Empowered Bystander

But it didn’t feel like it.

I felt like shit and as though I hadn’t done anything good at all. It felt like the penultimate Straight White Cis Girl moment. Standing there on the train after a long day at my cushy job, and an hour on the archery range with my boyfriend helping me cart my un-assembled kitchen island to my apartment via the subway. We were right in front of the door being those assholes blocking half of enter/exit capabilities of the car, but it was the best we could do.

We survived two or three stops before this man got on the train. He was taller than me, skinny, and white. He was wearing a hoodie and jeans and had really short cut hair. He was muttering to himself. I did what any good New Yorker does. I fixed my eyes on my boyfriend and leaned on my big ass box and refused to engage, but kept my ears open. My boyfriend had his “observing and assessing” face which means he was taking stock of everything around us and deciding if we were safe and what steps he could take if we weren’t.

The man next to us was upset about someone looking at him, watching him. I was getting more and more tense because from his language I was almost certain he was talking about a transwoman. I couldn’t tell where she was, but I assumed she was on the platform and he was jumping a train early to get away from her, but then he moved around me and my boyfriend apologizing profusely about it because he just couldn’t stand that person looking at him. Seeing as how he had been facing a window I switched my perspective to maybe he was just unhinged and needed to not be in front of the window.

But then someone approached him. I was looking at my boyfriend and could not see who it was, but they were obviously confronting the man about his behavior. He got defensive, saying that he was just minding his own business, why was he getting up in his face, and to stop looking at him and that he didn’t want to sleep with him and he didn’t like men. The person moved away and I thought everything was done.

We reached the next stop and the train unloaded a bit, making more space and the man turned around and started in on the other person. He was yelling about how he just wanted to go home, he had a wife and three kids waiting for him, he liked women and doesn’t want to fuck a guy. The other person responded that he was being crazy and they hadn’t done anything and he accused them of looking at him and coming up on him and that he didn’t want to fuck them because he didn’t like men and had a wife and three kids to get home.

At this point I turned around because no one had made any movements to help, except for one woman who was telling the man that there were kids on the train and to mind himself. The man was talking to a transgender woman who had probably just been going home, minding her own business. The first thing that came out of my mouth was:

“Hey, let’s deescalate this.” It felt like the stupidest thing I could possibly say, but I focused my attention on the man and managed to get him to concentrate on me. “Let it go, come back over here. Think about getting home.”

He thankfully returned back to our side of the train and away from the woman. I engaged him in conversation as my skin crawled and my throat ached. The woman he had been harassing and berating got off at the next stop, she looked angry and frustrated. I wanted to tell her I supported her and I did not empathize with him, but I didn’t want him to get riled up.

Once she was gone he told me again that he wasn’t attracted to men and had a wife and three kids. I told him that I was sure she hadn’t been at all interested in sleeping with him. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that my father was trans and I could guarantee him that no transgender woman would want to sleep with an asshole like him. After he calmed down more, he thanked me for intervening because “someone would have had to call 911” and “he would have spent the night in jail.”

I am scared to think about what might have happened if I hadn’t stepped in. What more would he have done that would have caused someone to call 911 or land him in jail? How could he not see that what he was doing was wrong and mean and so hate-filled? Even though I had deescalated the situation I felt dirty and as though I had colluded with him, reaffirming that he had been right to go after that woman. I felt like a traitor, but all I wanted was for him to leave her alone and for her to be able to get home safely.

Monday I learned a young transgender woman was raped at Stonewall. It made me think of the woman on the train. I hope she is safe. I hope she is well.

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