Warning: Mention of sexual assault, included with the survivor’s consent
Recently I went to Trans Pride Brighton – the second time I’ve been, and it was bigger and better than the year before. On a misty but warm Saturday morning, we gathered to march; and unlike last year where we effectively just did a short loop around the block, this year the route took us down to the seafront, then a good mile or so along the main road before arriving at the park for the afternoon’s event.
As we marched, we waved our flags, blew whistles, tooted horns, and chanted slogans about access to healthcare, the right to respect, and safety from attack, and more. We were noisy and colourful, and we were visible: out there, getting in the way, as the police closed one side of the road for us. We marched, with a generous crowd along the roadside, and with the oncoming traffic crawling along on the other side of the road. People in cars sounded their horns, cheered and waved, as did people from overlooking buildings. It was glorious.
At the end of the march, we arrived in the park for the afternoon event, and it felt welcoming, inclusive and safe. Surrounded by so many other trans and non-binary folk, as well as families and allies, we relaxed, we chatted, met up with old friends and made new ones. With a view of the sea and the mist finally clearing to reveal the sun, we ate, drank, played games, and were able to just be ourselves.
With the park event drawing to a close, we left, generally in small groups, with most of us walking back towards the city. Away from the march and the park, and back onto the streets of the real world, we were suddenly once again a tiny handful of trans people in an overwhelmingly cis-binary world. Now, once again, our guards had to be up: some of us received unwanted attention, “chasers”; unsolicited and inappropriate approaches.
Back in my room, I rested, freshened up, worked out what I had planned for the evening – and now realise that for the first time this weekend, I’m starting to feel anxious. My plan is simple enough: go the Marly (the pub that many of us congregate around), meet friends, go on from there later on. It’s no more than a 15 minute walk for me, but I’m nervous in a way that I haven’t been so far this weekend. Tense, on-edge, afraid of navigating the world alone, as a vulnerable person.
I realise that I used to feel that same anxiety before transition too; but back then, the labels I felt I had that made me vulnerable were different: to do with being not-very-tall, not-very-strong, shy, nerdy. Now it’s (at best) because I’m female, and (if things go really wrong) because I’m trans.
Finally I make it to the Marly, and I haven’t been that glad to reach safety for a very long time.
Later, the time comes to leave the pub and take the short walk to the club, and once again there’s a requirement to navigate the cis binary world outside. This time I can feel the safety in numbers, as a group of us make the journey together. And then we’re in the club, which once again feels like a safe space, and I can relax.
When it’s time to leave and head back to my hotel room, I don’t manage to find anyone to walk me home, so I have to brave it. Almost as soon as I’ve left the club, I overhear two men, perhaps in their fifties, who are heading towards almost exactly where my hotel is. I tag along. One of them is on his phone – it sounds like they’re heading to meet with their wives, perhaps. I stay within a few yards of them the whole way, and as we get nearer to the turn for my hotel, it feels busier, more lively – and less safe. I have to turn off, and there’s a walk of no more than a minute on my own, and finally I’m back in the hotel, in reception, in the lift, in my room. Safe again.
I relax, unwind, catch up with friends on social media.
And then I see it, an update from a friend: tonight, in the club, one of my friends was sexually assaulted. I’m angry, sad, I want to hug her, and of course I want it not to be true, but it is, it happened, nothing can ever undo that. There, in the after-Trans-Pride party, in an LGBT venue, in what was supposed to be a safe space, her safety, her personal space, her bodily autonomy had been violated. She writes that it’s the first sexual assault she’s suffered, and now she understands why her cis female friends talk the way they do about it, how it’s so awful. I think of back when I was assaulted, how violated it made me feel too, how insecure, how afraid and alone I felt, how I couldn’t leave the house the next day. It’s gone 3am and I should be going to sleep but I’m too wound up over this. I want to hug my friend and be there for her, but it’s way too late.
The rest of the weekend passed off without incident (as far as I know): on Sunday I met up with friends, we ate, drank laughed, enjoyed each other’s company. Some of our group went home on Sunday; the rest of us finished off the evening with good cocktails and great conversation, and the next day, we all went back to our everyday lives.
Normally I don’t think much about safe spaces, because I don’t have to – or rather, I do think about it, but in a fairly automatic way.
Walk along the street, but maybe cross the road to avoid that group over there. This street’s OK, but not after dark. This street is just never OK, whatever the time of day. Choose the part of the restaurant away from the loud group of men. Pick a route to the exit of the pub, through the crowd, but avoid the rowdy group at the bar if possible. It’s automatic, it’s part of what we do every day without necessarily even realising it. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is.
We’re doing the work to solve other people’s problems: to work around their lack of consideration, their hate, their bigotry, their violence.
As the march had set off, around noon on Saturday, one of the slogans we chanted was an assertion of the right to feel safe in public places, about the right to participate in public life in the same way as everyone else. We marched, and we chanted: “Whose streets? Our streets!”.
By time I went to bed that night, the meaning of those words had been forcefully and unpleasantly hammered home.
by Rachel Evans (@rvedotrc)
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