Tuesday, April 05, 2011


I'm a horrible person.

It seems recently that this blog has become for me a place of confession.

I'm not proud of what I'm about to write, but since it happened several days ago and it's still bothering me, here goes nothing.

We were heading down to the movies on Saturday. It was a nice day and winter was in retreat. This is good - it's warm. This is not so good - it brings out the yahoos. As I have been visually different all my life I have been subject to things that some of my friends, who experience them with me the first time, are distressed that I have come to see as commonplace. Strolling down a major street in a major city on a day where the sun is out and having, inevitably, at least one car full of aforesaid yahoos drive by with one leaning out the car hollering 'yo lardass' 'hey, fat fuck' or other charming things is a given, an expectation. Vancouver's Robson street on a warm day is the most hostile place on the planet for someone of my size and shape, there it happens six or seven times in a few block radius. I will no longer visit that street.

I saw them before I heard them. A car full of  'youthugs' heading up Yonge street. On cue one of them leaned out of the car. I braced myself. Then I heard him and realized that he was targeting a very pretty woman a few feet ahead of me with lewd comments.

And I was relieved.

I'm a horrible person.

I know that.

I should have wanted to take the bully for her. But instead I simply let my heart slow back down in my chest. It wasn't me that time. Joe and I kept on going and so did she. Finally, screwing up my courage, I sped ahead and caught up to her, driving beside her for a couple of seconds before saying, 'That shouldn't happen to you.' She smiled, she was really beautiful, 'You get used to it.' I looked at her and said, 'No, you don't.' It took her a second to realize what I was saying and how I knew. She stopped and said, 'No, you don't do you?'

'No,' I said, 'and that's what makes it always wrong.'

She looked as if she was going to cry and she reached out and patted my shoulder, and said simply, 'Thanks.'

I wanted to tell her that I didn't deserve the thanks but that would have meant betraying her again with the truth of my reaction. The contract she has with society to be safe was broached, twice. Once by them. Once by me. One victim should never be pleased that another was chosen. Never.

I know better.

So does he.

He trusted in my silence.

Don't try me again.


CL said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. I'm a young, 20-something woman living in a city neighborhood, and I get harassed on a regular basis. I've had my ass grabbed by strangers on the sidewalk, and I've been catcalled, and I've been followed by men who wouldn't leave me alone. Once, a group of men followed me down the street, shouting comments about my ass. It was the middle of the afternoon, and everyone could hear, and nobody did or said anything.

If I had been that woman, and you had approached me, I probably would have cried on the spot, out of gratitude that someone saw what happened and said something supportive. Usually when I try to explain my experiences with street harassment, people who haven't lived in a neighborhood like mine don't understand, and they even question what I might have done to provoke it. People who haven't experienced it don't understand how even "compliments" about my body are degrading and threatening when they are shouted by leering strangers. Street harassment happens to me when I'm walking alone, and nobody ever stands up for me or affirms that I don't deserve it, and it's not okay.

You're not a horrible person for feeing momentary relief that they weren't targeting you. I think it's a very normal reaction. Just like your reaction to the "r-word" -- we can't help that we have stronger reactions when things touch us personally. What matters is that we recognize other forms of oppression and treat them as equally serious, which you did. What you did for that woman was more than most people ever do when they see someone get harassed.

I hope I never forget this story, and I hope that next time I see someone get harassed -- whether it's a woman like me, or someone using a wheelchair, or anyone else -- I hope I make an effort to show support, to validate their experience and their humanity, if I can.

I know you feel like your gut reaction was wrong, and you probably aren't looking to be told that you did something wonderful. But you really did... and I feel very touched by your post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thank you for this post - as a woman who was harrassed in my younger days I thank you for what you said to that woman. I don't think I can say it more eloquently than CL did. I also agree with her - your relief at not being the target is natural - but your act of solidarity is unusual.


Liz Miller said...

You are not a horrible person.

THe harrassers are horrible people.

You were relieved it wasn't you. She would have been relieved if it hadn't been her.

You went to her and bore witness and made it better.

ADR said...


You don't need to feel guilty about being occasionally relieved that you weren't being targeted.

You are, in fact, an amazing person for the way in which you refused to just go on and ignore what happened to the woman who was harassed.

Those were moments of true humanity: being relieved to not be attacked for once; and insisting that harassment of anyone was completely unacceptable.

Nelson said...

Let’s face it. The world is full of assholes that feel the need to demean other people to make themselves feel better. I can't help but feel that they are broken in some way. This is how I rationalize this type of behavior. I have a low tolerance for this type of behavior and often get myself into trouble telling someone what a pimple on the ass of humanity they are. I am getting better at trying to be more politically correct, but I have my moments when I can't help myself. You did the right thing; we need to be more proactive in the face of such mindless hostility.

Bob K said...

Seeing that I am in the field of disabilities I have become more sensitive and understanding about labels and name calling. I have been on both the receiving end as well as the person speaking out of turn. I have come to realize that words do hurt. I am ever so vigilant on picking my words more carefully. Ignorance is not an excuse. We should all make sure our brains are engaged before our mouths are in gear. So with this all said people should not put up with bullying behavior and speak out against it when we see it being done. Nice going Dave, I commend you for your efforts!

Moose said...

1) I don't have to tell you: Bullying is bad, no matter what.

2) One of the things I preach is that we all have 'bad', *ist thoughts sometimes. It's ok. We're human. We all do it.

What IS important is what we do with those thoughts. Even just stepping back, in our own heads, and realizing, "That was a bad thought" brings us one step closer to acceptance of all.

