The more honest I become in how I present myself to the world, finding courage to be braver and wear the clothes I feel myself in, the more the world points, laughs and takes sly photographs of me.
You may have noticed that I like clothes - I like wearing clothes from jumble sales, charity shops and I increasingly only wear garments marketed towards / made for plus size women.
I often wear only one colour and clothes of the same tonal range with shoes that clash. I accompany perfumes that matches that days colour - I don’t know how or why I do this but I do. This isn’t a new, quirky version of myself that’s aimed at attracting compliments on instagram - this is who I am, who I’ve always been. My Mum and Dad tell stories of me rejecting clothes, matching colours and wanting to wear odd shoes from when I was a toddler.
The thought of leaving the house in so-called masculine clothes, in clothes that don’t match makes me cringe. When I’m meeting new people and inevitably they refer to the way I present myself I often have to reiterate to them that this isn’t a choice - that this is about gender, queer and fat identity. Sometimes to simplify it, If I don’t want to come out as a fat queer femme again that day and have the same conversations I just say “would you leave the house with one sock and your pants back to front?” as shorthand.
Recently, the amount of street hassle I’ve been getting has increased - this might be because I am making bolder steps in presenting myself truer than I’ve ever been. It takes guts to walk the streets wearing your favourite jelly sandals and a blouse because you know it means people will stare. Often people assume that I like or invite the attention - leaving the house dressed and smelling the way I do makes me feel comfortable, it isn’t about being stared or laughed at and being openly mocked.
However, I don’t think it’s just the way I dress that makes people respond in the way they do. I think the fat body is a loaded political statement - meaning the seat next to me is often left free as people would rather stand than sit next to fat. I think my queerness and femmeness contribute to a triple whammy of weirding out the general populus.
My way of addressing public shaming is to walk towards the offenders and say “Hello!” - this allows the person to know I’m aware of they are attempting to other me. The default response to someone greeting you is to say it back, allowing me to own the situation and reclaim the shame.
I’ve also began to document these interactions on social media, so not to retain the shame attached to them. Last week three employees of Pret pointed, laughed and nudged each other as I chose something to drink. I watched it unfold, I called it out, I said to the manager "...are you aware how your actions affect people like me?" - I then took to twitter, obviously.
Pret responded brilliantly - they reminded me this shouldn’t happen to me anywhere in the world, let alone one of their stores. As a result of calling it out they are implementing staff training.
After seeing this online, one of my neighbours pulled me aside at an event and asked me if I was OK, she said she had presumed I was strong enough to shake it off but wanted to check in with me. I told her the truth. Being constantly pointed at or pointed out is exhausting and upsetting. I realised we've got to do more to share this experience but not take on the responsibility of it.
I’ve started using my notes app to document these moments of unwarranted aggression; a highlight from this week include the two construction workers openly laughing and pointing at me, just as they happened to be passing two police officers. As the police didn’t respond to their berating I told the construction workers to fuck off. I’ve also started a game with friends called “Watch Out Men Behave Around Me?” - once I point it out they can’t believe how freaked out many cis-men are in my presence. These interventions won't see the end of street hassle but they make me feel less alone in dealing with the shit the public throw at you.
Since moving to the seaside some of my friends have wrongly assume the abuse is directed towards me is a result of moving to a smaller community - this would be wrong. I don’t get much hassle here, I’ve quickly become part of the furniture, insignificant - most of the hassle I get is in London. London thinks its down with people like me but the truth is the sea side has got its head around it quicker than the so-called cultural capital.
I’m totally aware there are bigger things going on in the world, other evils to worry about. I’m aware that QTIPOC family members have this AND race to contend with (I encourage you to follow Le Gateau & Travis to experience their day-to-day), how many of my fat and trans* friends deal with similar daily shaming, not to forget the objectification of women in public space - I am not special but I need to get this off my chest.
This blog has no quippy ending, no resolution or round up because this is by no means resolved. Here’s a lecture I did a few years ago about bystanders and public aggression. Unfortunately, the message still resonates…
P.S it’s never a shirt, it’s always a blouse.