Man gets on train blasting music on his phone. He sits next to me. I say nothing for several stops while people roll their eyes and move away. I can’t concentrate on what I’m reading (Sherman Alexie’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”) because the music is so loud. I ask man nicely to lower his music. He rolls his eyes, grumbles some shit about it being too early (indeed it is, sir) but lowers his music. He keeps grumbling, peppering the word fuck freely in his rant. Music comes on again. He challenges: “Say something.” Then raises his music even higher and starts cursing at me, saying I need to get fucked, asks me if I’m the one that he fucks. See, that’s my problem: I need to get fucked good and hard, and maybe then his loud music won’t bother me. I say: “What does me being fucked have to do with your music being disruptive? I wasn’t rude to you.” He keeps cursing and yelling. I laugh. I pretend to be unbothered. But the truth is that my hands are shaking and my heart is thrashing. I put my book away and place my coffee on the floor. I put my hand in my bag and grab my keys. I fist them in my hand. Put a key in between each finger. He gets up. Glares at me. Sneers, “fuck you.” I tell him to have a good weekend. He walks out.
I typed this while riding on the same train. Yes, I could have stayed quiet and left him to be disruptive. How does that help? I didn’t know this man had the capacity to be so vile. The thing is, this isn’t a rare occurrence. Women have to deal with this kind of violence all the time. It ranges from a conversation online when a man calls a woman emotional, thus negating her and connoting that she is hysterical and incapable of logic and having a conversation, to men putting their hands on us and assaulting us and abusing us and killing us. These incidences are all in the same vein. They are rooted in hatred and the the belief that we are inferior and not worthy of respect. I think of these Tupac lines:
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
I carried that trauma in my body all day. I still went about my day. I went to therapy where I unpacked some of the anxiety I was carrying. I went to NYU for a business meeting. I felt a pressure in my head all day, in my temples and the back of my head. I kept going.
Because I have to.
Because what other option do I have?
Because I didn’t know what else to do.
I felt it as I tried to leave the NYU building. The plan was to head home. It started in the elevator. I felt my stomach turn and fizz. I ran to the bathroom. I was on the toilet for forty minutes.
When I finally felt like maybe I could make it, I walked out the building only to run back in. I threw up for ten minutes.
I curled up on the couch in the lobby. This was my body trying to release the stress of the day. It was also a stress response to having to get back on the train to get home. Every time I tried to leave, my stomach lurched. This is what trauma does. It’s trauma that stacks up on you. As I described it to my therapist: “One pebble is nothing but imagine a thousand pebbles. That weighs on you…” I’m sharing this so y’all know that even the strongest woman is not unaffected…even we can break…
This world is dangerous for women. Men: we need you too to step up and help us make it safer for all of us because this violence is detrimental to you too.
I made the decision yesterday to start boxing again. And I’m putting my daughter in boxing classes too. Why? Because I feel safer knowing I can knock a mothafucka out. Here’s the thing: I shouldn’t have to…
I know many people who follow me on social media and read my writing think I’m so strong, impenetrable even. You should know that I cried yesterday. I cried because I felt the trauma in my body. Because my body revolted and froze up at the idea of having to get back on the train. I curled up on that couch at NYU and I shake-cried for the triggered little girl in me. I cried for my daughter who is already navigating this world that is so cruel to women and girls.
I am blessed to have a partner who knew what I needed though I couldn’t tell her. I thought it was too much to ask. How could I, this mujerona, say: “I need you to come get me. I can’t get on the train. I just can’t.” She knew. She came. And when I got in the car, I fell into her, sobbing. I cried for much of the ride home.
We’ve all been touched by trauma. Being strong doesn’t save any of us from it. And pretending that we are unaffected doesn’t serve anyone.
When I posted about my traumatizing experience, most folks responded with such incredible tenderness and support, I was overwhelmed by it, and so grateful. There was one person, however, who chose to take this moment to lecture me about how Tupac was an asshole (I quoted some of his lyrics), and how she’s tired of him being quoted. I can’t give her words verbatim because I deleted her comment. I didn’t need that shit in my space. I think this is a learning opportunity for all of us on what not to do when someone is sharing trauma.
