Yesterday I was excited to read about the first same-sex couple marrying in Washington, DC. Equal rights for all! What I didn’t notice in the Washington Post article I read was the mention of street harassment until my partner pointed it out.
“A man [Angelisa] Young sees almost every day, who normally greets her with a jokingly flirtatious ‘Hey, baby!’ was conspicuously silent when she saw him the day after the courthouse. She wanted to tell him, ‘Believe it or not, the person you said ‘Hey, baby’ to on March 2 was also a lesbian with a partner.”
I’m really glad she mentioned this (and that my partner pointed it out). The differing impact street harassment has on LBQT women compared to heterosexual ciswomen is an important topic that is rarely talked about.
Men still proposition and sexually harass women who appear to be heterosexual, even if they are not. This is the epitome of heterosexual male privilege: assuming every woman he sees on the street is single, heterosexual or bisexual, and interested in his attention. This assumption wholly denies the sexual identity of women who are not. While many, even most, heterosexual and bisexual women want nothing to do with the men who approach them on the street, women who have no sexual interest in men especially do not. Male harassers do not give women that choice.
Scholar Tiffanie Heben wrote in her article “A Radical Reshaping of the Law: Interpreting and Remedying Street Harassment” how street harassment by a man who interprets a woman to be heterosexual can function to deny the woman of her sexual identity. His actions remind her that her true sexual identity is a “deviance” from the sexual orientation norm he is projecting onto her. She may also be frightened because she fears that if he finds out her sexual orientation he will become violent.
Meanwhile, women who do not appear to be heterosexual or who do not conform to their birth sex (such as transwomen) can be harassed for that reason, often with hateful violence and threats. Gary David Comstock, a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, studied violence against lesbian and gay people and found that 86 percent of the openly lesbian women he surveyed had been the victims of anti-lesbian verbal harassment as a result of their sexual orientation. More women of color than white women reported such harassment.
I cover this topic more in my forthcoming book.
Thoughts or stories from readers about how sexual orientation and gender expression impacts gender-based street harassment?