Surviving A 'Compliment'

TW: street harassment, sexual assault, rape mention

It’s that time of the year again, y’all: summer. We womxn and femmes of color have been shamed all year round about our bodies in preparation for this moment. Today is the day where we shave our legs — nicking ourselves in 14 different directions — dust off the booty shorts, strengthen the brow game, and kick open the apartment door. The direct deposit just hit. We take a deep breath — inhaling the climate change, exhaling the bull — run to the D train and then —

“Ayo, ma! Goddamn, you’re beautiful. Let me talk to you for a second.”

Coño. ‘Tis the season.

Honestly truly, what a fantastic privilege it must be to roam around outside on your block for like a hot second without your skin being consumed, chewed up and spat out by bulging eyes.

Survival Tactic A: when we get “complimented”, we eye the quiet “allies” on the D train, expecting them to notice our piercing stares: Help! But y’all don’t. Instead, we resort to Survival Tactic B: appeal to any conventional misogynistic morality that the violator may have adopted: “Would you talk to your mother like that?” or “No thank you, I have a boyfriend.”

I escape my skin, your teeth sunken in and all, and allowed you to devour it: to claw away at my breasts with your sentences, to completely envelop me with your eclipsing shadow persistently lingering block after block, to strip me from scalp to toes all within a glance until there were only bones. My body becomes a home I no longer wish to return to. I simply haunt it from where I stand.

I do, however, have a few tricks up my sleeve. I tell you that this piece of leather has already been branded and worn by another man. But please: don’t choose to stop harassing only under the premise that I could belong to your brother, or that I could be like “your mother”, in some strange kind of Freudian way. I am flesh, bones, and spirit and I insist in existing all within that same sentence. I am whole, I am enough, and I am mine.

Allies: do you carry a jacket with you in 90+ degree weather in order to shield your “sinful” skin from stalking, but still get stripped anyway? Do you come home faint because of that very jacket lest your friendly-neighborhood-sexist-preacher find you and say some shit about you not respecting yourself for wearing shorts? Do you stuff your ears with music to tune out the sexually explicit skinning of your body by whistles and howls? Are you a bad-ass by day and Wolverine by night, keys piercing out from between your knuckles ready to do what mamí told you to do, if and when? Do you frantically ensure your front door locks tightly behind you so that the person that's been hovering over you for 10 blocks doesn’t slide in, like last time? Do you zig-zag across avenues and streets, avoiding packs of grown men glaring at you past the night, waiting to prance? Would you rather walk on the street and risk swerving across speeding cars, than to walk on sidewalks where men will threaten your very life for turning the other cheek? Have you been this hypervigilant and fearful — from as young as the day you were finally allowed to bleach your upper lip and wear tampons? Have you been protecting the womxn and femmes in your family from street harassers, in practice for what will be coming for you?

No? Aight. This is how we “just take a compliment.”

Y’all, this is misogyny — when womxn and femmes must shrink themselves and learn how to fly across avenues, transcend their own mangled bodies, in order to survive. When taking our daily around the clock doses of "compliments" triggers you being sexually assaulted in the past, but ya know "fuck you, you're a bitch anyways!"

Street harassment as violence, as sexual abuse, is why I bent under pressure; I had enough. I bellied a fierce growl — an old and tired one that’s been festering and accumulating for generations — at the predator picking parts of me out of his own teeth. Resisting, nonetheless, can spell out danger, but for that night it felt pretty damn good to come home unscathed.

Misogyny is not a compliment we can just stomach. Like the delay-ridden MTA proverb goes: “If you see something say something”. If you, allies, see my sisters getting mangled, I better see y'all do more than just pout. Our ancestors have been performing this tale as old as time, pulling out claws from their hermanxs backs. We need a hand.

Honor me, not because I could be your Freudian mother. I shouldn’t have to feel safer with my partner’s hand interlocked with mine where my Wolverine scars rest.

My indignancy has kept me up. I reconcile whether I should risk my life and dive straight into the belly of the beast than allow it to persist in complimenting my body to shredded pieces. Violence, in all of the faces it wears, against womxn and femmes of color is normalized. We’re confetti splattered all across the street.

I have decided that my life is worth more than being a martyr — that my existence is resistance — and that addressing misogyny should not be my burden to bear: it should be up to y’all.

Pepper spray is difficult to obtain in New York State. My tía taught me to scream, claw, kick, and shove if and when I got caught. I learned that it was my dirty fault that I’ve gotten groped by my friends, and that I make too big a fuss about my flashbacks striking like lightening bolts; we aren’t one in a million. I learned to eat again, after a man consumed my sanity last summer. I learned that institutions won’t believe survivors — we’re far too messy to piece together whole. I learned how to count to ten through my panic attacks before heading out — and that even 100 is still not enough. I learned what I should do with my pelvic muscles if someone where to barge in and never stop. Ultimately, I’ve learned that my friends have had to take these measures, too — as survivors. It’s already happened.

So remember y’all, summer will be over before you know it! Liberally apply sunblock, wear those cute bucket hats to avoid getting more freckles, and most importantly: try to learn how to take a goddamn compliment —

Not like it’s anything more than just that.

Please support Paola’s campaign to sustain and compensate her emotional and intellectual labor as a womxn of color frequently exposing her traumas through narrative writing. While writing about trauma is healing, it does also open doors for her to relive it. Contributions from this campaign will go solely towards finding a place to live within New York City outside of her toxic home, her mental health care and anti-depressants, partially covering her sister's tuition, as well as to covering her remaining tuition expenses for graduate school at Columbia University.