I’m running. It’s mile 7 of what I hope will be a 9-mile run, a new record for me. I’m shirtless and sweating despite the early October chill. I’m aching and deeply fatigued, but I think I’m going to make it.
It’s twilight. Despite my wife’s warnings I didn’t count on how long this would take me, or how early the sun sets this time of year. It’s going to be fully dark before I get back to where I started.
The trail I’m on goes through the center of a small town. I’m about to cross the main thoroughfare. I hear the throaty roar of a big diesel. A big glossy black jacked-up pickup truck with vertical exhaust pipes, of the kind popular with a certain set of young men in this area, is coming down the street.
I slow to let the truck pass in front of me. As it does the young man at the wheel honks his horn while projecting his head out the side window. He’s looking straight at me. I know that look; that mannerism. He’s checking me out, and he wants me to know it.
I know this town; this region. There is no chance this guy is loudly and proudly announcing his appreciation of my male body. In the fading light he thought he saw an attractive young woman running the rail trail, and he wanted her to know he was aroused.
I’ve been getting catcalled by guys for as long as I can remember. When I was a young gothling, clean-shaven and often to be found wearing makeup and a skirt, this was less surprising. What I couldn’t have predicted was that it would continue even as I fell out of my gothic fashion habits and grew a goatee. I still have my long hair, my trim build and short stature, and (dare I say) a nice ass. Apparently, this is enough. I still get the occasional wolf whistle from a passing car, not to mention the odd startled exclamation as another man enters the men’s restroom.
Sometimes it happens, as it did at the intersection, despite the fact that they are facing me head-on and with my hair tied back. It makes me think that the catcall has become completely reflexive with some men; thought translating to action at the first tentative pattern-match, long before the conscious mind has time to more carefully consider the evidence.
And not only that. Once I was in an airport bathroom. A guy from an Israel tour group was using the urinal next to me. As he finished and stepped away, he said something under his breath. I didn’t quite catch it at first, and it replayed in my head until a few steps out of the bathroom it fell into place: he’d said “queer”.
It’s twilight, and I’m tired, and I’m running. I’m headed out of town and into the woods. I hear the same deep diesel roar. When I last heard it, the truck was going in the opposite direction from me. Did he turn around?
5 minutes later. I’ve just crossed a road. I hear the same rumble again. I look behind me. The truck has just crossed behind me.
There is a 9,999-out-of-10,0000 chance that the guy is just out driving back and forth, the way they do around here. He ran out of town to parade through, and now he’s on his way back.
There’s a 1-in-10,000 chance that he knows where I’ll have to cross next, and he’s going to be there too. That he’s stalking me. Because I’m a pretty lady who deserves his attention. Or because he realized his mistake too late, and now he needs to beat the shit out of me for challenging his heterosexual manhood.
Mile 8. It’s fully dark. I’m alone on the trail. My phone battery is almost dead. I phone my wife and tell her where I am and what happened. I’m not too scared, because I know the odds of a worst-case scenario are vanishingly small. But in that exceedingly unlikely case, I want to make sure they know where to start looking.
I’m a white male middle-class software engineer with a beard, and I get catcalled. And every now and then I get worried that a man is going to hurt me because he made a mistake and I need to be punished for it. Or because I “look gay” and I need to be punished for that.
I know that these things happen. Rarely enough to be newsworthy; but they happen. There is a fear and a rage here that I don’t fully understand. And because I don’t understand it, I’m not sure how to address it.
What I do know is that I’ve only touched my lips to this cup. Women, more effeminate men (gay or not), transgender folk, and others have to drink deep every day.