I’m a writer. I process through writing, so in that moment, I was raw and hurting. I typed the status update moments after the incident. It was what I had to keep myself present and calm when my insides felt like they were exploding. I was having that post-adrenaline rush crash that leaves you reeling and chewing your nails down to the root. A lecture is not what I needed. I get that the comment wasn’t about me. Perhaps that person has her own unresolved trauma she hasn’t processed. The thing is, that’s not mine, but she chose to put it on me by responding to my status. I can’t take care of your hurt when I’m still in the thick of mine. It’s also a hell of a selfish thing to do.
Listen, if you’re not in a place to be there for someone, don’t be. If you don’t know how to be present and hold space, don’t. Don’t make their trauma about you. Don’t be that asshole. Thanks.
I put this piece together as I work on editing an essay on toxic masculinity. The irony does not escape me. I started the essay weeks ago, when my homegirl Elisabet Velasquez wrote a status on FB calling men out on their problematic behavior. Some dude bro came on to tell her that she was being divisive and it wasn’t fair for her to address all men since “we’re not all the same.” He went on to say that this wasn’t the solution to the problem.
There’s always one fool that comes on to take attention away from the real issue to defend himself because that’s how fragile male egos are.
I started thinking about the countless times I’ve had to deal with men and their shit. Their fragile egos. Their toxic behavior. I started a list… I eventually stopped compiling because the list got so long and I knew I could keep going for days, weeks even. And I knew that I could add present experiences, because we women have to deal with this shit daily…even from people we love.
Yesterday, one of my best friends who I’ve known since we were 17-year-old freshmen at Columbia University, responded to one of my statuses about how when men want to disqualify and condescend a woman and gaslight her, they tell her she’s being emotional. Of course that’s an old tired, sexist trick. I don’t pretend not to be emotional. In fact, I embrace it these days. I am emotional because I give a fuck. I can be emotional and engage in a conversation and/or debate. I can be emotional and still function in the world. This best friend decided to tell me what men mean by this. He did the #notallmen thing. To be clear, that shit is never okay, but he did it on a day that I was dealing with trauma. It did not go well.
I deleted his note and sent him a text about why. See, we’re both 41. This friend and I have seen one another through so many phases of our lives, and some really hard shit. In short, he’s my boy and I love him, but the truth is that our friendship has always been contentious like this. I know he can be sexist because he’s been sexist to me, but yesterday was not the day to do this.
We went back and forth. He wasn’t hearing me and I wasn’t hearing him. I wrote: “Yes, I’ve lost my shit before. So have you. But I was talking about specific moments. I didn’t have to explain that to women who get that this shit happens. I have to explain it to a man, you, who wants to pick this apart because the reflection is too hard for him to look at. That’s weak. You’re being emotional. See what I did there?”
He wrote: “Blanket assertions are killing society now. Stop feeding into that.”
I called him out. I asked him when was the last time he checked in on me. (So you don’t check on me but think it’s okay to mansplain me? Fuck that, no.) Told him he was doing what so many of them do: diverting attention away from the issue at hand. Said that the status did in fact have context but he didn’t bother to ask. Instead he took this as a chance to school me.
This is part of the problem: We don’t ask questions. We make assumptions. We make things about us.
The truth is that my boy doesn’t know what it is to walk in the world as a woman. He doesn’t get that we women have to deal with this kind of dismissiveness and these gradients of toxic masculinity all the fuckin time. Even from the men we love.
I don’t have a conclusion for this here essay. All I know is that I’m licking my wounds today.
I’m thinking about how we hold space for one another and how we don’t.
I’m thinking about what it is to be a woman and the mother of an almost thirteen-year-old girl.
I’m thinking about how even the men we love treat us in ways that are problematic as fuck.
I’m thinking about how we all have to learn to listen more and react less.
I’m feeling those boxing gloves on my hands as I pummel that bag. It’s just me and the bag and my fists. I feel the rage and aggression pulsing through my arms as I swing.
Jab-Right uppercut-Left hook-Right Hand finish.
Right cross-Left hook-Right cross.
I am sweating, panting, sore. I feel powerful. Unfuckwithable.