I was sexually assaulted on the bus. After repeatedly saying I wasn’t interested in his advances, the perpetrator touched my penis without my consent. I was reading Roderick Ferguson’s Abbreviations in Blackness.
As a frequent bus rider, the two most coveted seats on the bus are located in the rear corners. Aside from the deafening sound of the air conditioning, these seat offer able legroom and an uninhibited airflow on hot days. Usually, there is a mad dash among passengers to occupy the corner seats but on that day I was lucky enough to find an empty corner seat. Earlier in the day, I had received news that I was awarded a competitive fellowship that I had applied for. As I took my seat, I looked forward to the 45-minute ride to UCLA.
Halfway through the trip, I repeatedly heard a voice saying, in the seat across from me, that I had a “big dick.” Not wanting to cause a scene nor disrupt my emotional high, I engaged the perpetrator in a respectful manner expressing that I didn’t appreciate being objectified. I went back to reading my book but I felt his eyes watching me.
As the ride continued, the perpetrator repeatedly tried to compliment me on my penis. I ignored him and turned my body to show that I wasn’t interested in his advances. When I found a new potion to read, the perpetrator reached over his seat and touched my penis.
Shocked, I immediately crossed my legs, held up my hand, and verbally told him that he violated my space. He responded that he was sorry and only wanted to admire my body. Luckily, my stop was coming up and I was able to exit the bus.
Aside from knowing that the physical trauma I experienced was wrong, I kept asking myself if I had done something to warrant the actions of the perpetrator? I had repeatedly said “No.” Yet, “No” wasn’t enough to spurn the perpetrator’s advances. Working with Queer youth, I would address hypersexuality within queer communities pointing out that it was imperative to challenge people who would often equate who you slept with, how many people you slept with, and how you had sex, as a measure of your queerness. Claiming a queer identity and praxis meant interrogating the heteronormativity within yourself. No one can define being queer for you. The assault had me questioning if I was living by the standards that I laid out in front of my youth? As I lay down to sleep that night, my conscious started to speak to me and I found myself interrogating my gender expression, identity, and queerness.
For as long as I can remember, I had suppressed my gender expression/identity/queerness in favor of what thought would protect me from harm. I remembered being traumatized by how people treated different genders and identities, often with physical violence. Knowing that my crushes and gender expression weren’t normal, I choose to suppress my own wants and needs. As I grew older, I understood that my ability to choose my gender expression and identity was a privilege. The vast majority of folks don’t have the ability to choose.. Yet, there was a contradiction in my actions. Even though I had been conscious of my privilege and played it safe, did I respect the people who literally fought and died so I could have the ability to choose/not choose? Was I committed to a revolutionary praxis that involved challenging my power and privilege along with a commitment to queer love? Being assaulted reminded me that I had neglected revolutionary queer praxis and my own queerness.
My mind went to Assata and Audre Lorde as I lay in bed unable to sleep the night of my assault. Both revolutionaries believed that being able to access and express your authentic self was a revolutionary act. For Assata, living authentically meant never allowing systemic forms of oppression to deter the life you want for yourself. As long as I had faith and hope in a world based on revolutionary queer praxis then I would always have the ability to fight. Audre Lorde believed revolutionary praxis could be found in living authentically through the erotic energy within us that had been distorted in favor of a hetero patriarchal white supremacist society. That night, I took their messages to heart and knew I needed to find the strength to be brave for my own queerness.
If I want to shake the effects of hetero patriarchy, I need to commit to understand, explore, and mature the queerness within myself. To me, embodying queerness means a committing to a radical praxis that works to break down the borders of heteronormativity that surround our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self. This means loving others and myself in a way that transcends systems of power and domination.
In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial. – Audre Lorde