Merely experiencing desire upon beholding someone is not to necessarily objectify. To wit:
I’ve been objectified by men when I’ve worn frumpy sweatshirts and baggy straight jeans: my butt was groped when I was arrayed that way at a hole-in-the-wall eatery. I’ve been objectified by men while I was wearing long, loose tunics and skirts topped by carefully-draped headscarves: I was asked if I was a “total freak under that thing”, the last word punctuated by an unmistakable gesture towards my scarf. Hell, I’ve been objectified by men for being a virgin who mostly stayed at home: a much-older man online told me that he found it titillating to think about me “locked away” and insinuated that if we got together, he’d rescue me to a liberated life of constant sex and nudity at his apartment.
Months ago, when I mentioned GaymerX at an atheist meetup, someone posited what I’m sure was thought to be a simple, well-meant question: “Why a separate gay con? Why not attend Comic-Con?”
I didn’t — and don’t — plan on attending Comic-Con for reasons that have little to do with the existence of GaymerX (the fighting online for the privilege of paying them, the overcrowding, the obscenely long lines, the zero to -8734817 chance of actually getting to see any of the panels I’d actually want to attend, and so on).
Even if I were a Comic-Con aficionado, though, GaymerX has the right to exist. As stated in the journalists’ panel there, we can have cons about whatever we want with any level of unoppressive specificity we prefer and don’t need to justify their existence to anyone, least of all someone to whom the specificity does not apply.
As if being a member of a perceived minority like geekdom renders you immune to oppressive behavior — it doesn’t. As if a person cannot attend mainstream cons as well as the more specific ones — we can. As if members of the mainstream are shot on sight if they’re not part of the target audience at specific cons — they aren’t. As if mainstream cons don’t cater to a specific demographic — they do, and that demographic isn’t one around which I necessarily feel safe.
You see, I enjoy cosplay. The character I embodied for GaymerX is something of a queer icon, especially given one of her lines.
More than one person wanted a picture with or of me. Countless others high-fived me or exclaimed with delighted recognition. And, of course, most found their eyes drawn to the cleavage window. Yes, even the gay boys. Whether breasts are sexual to someone or not, there’s something hypnotic about a heaving bosom. I faulted exactly no one for looking since everyone treated me with respect, acceptance, and camaraderie.
The self-aware acceptance of con probably went to my head because, later that day, I volunteered to run an errand alone. A mere two blocks up from the con area, a random man stopped and asked if he could take my picture. Figuring he had seen my badge and recognized my character, I agreed. It was when he clarified that he wanted to take the picture with me that I grew suspicious. How could he get a picture of my costume and my pose that way?
The truth dawned on me as he attempted to squeeze my waist tightly as he took the picture (which, in true selfie style, only managed to capture both of our faces). In slowly-dispelling disbelief, I asked him if he recognized my costume; he hadn’t. Why he had wanted my picture if he didn’t know what my costume was, then?
“Well, to be honest, I noticed your cleavage.”
In an ideal universe, I would’ve said, “Oh, really? I had no idea my breasts were on display, but thanks for notifying me of this astonishing fact. I shall cover my bosom post-haste. May I add that you’ve done an excellent job in ensuring that there is less exposed cleavage in the world for you to behold and enjoy?”
Instead, I walked away, counting myself lucky that he hadn’t hassled me further. Hoping to be left alone for the rest of my walk, I zipped up my dress.
No such luck. Each block brought fresh reminders that I was a woman daring to walk alone: kissy noises, whistles, sexual solicitations, all from passing cars and street corners just far away enough from me so that I couldn’t quite see, let alone confront, the harassers. I trudged on even as I vacillated between terror and rage.
Rage ended up winning. I lost it when a man outside of his apartment building made animal noises at me after I walked right past him without acknowledging that he’d made a slimy comment. I turned around and issued a forceful “Hey, hey you! Has this ever worked for you? No really, I want to know!” Instantly, he made a mad dash for the inside of his building. As is often the case in the city, the door locked behind him. After a few frantic presses of the call button for the elevator, he fled up the stairwell. Meanwhile, I knocked on the glass of the door, repeating my question at higher and higher volumes, slamming my fist and yelling for a little too long before I resumed my walk to my destination.
Later, when I was walking with two men rather than alone, I unzipped my dress — and was left alone. What was once a body up for grabs to straight men had been, by the magic of masculine presence, rendered a body to be left alone. Perhaps, I dare say, a person? A girl can dream.
We don’t live in a world where a woman can wear what she wants without walking in fear. We don’t even live in a world where covering up her cleavage is enough for a woman walking alone to be left alone by harassers. We do, however, live in a world where people question the very notion of safer spaces for people who don’t get to feel safe in the majority of the world.