People think that I'm a princess because I don't like to use public transportation. I get teased about it all the time, and it doesn't help that my sense of navigation is abysmal. People think that I'm well-off and don't travel because I don't want to "slum it." Well, they're wrong on all counts.
I do not like to use public transportation because doing so makes me feel unsafe.
I hate travelling, and I only do it when absolutely necessary. I will make plans around whether or not I will be required to travel. I will sometimes abandon plans altogether if it means travelling through a certain place or past a certain hour. And honestly? I'm just lucky. I have sometime-y access to a personal vehicle, and a flexible enough schedule that I can make arrangements around it's availability to me. Lots of women don't have that privilege or that choice, but it's what I do to ensure my own sense of personal security and control.
When I was younger, I thought maxi taxis (the vehicles in the picture above, and one of the main modes of transportation in Trinidad) were AMAZING. At eight years old, there was nothing I wanted more than to ride in one. They were alluring and strange and I thought they were cool. But I'm an only girl. My parents refused to allow me to travel because it "wasn't safe." A small female child travelling alone in a school uniform would make me a target for harassment or buggery. And I believed them. Because when you're eight, your parents are superhuman and they know everything.
As a result, I didn't really start using public transportation with any regularity until I was around 16 and I was sneaking off to my boyfriend's house. (Yes, that happened. I was a harlot. Deal with it.) And it only was then that I realized that even though my parents' fears for me were largely exaggerated, they weren't entirely unfounded.
We already know that in a patriarchal society, women's bodies are seen as public property. But to be a moderately attractive black woman or girl with large breasts or buttocks in a public space is to invite harassment. Or so they tell you. Hell, you don't even have to be attractive. Just the ass will do.
I learned that lesson the hard way. My body became available to anyone who wished to consume it because I dared to be out in public. I can't even count the number of times I had my ass squeezed, or had some random man insist on carrying on a one-sided conversation with me even after I indicated I wasn't interested. I can't count the times I've had someone grab my hand and try to sweet talk me as I tried to politely disentangle myself from their grasp. I have had men follow me off of maxi taxis and to my destination. I have had men pull up next to me while I was walking to in the street and offer me a ride in exchange for some "sweetness." I have had men proposition me outright and masturbate in the seat next to me.
I was not fond of those experiences.
And I'm not saying that this happens every time I get into a taxi. It doesn't. It rarely happens anymore actually. But when it does, it immediately takes me back to the times when I was 16 and terrified that a strange man was going to enact his will upon me because he felt entitled to.
The accumulation of those interactions socialized me to be VERY protective of my personal space; militantly so. My own brother knows never to touch me unless it's an emergency situation. I'm 5'2" and not very strong. If a man decided he felt like assaulting me on any given day, there would be nothing I could do about it.
And I am hyperaware of that fact, so in response, I avoid situations where that kind of unwanted interaction might happen. Most people would call that smart. Instead I get called an entitled princess. I have had to deal with unwanted sexual attention for most of my life. My breasts came in when I was 9 and the catcalling started when I was 13. I'm no stranger to this kind of shit. And over the years, it wears on you, it really does. Over time, you adjust the way you live your life in order to avoid unsavory situations because rape culture be damned. You make yourself smaller so that you don't attract attention. You shrink yourself so that you avoid the gaze of the lecherous. You are constantly vigilant because if you're not, then it's your fault for being victimized.
All of that has had very specific effects on the way I move through the world:
- I can no longer tolerate being randomly touched. I hate touch that I did not solicit or expect on a visceral level. Being inside my personal bubble is a privilege, and entering into that space without my consent immediately puts you on my shit-list.
- Being around people (but especially men) that I do not know personally makes me physically anxious and antsy, because I have learnt that the only way to avoid being a target is to always be on alert. It makes new situations and places very emotionally taxing for me.
- I do not like being approached by strangers in public. If I want to meet someone new, I'll approach them, on my own terms, that I can control.
None of these things is because I think I'm better than anyone. They are simply habits I've developed in direct response to being told that my body is public property. It's the only way I know how to protect myself against that assumption. It is the only way I know how to allow myself to enact agency over my own body in a public space.
So the reason I avoid public transportation in Trinidad isn't because I'm prissy or entitled or because I don't want to mix with "the poors." It's because my own personal, first-hand experience has taught me that I'm not safe in public on my own. My own experience has taught me that more often that not, I will have my personal cocoon of comfort breached in a way that makes me feel threatened. My own personal experience has taught me that it is easier to simply stay at home than risk being fondled by a stranger.
If that makes me a princess, then I'm motherfucking royalty.