I know that many of the folks who read my blog also read my partner’s blog, and so there are several of you who have e-mailed me in the past weeks with concern over her latest post. Thank you so much for contacting me, I can’t even begin to tell you how comforting it has been to receive your e-mails and phone calls.
I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this but I feel compelled to discuss the situation and our various decisions around it in its entirety. So I find myself writing about violence once again, only this time it is violence against me and not fictional film violence or the idea of violence against women.
On Friday night I was assaulted and mugged at around 4:20 AM less than a block from my apartment. I was walking home from the subway after seeing a very good friend in Manhattan. I had been careful until that point, scanning around to look for other people and walking on the most well lit path that leads to our apartment. Two young men came out from behind a car and the moment I saw them I thought, “they are going to hurt me” which was immediately followed by one of them punching me twice in the chin. The same young man then told me to give him all my money. At the same time he was saying that, though, I screamed “Jesus Fucking Christ” because, you know, I was just punched twice in the chin.
My voice is fairly high-pitched. Most cigender women think its low, most cigender men think it’s high, I think it usually outs me as trans. So, of course, the two men look at me in that way and the same one asks, “fuck, are you a girl?” And, as I fish out my wallet and hand them the whopping $10 I have on me I say, “I’m male, I have a high pitched voice.” I’m handing out the money to the man who has so far said nothing, but he indicates with his head that I should give it to the other guy. I do, and he says, “now move along”. After waiting to make sure they’re moving too, I begin my walk of less than 100 feet to my apartment where I crawl into bed with my partner and start sobbing uncontrollably.
The more my partner and I have thought over the assault the more I realize that there was very little I could do in the situation, and that if there was any logic behind the attack it has to do with systems that I represent.
In 2006 employment of Black men in NYC was at 50%, meaning half of all Black men were either working under-the-table kind of jobs or were unemployed.* Given our current economy the young men (and I don’t know how they would identify racially) who assaulted me probably didn’t see any direct means of employment in their future. Moreover, as I doubt they make much money mugging in our neighborhood, it’s a good way to get out anger at a system that will always keep them down. NYC schools (and these men were high school age) are some of the worst and most highly segregated in the US, and our neighborhood is situated in area that is both devoid of any form of cultural pride and slowly being encroached by young white folk like myself. Certain areas of Bushwick retain a sense of Latino and Black Pride, with amazing organizations such as Sista II Sista that work for and within communities of color, but not our neighborhood.
Most middle class folks would probably describe my neighborhood as “bad”, which has as much to do with white middle class aspirations as it does with actual safety. My neighborhood is an odd assortment of broken down buildings, barely concealed sweatshops, and apartments, yet I have never felt unsafe there. True, at night I do remain extra-vigilant but no more so than in any other neighborhood. During the day there are elderly folks and children everywhere, generally sitting out on stoops until 10PM. The neighborhood is overwhelmingly Puerto Rican, and I know I’m one of only a handful of white folks in the area. The area is also fairly poor and working class, though definitely not impoverished. Now that Brooklyn is “hip” and white folks like me are moving in everywhere, it must be read as infuriating that one of the few affordable neighborhoods is now populated with white men who can afford to go out drinking in Manhattan until 4:20AM.
I don’t know if my attack was random, or if I was targeted for being scrawny and little, or if my whiteness or my effeminate mannerisms had to do with anything. I don’t know if I would have been more assaulted if I were a butch woman, or if being a woman would have left me unscathed. I don’t know if my high-voice freaked them out enough that they left, or if my gender identity had any effect on the assault whatsoever. None of the thought-out reasons for assaulting me - my whiteness, my perceived class privilege, my gender identity - make my assault right. But it does make any response on my part more complicated.
I didn’t call the police. In fact, it never really crossed my mind and my partner never even suggested it. After all, what are the police going to do besides bother more of my fellow residents? The two men were so nondescript that they’d be harassing every male youth in the neighborhood, if they even took my complaint seriously. Police harassment of young men of color is just going to encourage seeing the police, the criminal justice system, and the young white men like myself as systems that reinforce racial stereotyping and will do nothing to actually deter crime.The criminal justice system doesn’t rehabilitate youth either, so should these men land in jail the chances of them gaining a better education, becoming employed post-incarceration, and reevaluating their relationship with violence is more than minimal. Moreover, I’m certain the police wouldn’t take my complaint seriously – what the hell was I doing out at 4AM? Why didn’t I protect myself? What kind of man am I?...etc. I’ve previously had run ins with the police and even in Minnesota, where the St. Paul police are supposed to be some of the most community-minded, non racist and non-sexist, they never really gave a fuck.
I am however considering calling the Anti-Violence Project, which records instances of violence against LGBT or perceived LGBT folk. I don’t think I was targeted as a transman, but my gender identity and my size certainly entered the conversation. If AVP can use my assault as part of their initiative to protect LGBT folks equally under the law, then I’ll contact them, because that seems like a useful thing that won’t reproduce patterns of violence and racism. As I think about my assault I realize that any changes in my behavior should be about addressing the reasons why assaults like this happen, and not targeting the two young men. My partner and I are considering attending self defense classes at the Center for Anti-Violence Education, although I have my doubts about their use.
In the meantime, my partner and I are both OK. I have a nasty bruise, and I’ve had trouble sleeping recently, but the incident was so random and unrelated to me as an individual that I’m trying to not take it too seriously. My heart starts beating faster on the walk from subway to apartment, but I’m sure we will both continue to be OK. Again, thanks to everyone who checked-in with me. I was feeling a little weird as I went to several functions over the weekend and nobody commented on the huge purple bruise covering my chin until Tuesday. It was nice to know you all cared and to have a space to process it.
* TransJustice/Audre Lorde Project. “Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice.” Color of Violence: the INCITE! anthology. Ed. INCITE!. Massachusets: South End Press, 2006. 227-230