Some years ago, I read a post by Rosine Rehnmark about how she dealt with micro-interactions with strangers when walking down the street: to be exact, the negotiation about who gets out of whose way.
Rosine wrote about walking down the street, and deciding not to get out of anyone’s way, just fixating on a point straight ahead and walking towards it. For her, this was a great confidence building exercise. Though it seems scary, you can trust that the other person will get out of the way in time. You learn that your presence matters.
It was a bit strange for me to read that. I don’t know how conscious I was of the discrepancy here, but I didn’t feel any personal resonance with it. Why would I need to make someone get out of my way? They get out of my way anyway.
A bit of context for new readers: I’m a trans woman. I was living as a man back then. Since that time, I’ve transitioned and live as a woman. Others perceive me as a woman when I walk down the street.
Interestingly, as soon as people started to perceive me as a woman, I had a different experience walking down the street. I noticed that when I was walking towards a man, he wouldn’t move out of the way like I used to expect him to. It used to usually be a 50-50 thing; both of us would move out of the way a little. Now, instead, I was forced to move out of the way and was the only party doing so. I didn’t have any problem with moving out of the way in itself, but after a while I started to feel pissed off. Why was I the one who was always expected to move out of the way?
So I started, naturally, to do what Rosine had once done. I fixated on a point in front of me and walked towards it, refusing to move even a little from my course. Eventually most men would get out of my way, though it would be at a much closer point than I ever would have expected while living as a man. Some men, however, would not. I felt like I had to swerve at the last second to avoid a collision. Or, if I walked with a lot of nerve, I might be able to force the man to do the swerving. I suspect that if I had been completely inflexible, I would have crashed into some men.
In general I’ve been jostled a lot more by men, shoved past, brushed past. It seems like they expect me to be aware of my surroundings and move away if they want to take up my space, and if I don’t, then I get shoved. A couple of times a man very clearly shoved me out of his way, saying “sorry”, but the apology rang hollow because this had never happened when I was a guy, and I knew it never would. It wasn’t an accident, or if it was, it was an accident based on the fact that he didn’t consider me as important to be aware of or, perhaps, as threatening. Another time a man hit me quite hard with his elbow when jogging past me. There was plenty of space for him to manoeuvre around me, but he seemed so intent on jogging in a straight line that he didn’t care about hurting me. I made a loud protest, and he didn’t even look back.
Nowadays I have the instinct to get out of the way of men when they are walking towards me. I think most of the time I’m so used to it I don’t even think about it anymore. I suppose those people who never had the experience of living in a different gender might never stop to think about it.
But sometimes I do remember, and I get a little angry. I often try and walk in a very straight line and try to force men to get out of my way for a change. I want to hold onto my sense of dignity.
And normally, they do get out of my way. But I do have to make an effort. And I have to be careful, because some might actually not get out of my way.