I'll carry my eyes
On my shoulders to see how
The fish do the see
And to watch you as
You watch me doing my me
How I know to be
I chose to tattoo a version of my eyes on my shoulders. A permanent, two-dimensional, symbol of my eyes. Right before this act, and without knowledge of it, my grandmother said to me and to herself, “this is your choice, to live there, to live this life, so follow through with your choice.” She reminded me, her granddaughter sixty-seven years younger, that there are ways of being that one can follow their whole life. She reminded me that I must recognize and care for these paths if I wish to sustain them. I chose to symbolically place my eyes on my shoulders, to protect myself in a way. Today I began to exercise the additional responsibility my choice grants me. The responsibility of looking outward, of awareness. I am offering myself as an ally when I leave my home, my safe space, when I move into public space. I am offering my body and voice in the effort to expand safe spaces for everyone.
This is an account of a conflict I experienced today, here in Berlin. And I am choosing to tell the direct story. I will refer to people’s genders by what they were presenting as, since this is all I know about them, their physical appearance.
I, white, female bodied, thirty-two year old, American living in Germany, with a permanent visa, was sitting in a park a five minutes walk from my home. I was alone, on a blanket, with earphones on, stretching, writing, wearing a short dress with no sleeves. I was focused on myself, but I was also aware of a number of groups of people in close proximity, of various ages, colors, of various ways of being. In front of me was a group of four teenage girls, wearing pants and shirts, I believe one teenager was wearing a dress. They all wore long dark hair. They reminded me of myself with my friends at that age, excitable, happy, loud and silly.
To my left there was a group of family friends, various couples of varies sexes of various ages and colors. I noted three children. One sleeping baby. A toddler boy (I will refer to them as child from now on), and a girl about six years old. I began to actively watch the people in my vicinity when I became aware of hectic movements in front of me. The child was walking around the four teenagers who were sitting in a circle. The child was patting them, like a child would do to a dog, open palm, outstretched fingers. The teenagers were reacting with annoyance and embarrassment, faces blushing as more people began to watch. At this point I was actively watching when I saw the child pat and then pull one of the teenagers hair. The teenager got up and moved away and the child followed her. The teenager moved back to the group, the child too returned and then continued to pull at their hair, moving from one person to the next. I looked to the group of people to my left, where I assumed a parental figure was present. Though there were people watching and aware of the situation, no one was reacting to it.
I thought about myself as a teenage girl. I thought about parts of my body which society has labeled as feminine, being touched without my consent, by a stranger-child. I knew I would be uncomfortable and embarrassed, because I have been in very similar situations. As soon as I hit puberty such situations became normal. As a teenager I thought I was doing something wrong to attract and therefore deserve this unwanted, inappropriate, and ultimately abusive touch.
I looked back to the teenagers and saw that they were getting up to leave. I made a choice. I walked up to them. I asked them (in German) “Are you ok’ ‘Who’s child is this?”.
One of them motioned toward the family group I have referred to.
As we were talking I was ignoring the child who stood between all of us. He then hit my leg. I said to the child, sternly and loudly, “No! That is not your body. This is my body. It is not yours. Do not touch!”.
One of the teenagers responded without hesitation, ‘Exactly!’
The teenagers continued in their motions to leave the bit of grass they had been sitting on in the public park, essentially because a child antagonized them. A child with a male body and white skin practiced asserting his entitlement to female bodies with dark skin, and to the space they were occupying, and he was taught through everyone’s passive behavior, that his was acceptable behavior.
When I returned to my blanket I was shaking and my heart was pounding. I instantly turned inward to calm myself and to deal with the adrenaline pumping through me. I began writing, reflecting on this situation.
Everyone was learning. The child. The teenagers. The people who watched and did not do anything. The people who noticed my action, who saw that an outsider to the situation does have the right to speak up. I learned that the empathetic feelings of disgust, of discomfort, of shame, were shared and were not crazy, and that I do have reason and the right to speak up when I feel such emotions.
The roots of sexism and racism were being reinforced by everyone witness to the situation. I chose to rip the roots out in the way that I could, without hurting anyone, by presenting myself as an ally.
I believe it would have been more effective for this child to be told by a male parental figure, that he must respect strangers bodies, respect female bodies, that no one is entitled to any one else’s body. That asking must happen before touching and before taking. But this did not happen. At this now, respect must be demanded by the bodies which are being disrespected. We can not wait for others to act. We can not wait for peace to materialize. We must make it happen, out of ourselves and for ourselves, beginning with such small acts.
We never standstill
In solitude. We’re amongst
Whether it nature
The family, village, city,
Or state, borderless
Is our existence
In this universe, this now,