Getting Cruised In the Heights

Got my hair cut. Short. Shaved sides. Even got my eyebrows did.

Ghurl, my shit is looking correct.

I scraped my pennies together and indulged in some self-care. Hit up mi hombre, Hermán, at the barber shop in the Heights near my girl’s crib, and got a cut.

Ever since my best homegirl passed away, getting a haircut has been this saving grace, one I dive into whenever my reservoir of sanity is running low. A little shave, a little buzz, the hum of Dominican Spanish, the sound of men treating each other with compassion, all of this is calming to me.

Breathe in, hair fucked up. spiraling, twisting, out of shape. Breathe out. All my lines are sharp. Skin smooth.

Baby-faced boi looking good.

Tip him well. I tell Hermán in my broken Spanish ‘until next time, papito’.

Fresh to death, walk the block, feeling myself.

And all of a sudden, men on the street notice me.

Men on the street have been such a constant source of conversation and discomfort for so many of my sisters and brothers and weirdos in the struggle.

Videos being passed around all day on all the feeds.

Look at these fucken guys. They can’t keep their mouths shut. Predators. Rapists. Women deserve to be left alone. Women are people not objects to be groped, shouted at, mistreated. But look at how these men are all black and brown. But what about the white guys? What about them? No one’s making videos about how Wall Street fucks us all over every day.

I am a feminist. I listen to what women say. I listen to queers. I listen to kids and people and humans and if someone says that something hurts them or doesn’t feel good or is fucking assault then I listen. We need to listen.

We need to stop the bullshit.

There is something about street harassment and something about the way men speak and spit game that unravels us.

That’s me summarizing all the points. my feelings fall somewhere in between.

This how my brothers are taught to speak to women, to each other. Mad loud on the block.

what up, my N?

yo shawtay, what’s good?

you lookin’ good mami.

oye primo, que lo que?

oye oye oye

whatever bitch.

yo, son, keep walking for I cut you.

but baby girl, i just wanted to say hello. have a beautiful morning.

Stop talking to us. It’s not talk. It’s a threat disguised by a good morning.

Fuck your good morning, dude.

Should they stop talking to us? Not sure how i feel about that.

It might feel different if we weren’t made to feel like we’re always on display.

Feast your eyes on this, gentlemen! Girls! Girls! Girls! Real women XXXX. Look at how she walks to work! Sex. All the sex. Say hello, say good morning, maybe sex. On display. Walking down the street. No one just says hello anymore.

But being on display is interesting, and after a shape-up, I’m on display.

Who are these men noticing me? Who are these men giving me the long, soft stare, eyes holding mine like they got something for me, something they can’t talk about, something only eyes can pass along.

Who are these men whispering ‘hi, papi’ to me?

I don’t think I look more male today than I did yesterday.

gabby1

#selfcareselfie post-haircut

Being cruised by men feels different than being hollered at by men.

I don’t know if the difference is mine or theirs or if this is the difference created by fluids mixing in the air.

But it is different.

Being cruised is being let in on a secret. Being hollered at is an act of dominance. These are my distinctions.

Being cruised is what happens when heterosexism is pushed aside for a minute. It’s what would happen, I imagine, if none of our interests —sexual, spiritual, emotional — were shackled to any sort of expectations. In a world where no one expects anyone else to be straight, people could reach out to whoever they wanted to or not.

Now as far as eye contact or verbal contact goes, for me, I’m not bothered by it, not when it’s a cruise. I’m flattered, first. Part of me wonders if they think I’m a pretty boy, especially when they call me ‘papi’. I don’t want to be a man but I’m very comfortable with my masculinity. My masculinity is intertwined with my femininity.

This gender expression of mine is a balancing act between them both and I feel fine.

But somehow, the idea that they might think I’m a boy excites me. It makes the exchange even more illicit. Like, yes homo, all the way homo, you think I’m a dude and you want some and it’s a cruise because you’re quiet and possibly nervous and I wish we lived in a world where you didn’t have to be nervous, homie.

And some days, I hope they know that I’m a flyboi, queer dyke brown badass. I hope they’re besides themselves over being attracted to a masculine woman. I hope they’re having their first gay moment with my tits and my shape up. And I hope it feels good.

It is all illicit but I’m a willing participant. I’m unafraid of being cruised.

I am fortunate so far. None of these men have ever touched my body. None of them have ever spat out threats against my person if I don’t continue eye-contact or follow them when they beckon me to a corner.