3) Don't beat yourself up about it. Do what you teach others: Learn and move on.

Once upon a time, long ago when I could still walk, I got one good shot at a bunch of jerks in a car. They pulled up to me at a red light and one yelled, "Hey, it's not safe for fat girls to be walking around alone late at night!"

I turned and gave them the death glare I learned from my mom and loudly but calmly said, "Does your mommy know you have her car?"

Jaws dropped. The light changed. They zoomed off.

Nan said...

Just in the paper today ... a new hollaback group/site here in Ottawa. Its a website that encourages people to use digital technology to help end street harrassment. Its aimed a gender-based and sexual-orientation based harrassment, but I think they should add any other kind of harrassment! Disability etc... Check it out!

Kristine said...

You know, my first reaction here is to tell you that you shouldn't feel guilty for knee-jerk emotional reactions. Because they sound like perfectly normal reactions. As much as I hate seeing anyone treated badly, if I'm brutally honest with myself, it's definitely more comfortable to be in the bystander position. From that role, I can choose to step in and be a supportive friend/advocate, or I can shake my head disapprovingly from the sideline. But regardless, I get to keep my social power, and decide how/if I want to deal with the situation. In the role of the attacked, a lot of that power is taken away. Don't like it.

However, while those emotional reactions are natural, maybe it isn't awful to feel a twinge of guilt with them. Not that I think we should let ourselves get weighed down by the guilt. But to a degree, I think guilt tries to teach us things. It keeps us in check. I think it's healthy to stop and analyze our knee-jerk reactions sometimes. "Why was I upset by this? Why wasn't I upset by that?" That kind of honest reflection is how we learn about ourselves, and make decisions that lead to actions. Guilt shouldn't cause us to beat ourselves up, but should cause questions, thought, learning, and potentially changed behavior. The situations you've shared have me thinking about what my personal buttons are and aren't. Which issues am I most passionate about, which do I only support more theoretically, and why? It has me thinking that if I want support and understanding from others on [fill in the issue], I have to make it personal to them somehow. Really, there's much to be learned and thought through here.

And I'm rambling. :)

Noisyworld said...

A small moment of relief is not terrible, that slight reaction when it wasn't you *this time* was completely out-weighed by the words that let her know that you knew it was wrong, that confirmation that it wasn't her fault could be the thing that means she leaves the house tomorrow.
Give yourself a pat on the back for having the guts to confront the result if not the perpetrator.

Andrea S. said...

Ditto to what everyone else said.

Yes, I think it's a natural reaction and does not, in and of itself, make you an awful person.

I also like what Kristine says: Guilt feels bad to experience, and maybe that's why people who like each other try to find ways to protect the people they like from what they think is unnecessary guilt. But guilt can also be used as a positive force to prompt us to analyze ourselves and, hopefully, become better people because of it. Many people simply try to avoid feeling guilty by rationalizing their behavior, or just by suppressing the sensation without allowing themselves to really think about why that twinge has emerged in the first place. Too few of us (and I'm sure I don't do this enough myself) really confront the source of our guilt and consider how to do better. I think it takes courage to do this, and to keep on doing this as often as you do, Dave.

I wonder if there are times when guilt should be embraced instead of reassured.

Kristin said...

You are a good man Dave and even good people occasionally have fleeting bad thoughts. Don't beat yourself up about it.

Belinda said...

I understand silence. Sometimes silence is safer. I hate that drawing attention to yourself would feel like a risk, but it is a risk and I hate that too. Sometimes you just have to weigh the factors at play in the moment and make the call right then. Seconds after their comment to the woman they were gone; challenge them and they might have stopped the car. I can just see the headlines. "Woman and Gay Couple take on Drunk Yobs. Yobs in Hospital--Crushed by Wheelchair."

Noisyworld said...

If only Belinda, in certain *rags* (I refuse to define them as newspapers!) in the UK it would be reported as: (sorry for the language)
Stunner, Crip and his lover hit hoodies hard.
Then go on to have quotes from the kiddies dear mums saying they're just mis-understood and that they're gonna sue:( Plus they'd suggest that you should have your wheelchair taken away as a danger to the public!
Okay I'm feeling pessimistic about the state of the world today lol

Belinda said...

Ha ha Noisyworld--I'd like to see them try to take away the wheelchair!

Noisyworld said...

...and then post it on youtube ;)

Anonymous said...

This is sad and it brought home things that I have gone through. I have been called names and have had food thrown at me. It is sad that some people have to use cruel words to make themselves feel better. It never gets easier no matter how many times it happens to a person.

It is human to feel relief when it is not you getting hurt but it shows your humanity that you feel guilt after. It is also good that you let the woman know she was not alone because it is nice to know that someone else out there knows what it feels like.

John M said...

Dear Dave, I would have to admit I have been in this situation when I have been driving with friends in a vehicle. When they are driving and they see people walking down the street they always yell and say some stupid comment to someone. I am proud to say I have never participated in these silly immature games but I have to say I literally sat in the back seat and didn’t do anything when it came to standing up for the person they were yelling at. But after being involved in the disability field and after reading this blog I hope I can build up the courage and speak up to my friends when I witness there childish pranks again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave
I feel for people that get called rude names and are bullied, I was one of those people when I was in high school. It hurts and it is something that stays with you for a long time. I myself thought find it hard sometimes to stick up for those that are being bullied because I don't want to get involved, But I know now that if i don't it will haunt me. I remember the feeling that i had when no one said anything, so i hope that in the furture that I can be one that helps others in a crisis. Thanks for posting.