It is January 19. Three out of 19 days in this new year, I have been harassed by white men in public. Each moment I was harassed, right before, I was experiencing pure joy. Each time prior, I was absorbed in moments of gratitude for my loved ones and for this universe. What is it about my joy, my unapologetic living as who I am, my radiance that they sense and subsequently target? Is it about that at all or is it simply because I am in the wrong place at the wrong time?
It’s the first. They sense my joy for existence and for my beloved community — so strange and foreign to them that they want to kill me. Perhaps kill is too strong of a word. Perhaps attack/ get rid of/ harm/ humiliate is more accurate. But I would never get to read the minds of the white men who want to attack me. Those are others’ relatives to deal with. But perhaps last night, when the SUV with two white men purposely swerved to the wrong side of the road, to me, to the curb where I was walking, perhaps those men wanted to do more.
I want to write about what happened to me in these three instances because I know they’ve happened to other people. And I know that in a lot of these instances, I was able to get away because I am light-skinned and East Asian. This is written in solidarity to all trans people of color who are harassed in public spaces.
1. January 3 — I felt dysphoria for at least a year and a half before I could name it. I had wanted to cut my hair short for years and shoulder length, where the end strands curled around the bottom of my chin, was the only length my Chinese barbers were willing to go, and what I had the galls to ask for, living at home. I wore snapbacks and fitteds, the closest physical defiance I could achieve, that matched how I wanted to present in the world.
On January 3, I was wearing a bathing suit in the pool at the YMCA: my one-piece Speedo with swim trunks, and a swim cap because they were mandatory and because swim caps allow me to be able to change in the women’s locker room without being stared at.
Swimming for me is joy. It is the place where for once, I’m not limited to walking on two legs, where my body can experience was it feels like to defy gravity through buoyancy. There is no gym with a pool within walking distance of my home. I have to drive or take the train time, and I cherish the moments I can swim.
On this Wednesday evening, after a good half hour swimming, I notice a white man standing at the end of the lane, above water. He seems to be watching me and the woman in my lane. I pay him no mind and decide to rest at the end of the pool. I float on my back, something I love doing because it relieves the tension I hold.
Then, a sharp voice: “Are you swimming or are you just gonna stand there?” With his red shorts long and white chest hairs protruding, the white man announced his presence.
“I’m resting,” I say, calmly. I go back to floating.
He then yells louder that I need to be swimming.
I ignore him. He will not have my precious moments in the pool.
“Hello?!” he demands. I ignore him. He repeats himself twice, louder each time.
I continue to float.
He jumps into my lane. The waves end my floating. I sense danger. I swim away.
“That’s what I thought,” he says after me. This adult, in his 50’s, is verbally harassing me in the pool.
After a lap I tell the lifeguard I don’t feel safe swimming with him in my lane.
“Yes, I can see that,” one says. They had been silently watching, pretending that if they ignored this confrontation, it would end. He looks at the man swimming back. “Why don’t you move into the next lane?”
“I was here for the past 40 minutes and I’m resting now. I shouldn’t be the one who has to move.” I maintain my ground, beginning to shake. I can’t swim in peace in the new year.
The lifeguard then speaks to the man who proclaims “I can yell at whoever I want.” Shortly after, he leaves the pool, and I’m safe. This is the second time an instance like this has happened while swimming at the Y.
2. January 4 — I am on the MTA, headed to the Staten Island ferry, thinking about how grateful I am for my chosen family. I am smiling to myself and in a state of complete self-created joy. I prepare to get off, when the man who had been sitting at the window seats adjacent to me says, “Where do you think you’re going?” I am taken aback and ignore him, begin putting on my headphones.
“Oh come on, you’re making it so obvious,” he says to me, looking at me through the door reflection. My sense of danger heightens. I smell alcohol on his breath.
When the doors open, I let him walk ahead of me. I wait a few moments before stepping off.
“Come on Asian boy, get at me,” he shouts with his hands outstretched, back turned to me. And then, “I’ll see you on the ferry.”
I pray I don’t see him on the ferry.
On the ferry I take a seat in the front of the boat. Today it’s the old boat, so there’s only one main landing. I am on high alert.
After a few moments, I see the man in his brown puffed winter jacket unzipped, bottle in hand. He is walking down the opposite aisle, looking for me. I make a quick getaway to the opposite end of the boat and hide the rest of the ferry ride in the back seats. I note that in the two times I choose seats, it is next to women because I know that if anything were to happen, it is always the women who more likely speak first. I end up successfully avoiding him the whole ride.
3. January 19 — I am walking home from a healing night at my friend’s house. Tonight, the moon is high, almost full, the stars are luminescent. Three stars of the Big Dipper are clear. I think about how vast our universe is, how many more galaxies, planets, and beings are out there, and find comfort. After ten minutes I reach the bottom of the bridge. Almost home. I cross the street. In the corner of my eye, I see car headlights flicker — a warning sign. Weird. Their light turns green. I sense danger. I finish crossing the street.
Suddenly, my path is illuminated by headlights getting closer. I hear the screeching of tires before I see the car — it’s swerved onto the wrong lane, to my side of the street, to reach the sidewalk where I’m walking. Their headlights flash. They’re trying to run me over.
The headlights illuminate the fenced grass. I turn around to meet the headlights. I feel the fragile skeleton of my body. The car stops.
“What – the – fuck.” is my demand and my fear. I hear them laugh and scream in their car. One more press of the gas pedal and their car would have killed me right then and there.
They laugh and drive off. My feet inch forward, waiting for their next light to turn green. I will only walk forward when I see them leave for good. Their light turns green. They drive away. I run home through the meadow of the lawn of the private Catholic boy’s school. Their front entrance statue of Jesus is illuminated. I joke to myself, trying to make sense of what just happened. I jog the rest of the way home but stop at the street crossings, cautious in case the car decides to make a round.
In these three moments, especially yesterday, I am reminded that the safety I and my friends work so hard to create with each other is needed now more than ever. The communities we create, where we can fully be with each other, in all of who we are and what we believe in, is not the world reflected out here, in Amerika, where in the last two years, white Americans are inundated with even more propaganda about people of color and trans people.
Today, I stay home and rest. I continue to wonder if that car really was planning to kill me. What would have happened if they decided to not brake? I try to find reasoning — was I jaywalking? Did I cross the street when I wasn’t supposed to? No. Their light was red. When they first flickered their headlights at me, they saw my face. They have no idea who I am, but they think they know something about my people.
Today, a friend calls me and asks me if I heard about what happened in Brooklyn last night. A white man walked into an Asian buffet in Brooklyn and hammered two Chinese men to death.
Today, a friend calls me and reminds me she loves me. Today, I have the words to write this. Today, I refuse to be silent. Today, I am sitting physically calm and emotionally raging.