that I am trans and become extremely violent with me. Trans women are often murdered by men who find out they are trans. The risk is significant and real, even in Toronto. We were fortunate in this case that there was no physical violence. That said, while there was no physical violence there was violence.
The non-physical violence was in the way they spoke, their body language, and in their obvious sense of entitlement to our bodies for sexual purposes. Their base assumption was one that comes from a place of privilege, power, and entitlement. They were affronted because we did not grant them their entitlement. This was, in a very real and practical way a demonstration of a type of behaviour and implicitly condoned by Rape Culture. Odds are good that nobody ever said to these two that they were entitled to approach two women waiting for a streetcar and demand they go home with them. Yet, in their minds this was a perfectly acceptable thing to do in a public place. This was an attack on our autonomy as women and our right to be in a public place without being harassed.
Standing up for our autonomy in this encounter did not result in physical violence toward us. I am grateful for this. I am also aware of just how badly this could have gone. I am grateful for years of discussion about situations like this, my classroom learning about psychology, workshops on nonviolent communication, my ability to remain calm in the situation, and many other factors that allowed me to move this to the best possible outcome. Yet my heart is also saddened by this encounter. I cannot help but remember all those for whom this type of situation ends in physical violence, sexual assault, and, all too often, murder.