Mostly these are moments in passing.

She keeps on passing me by.

Or maybe this human, cruising me, is as queer as I am. Maybe they’ve recognized me as one of their own. Maybe i’m stuck in my own world, presuming gender and intent, forgetting how hard we cruise for each other.

I do this. I seek other queers in the world. Walking down on the block, riding the A train, at the supermarket, wherever I step, I’m looking. Queer is sexy, desirable, community, worth taking a pause in my step. Beyond gender, beyond assumed sexualities, being to being.

It’s a thing that happens but no one talks about it. No one talks about the ways in which men respond to masculine women. That is, unless the conversation revolves around acts of aggression or shame, or assault in which the man is attacking a dyke because she looks like a dyke.

That is the only conversation.

It’s an important conversation but there is more. There is always so much more.

I wish I could stop these men on the street, after the looks and the whispers, and ask them what they’re thinking.

If i cared more, I’d ask them how they see me.

As my haircut grows in, the cruising happens less and less. I’m ok with that too.

My signifiers become more dyke than boi, more girl than in between, still so very homo.

Maybe no one is looking for me.

A cruise is just a cruise.

I keep my eyes open.
I keep looking for my own.

It’s a strange strange thing. I’m ok with this strange world.

Some days.

Haircut days.

That Hermán even does eyebrows.

gabby2

lines and brows forever

Gabrielle Rivera is an awesomely queer Bronx bred, writer, spoken word artist and director. Her short stories and poems have been published in various anthologies such as the Lambda Award winning Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City and The Best of Panic! En Vivo from the East Village. Her short film "Spanish Girls are Beautiful" follows a group of young Latina and Caucasian girls who like girls as they hook up, smoke up and try to figure sh*t out. She also freelances for Autostraddle.com while working in the film and television industry. Gabrielle is currently working on her first novel while bouncing around NYC performing spoken word and trying to stick it to the man.

gabby has written 102 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. I found this to be very interesting top that needs to be delved into more. I also, think cruising depends on location, time & atmosphere. I had men mistake me for male vs trans* gq at clubs, and it has been similar to the hollering, but face touch face close. Men who are into men in a club/bar scene can be grabby without asking, and I have seen it, and know people who are know to do it. I’ve also seen in West Hollywood during the day men just grab random strangers butts or cat call a woman about her hair, outfit, or the guys she with.

      • Well at first I thought this was being written in response to that catcall video thats been circling the net so I thought youd written about a first hand experience. But then you started talking about cruising and ‘hi papi’ and it occurred to me that stuff like that can happen. I was like oh yeah omg why havent i seen it before?

        Also your writing is always awesome.

  2. This is a really great perspective that you don’t usually hear on this topic. It’s interesting what people assume about us just because of how we look. And how those assumptions influence the way they treat us.

    PS – You’re lookin’ good gurl.

    • There we go. Someone put into words the things I wanted to say!! Why cant we human without all the assumptions based on how we look or talk or wear. Its almost crazy you know. I mean Ive walked around with my sister and her kids and you know the kids will hold my hand and people will be like youre lesbians? Im like I AM but we’re sisters.

      • Right? I look feminine, so if I’m getting unwanted attention from a man and I tell him I’m married (which I am – to a woman) he typically assumes I have a husband. And I let him think that, because it feels safer that way. How fucked up is that?

  3. I love your prose. This is so eloquent, and something here really resonated.

    My presentation leans center-of-the-spectrum to slightly femme; I have a short(ish) gender-neutral haircut and don’t like to show the curves of my body. I wish to be recognized as female, but I don’t want the sexualization of my body by men.

    Very insightful piece of writing.

  4. I feel the opposite way, honestly.

    Because when I’m hollered at as-a-women, I know that the dudes don’t see me as a person. I feel safer being objectified because dudes don’t expect an object to fight back, don’t expect an object with all these curves and soft edges to have any hard on them. I have the element of surprise on my side if things turn ugly.

    When I’m cruised, the dudes making comments see me as a person, as a dude. And if things turn ugly, they’re prepared for ugliness and hardness, probably more than I can give them. And that’s what scares me. (It made me especially nervous when I’d go out with my ex-boyfriend because he didn’t get street harassment, didn’t get what it was about, didn’t get why my only response was to start walking faster and hiss at him to keep up.)

