Let’s set the stage: it is 2014. We are in San Francisco, California. This is not some long ago time (or not so long ago really) in some backwoods Podunk town, so I hope you get a sense of place from my limited, but precise descriptors.
I am coming home from an event downtown. I am on my own at this point around 10:00 p.m., and making my way through the Civic Center area. There are a lot of folks around. Unlike me, most of them are not going anywhere. They are making a place for themselves. They are the sense of the place. Most of them see me, and I see them. I don’t have much to offer them but a nod or a smile if they greet me. They respond in kind when they take notice. No one touches me. No one even makes a move toward me in any way.
I get on the train. Once on the train I decide I will get off one stop early and walk home since it is a nice night, and it is not too late.
I get off the train and come up to Mission Street. It is teeming with people, many of whom I have seen before: they inhabit the streets. Interactions are subtle if they happen at all.
I walk one block west so that my walk home will be on the much more well-lit, and let’s face it, bougie Valencia Street. There are hordes of people out on Valencia, but these are different types of people: not really part of the sense of place, but participating in it. Buying it.
I weave in and out as I make my way south the seven blocks I have to get home. People are talking, drunk, loud, funny, clumsy, texting, yelling, high-fiving, queuing, complaining, busy. Between 16th Street and 19th Street I am touched no fewer than three times. Two different times someone puts their hand on me as if they are guiding me through the crowd and once someone smacks (though that sounds harder than it was – taps?) my ass. I keep going, probably at a quicker gait.
I pop into one of my local markets to pick up a couple of things. There are four other people in the market, two pairs. A young Latina and an even younger Latino (she is buying the beer), and two young mixed-race men. One of the young men has a Golden State Warriors shirt draped over his shoulders. It is covered with blood. His pal is explaining to the shopkeeper and the young beer drinkers what happened.
– They kicked us out.
– Yeah, it was so wrong. This guy was hella gay, right? I mean he walked by and he grabbed his ass!
– And we were totally cool, right, we just told him that shit ain’t cool and we were gonna let it go, just went back to our seats and everything.
– But then he did it again! I mean, what the fuck, right? That is hella gay.
– And so we told him we were gonna kick his ass and it started right then.
– And we were like, someone call the police, right? I mean that is assault or some shit like that, right?
– But security was like, nah, and they wouldn’t call no one.
– And then they kicked us out, just to make it easy for them.
The shopkeeper gave all of the right affirmations and nods. The young beer drinkers were, impressed and in agreement: Yeah that shit is fucked up.
“You beat the crap out of someone because he grabbed your ass?” I ask. They look at me:
“Huh.” I say as they walk out.
The shopkeeper says, “That is not right, people should not be touching people,” as he looks at me.
“I just had my ass grabbed walking to this shop, on Valencia Street. Should I have beat the crap out of the person?”
“Nobody should be touching anybody,” he says.
“Do you think that guy would have cared if I grabbed his ass?” I ask. The young beer drinkers laugh, albeit nervously (I am sure wondering what the agitated middle-aged white woman might be up to.)
“No, he probably would have liked it!” says the shopkeeper, before adding, “Nobody should be touching anybody.”
“You know how many girls that guy has probably grabbed?” I ask.
“You’re right,” the shopkeeper says. “Maybe he had it coming,” he adds, “Like karma.”
One of the young beer drinkers laughs and she says, “I know, huh?”
“So it is okay for him to grab a girl’s ass, but because he got touched by a male it is okay to assault that guy?”
“Nobody should be touching anybody,” the shopkeeper says.
“You’re right,” I say.