Today I was harassed by two men at the same time.
It was 4:45 and I was in my car and on my daily phone call with my mom. I was in the middle lane, waiting on the light to change. On my left were two men in a car — on my right a city bus with a male driver. Out of the corner of my eye I see the man on my right trying to get my attention. I look his way and realize he’s talking to the bus driver.
“Aw man, I was tryna help you get her attention. I thought you knew her,” he said to the bus driver.
“Naw bruh, I was just checking her out because… damn” the bus driver replied as he made a gesture to signify my breasts and their size.”
They continue to talk about me, and how I look and am built, as if I am not sitting right between them.
“Give him your number,” passenger pimp says, “Let him play with them big ol’ titties.”
“Man, she ain’t gotta let me, Ima do it anyway.”
The light changes.
In the midst of their “conversation” I said over and over “That’s very disrespectful. Don’t talk about me like that.” But they laughed and continued, like I was just there for their consumption; their enjoyment. My feelings had no place in their business.
Although I’ve gotten looks from men in public in the past, this was the first time that I was in the midst of feeling unsafe and unprotected as my body was gazed upon as if it did not belong to me.
I have struggled with body image all of my life. I’m not tall and thin like the rest of my family. My breasts have been large since junior high school. I’ve was sexualized by boys then and still get it from men now.
But it was something about this time. Every other time a man ogled over my body, I at least liked him back, I think. I let them, and I attempted to enjoy it. But today forced me back to the time as I sat on the couch and let a man fondle my breasts for almost an hour. I went back to the time when my button popped off of my blouse in fifth grade and all the boys laughed. I went back to all of those times I dealt with a stare because of my figure.
What am I supposed to do when two black men make me feel completely worthless? Make me take three steps back from the mental progress I’ve made of loving myself?
I have never felt as small as I did today. My black, educated, feminist self crawled back into that hole that I hid in for years. These men believed that they didn’t need my permission to use my body.
To the black men that harassed me today: that is not love. That is not respect; that is not flattering. To the black man that helped me out of that dark place and talked to me the rest of the way home, thank you for loving my womanhood when I struggled to do so myself. To my best friend who thinks of my mental health when I forget to, or can’t, thank you.
Even now, I sit in my chair and pull my sweater a little tighter, rethink what I was wearing (a white t-shirt and black cardigan) and dread driving down that street. Even now, I recuperate from a panic attack and try to quiet my thoughts.
The scariest part is understanding that by the time I heal from this, it will more than likely happen again. Some black man will see me only as a receptacle for his sexual thoughts. Is your nut worth my sanity?
*Also published in Dear Queen on Medium