  5. Yesssssssssssssss. Thank you for this. claro que si i can’t articulate as well as I’d like why this really resonated with me but it diiid. also lets talk forever and ever about cruising for queers because we just gotta. spotting/relishing in/acknowledging/appreciating/recognizing/falling in love for a few seconds with a queer stranger on the streets is many life.

  6. “Being cruised is what happens when heterosexism is pushed aside for a minute. It’s what would happen, I imagine, if none of our interests —sexual, spiritual, emotional — were shackled to any sort of expectations. In a world where no one expects anyone else to be straight, people could reach out to whoever they wanted to or not.”

    Ah this is terrific. (Also reminds me a little of some arguments in Samuel Delany’s “Times Square Red Times Square Blue.”) I have never been able to frame this to myself so eloquently, but yeahhh—I’m not going to argue with any woman who feels like any contact along this spectrum is unwanted contact, definitely, but at the same time, in the city I want around me, I want to preserve some space for that kind of reaching out. That fuzziness, that mood of possibility.

  7. I often like what people say to me on the street, as long as it’s not threatening. Like, when a woman told me my aura hit her in the face, or a man told me he could tell I was anxious by the way I was holding my hands. People on the street give us so much FEEDBACK about how we’re presenting, without knowing at all who we are.

    “Being cruised is being let in on a secret. Being hollered at is an act of dominance. These are my distinctions.” LOVE IT. I’m enjoying wondering what these guys are thinking when they’re calling to you. I know “straight” men who like masculine or androgynous women but yeah it’s not talked about very much. The change in power dynamics, tone, etc. as the gender shifts can be delightful.

    The last time I got a haircut was over the summer. I usually read pretty feminine. I’ve got a pixie cut, and my stylist pulled it in wicked short. I was walking home with my v. dykey haircut in a pink tank top and short shorts. Walked past a barbershop and the barber and the customer both stared at me through the window. The barber ran out of his shop (in the middle of cutting a man’s hair) and offered to give me a line-up. I still don’t know if he was hitting on me or asking me to be his bro.

  8. You know, I met you once, when Riese was on a queer blog panel at NYU, years ago. I didn’t know your writing very well back then, but I wish I had, because I wish I could have told you how much it resonates.

    It’s strange how shifts in gender signifiers change how people respond to you on the street. Like, I got hollered at and honked at just walking along, as a girl – even if I was bundled up in a giant parka, jesus.

    But now – reactions are really varied. I can’t know for sure, because I can’t ask them, but I think it depends on whether they read me as a young man (boy?), a masculine woman, or can’t read me at all. It’s so strange.

    I don’t know what people are picking up on. Because even people who definitely see me as male sometimes say or do things that make me wonder – like the hotel clerk who casually mentioned menstrual cramps in a brief conversation about mild painkiller tolerance. I know she knows I’m a guy, and I doubt she’s ever really thought about the existence of transgender men, but sometimes, women I don’t know still treat me like one of the girls. I’m not sure how it works.

    Maybe it’s because I come off as young and gay and approachable? Maybe it’s because even if they don’t know what it is, people can sense that I’m not “all man.” That I’m still one of them, a little.

    I’m glad the conversation about street harassment is happening, but I know what you mean, I think. I grew up in the suburbs of the Midwest, and moving to Manhattan for college was some culture shock, and the way people on the streets would just talk to you or yell at you, at any time, was part of it. The harassment made me uncomfortable, of course, but I liked talking to people on the street sometimes. Spontaneous, eclectic conversations completely untethered to any part of my real life – the kind of thing you collect in the privacy of your mind, for no real reason. And better, to have a moment, however brief, when you see someone else – someone like you – and can meet their eyes and just acknowledge each other – I see you, I see you. We’re so invisible most of the time, but right now you’re seen.

  9. This is super, super interesting. I think about this kind of thing sometimes, when I’m walking down the street, and maybe I look a little more masculine, and I’m wondering what men see when they look at me. You bring up some really interesting points here. I’m just going to think about this for a while. I especially like how you mention the cruising could just be queer looking for queer, because it’s always kind of cool when you see that, whoever the person is. I always wonder if there is any recognition of my queerness from queer men. I feel like I don’t get the same visual acknowledgement, so it’s hard to tell…

  10. Thank you for this awesome piece. I’ve always enjoyed cruising with queer dudes when it happens. (I also have not had bad experiences with it so it’s easier for me to enjoy it.)

    I love queer cruising in general, partly because the mainstream denies us our sexuality and sexual agency in so many ways and this is a way we validate and revel in it with each other.

    This captures that so well.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.