(TW: this article references feminity a lot. Empowerment in my femininity has been an integral piece of my healing, and the experience I discuss here ties into that piece of my journey. I hope this does not invalidate similar experiences that other people have had, this is just an experience and insight from my own personal journey).
The other night I was at a dance event to kick off Pride Week. Historically, I have been blatantly hit on more often in gay bars than in other bars, which boils my blood. Not that I have a problem with straight people going to gay bars, but if you are there, you need to understand that space is not for your gratification.
So, you can imagine that I was already very annoyed when I realized that the three guys who came over to dance with us had started aggressively hitting on me and my female friends. After they were rejected by us the first time, I ranted to my friends about how much I hate being hit on by men at gay bars/events, and they all agreed.
We tried brushing it off and kept dancing.
But each time they came back over to our group my blood would boil even more.
At one point, my friend and I were having a deep conversation and had to stand close to each other to be able to hear what we each other was saying. Our conversation was abruptly and aggressively interrupted by the ring leader of those boys and I was so pissed. We kindly told him to fuck off, and at this point, steam was coming out of my ears. Here we were at an event intended for the LGBTQIA+ community, and a dude feels like it makes sense to interrupt two women having a deep conversation to try to hit on them. Like at first glance he really thought that two girls at a queer event would rather talk to him than to each other.
So like I said, at this point, I am fuming. My other friend comes over to ask what is going on and I tell her that I am sick of these dudes constantly hitting on us even after we turn them down. At this point, regardless of what type of event/bar we were at, they were harassing us and it had crossed too many lines. She said that she was annoyed too because he had asked her a couple of times if she was drunk enough yet to make out with him. A STRAIGHT MAN ASKING A GIRL AT A QUEER EVENT IF SHE IS DRUNK ENOUGH YET TO MAKE OUT WITH HIM.
I completely snapped at this point and started crying actual tears of anger. I storm over to the bar to tell the bartender, through tears and gritted teeth, that there is a man who keeps asking my friend if she is drunk enough yet. I felt completely unhinged and was POSITIVE that my appearance and emotions would further cause them to dismiss me and tell me I was being paranoid, but instead, the bartender had the most genuine response of concern. They snapped into action and told me that they would go get security so I could point him out and that the security guard would keep an eye on him. I cannot express to you how genuine their response was, and for the first time that night, I realized that my anger actually matched the severity of the situation. It was like I could breathe a sigh of relief. Something felt off, and that’s because it was off. I was not crazy, I was being intuitive to my internal instincts.
The bartender brought security over to me and the security guard instantly pointed to the creepy dude and asked, “Is that him?” Just then, I realized that this group of friends had been exhibiting odd enough behavior that the security guard knew exactly who I was talking about without me even having to say anything. When I confirmed to the security guard who it was, the security guard went and escorted him and his friends straight out (Pun intended). You could tell the guy was upset and trying to act all dumb and innocent, but the security guard was not having it.
On the verge of a panic attack, I went into the bathroom to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t hold back tears and was so confused. I had just been listened to and those guys had been kicked out, so why was I feeling distraught still? My friends came in and pointed out that it sounds like I was just feeling validated, which feels odd for women in this experience. We are so used to being dismissed or even worst blamed, so we don’t speak up.
I did something rare for Mckayla that night. I fully allowed myself to feel my anger up until my snapping point. And when I did snap, I found out that my anger was perfectly valid. That validation was so intense and so foreign to me that I was on the verge of a panic attack because I did not know how to process all that emotion. (It reminds me of my 3-month-old niece. She gets SO excited when someone whistles that I swear she full-blown glitches because she cannot handle all that emotion).
Women are constantly being hushed and silenced. Because when you isolate their experiences, women are more easily able to convince themselves that they are the common denominator in all these situations and that they need to be the ones to behave differently. But when women start speaking up, they find that the female experience actually has fewer nuances than we originally realized.
If it had just been me who those guys were hitting on or I had not been validated when I expressed my frustration to my friends, I would not have done anything. I would have shoved my anger down all night long and convinced myself I was the crazy one. He may have been able to keep going all night and be further validated that it is okay to come prey on women in a space that is supposed to be safe and not at all about the gratification of straight men. (Side note– hanging out with friends who I feel safe enough to express emotions around also helped a ton in this scenario as well).
Obviously, this man and his friends would be wrong in any situation. There is something extra creepy and malicious about a man who specifically goes from group to group of women in gay bars. To me, this demonstrates that they either fetishize queer women, dismiss female attraction to each other, and/or because they know the straight friends there will have their guards down.
Either way, I am glad I spoke up and I am glad that I have friends who I can trust enough to share what I am feeling with them. With each time that I stick up for myself and others, the more empowered I feel in continuing to do so. There is a small group of girls I go mountain biking with and we were joking that our rides consist of cheering each other on whenever we go over something semi-technical and telling stories of times we stood up to people. Each time I hear one of their stories it empowers me as well to want to do the same. There is something about surrounding yourself with people who are also working on sticking up for themselves and taking up space. In my opinion, speaking up can be one of the best ways to contribute to change.