Foto by Troy Farah
The clothes I wear are camouflage: black, gray, and more black to blend into the drab, dirty seats. A scowl is as good as war-paint. I stomp around in steel-toed boots and a leather jacket, and my sitting pose apes at a stereotypical man-spread. My satchel is my armory of distractions, curated with necessity and intent. I have a frayed paperback, laptop, cellphone, earbuds and a small sketchbook in tow. Maybe if I use all of them simultaneously, I will look either thoroughly preoccupied or insane, and thus unworthy of engagement. It’s Pokemon trainer rules: avoid eye contact unless you’re in the mood for another precarious encounter. My gaze is either evasive or frosty, depending on the mood and consistency of my rider companions. Yet despite all of this, no matter my strategy or willpower, beneath the facade remains my same vulnerable self. I am a lone woman on the Phoenix light rail, and regardless of my androgynous attire, every pair of eyes sees this first. My very presence is blood in the water.
Are there any other women nearby? Any men of sympathetic posture? I lean against my bike hanging up on the skimpy rack and zone out. Is the person across from me looking at me, or through the window behind me? It is a constant game of anticipation. I dare to dart my eyes at them and back again. They’re just window-gazing. I feel relieved and silly for being so paranoid, but also I remember the time a man propositioned me while I was on my way to work. I was dressed no differently. Then follows the memory of being ‘complimented’ on my ‘tight little body’ as I lifted my bicycle onto the hook overhead. He seemed to think that I should be grateful for his commentary, or that I owed him my undivided, most gracious attention. I think about the fist-fights I’d witnessed on the late night train into downtown; a man who angrily rammed the front wheel of his bicycle into another man’s leg when he would not move to another seat; and the woman I made eye contact with as a stranger pestered her for attention. Sometimes I shrug and focus on forgetting, sometimes I glare and shout back. Whether I act or I do not, it always feels like shit. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I just want to get to Tempe and back without another mark on my tally of social trauma.
I know that I’m not alone, yet I cannot access the collective strength of my fellow commuters. It s impossible to have solidarity when every ally is on the defense, barricading their personal sphere with headphones and averted glances. I don’t blame them. I do the same exact thing. One must preserve oneself. I just wish we could better preserve each other.
This is an open call for submissions of your experiences, thoughts, and advice on the subject of riding public transportation in the Phoenix metro area. Submissions are welcome from individuals of all backgrounds and identities. You may submit under your actual name, a pseudonym, or anonymously. These submissions will then be published collectively, with commentary from PHX SUX. It is our hope that this will generate discussion about harassment, share strategies and solutions, and create solidarity among those who brave the valley’s trains and buses.
E-mail your stories to [email protected] or send it anonymously using the form below. You don’t have to use your real email address.
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