I have worked downtown in Calgary for seventeen years. Throughout those years I have gone to countless work dinners and other events which required me to walk back to my car in a dark and deserted downtown Calgary after the event.
Through all of those years, as I packed up my bag, threw my coat on and said my goodbyes to friends and colleagues, I never once had to think or worry about my safety as I navigated my way back to my car before driving home. Over the last couple of years, since my transition from male to female, I naively still had not worried for my safety or given this scenario a lot of thought.
Then, a couple of months ago, I was meeting a colleague after work for dinner and a collaboration session in downtown Calgary. It was December, and as I walked to the restaurant after work, the sun was going down, and the streets crowded with the busy rush of people trying to get home for the evening. I found my way to the restaurant, which was only a few blocks away from my office, went in and met up with my friend and collaborator. We shared dinner, had a great conversation and accomplished all we had set out to achieve. As the evening concluded, I got up, thanked her for dinner, put on my scarf, mitts and coat and stepped onto the street and into the brisk winter air. Like many times before, I started walking without a second thought.
As expected, the streets were empty compared to when I had walked in a few hours earlier. I looked down the empty road and began my short trek back to the office where my car was parked. After about half a block, I found myself waiting at the corner for the walk light and heard the sounds of people coming up behind me. Glancing behind, I saw three young men approaching the corner where I was waiting. I stood quietly, eyes forward and focused on waiting for the walk light in front of me. I didn’t think much of it but instead was daydreaming, considering whether or not I would make it home in time to say goodnight to my kids. Then, behind me, I heard the men stop about an arms reach away, and suddenly become quiet.
The walk light blinked on, and as I stepped off the sidewalk and on to the street, I was startled by one of the men shouting that he liked my boots, quickly followed by a lewd invitation to walk with the three of them. I unconsciously glanced back to find them all staring directly at me, smiling and laughing. In an instant, my stomach jumped into my throat. I swung back around and started briskly walking, wanting to put some distance between myself and them quickly. As I crossed the street and made my way down the next block, I glanced back, and the three of them were keeping pace and still uncomfortably close behind.
I immediately started surveying my surroundings to see who else was around. I caught myself feeling exceptionally stupid to be in a dress and wishing I was wearing pants so that I would be able to run faster if I had to. I felt my hands begin to sweat inside my mitts and my heart painfully pounded in my chest.
I approached the opposite corner of my office building and fortunately as I reached the corner the walk light clicked on, and I didn’t have to stop. I walked briskly across the street and up the stairs in front of our building. I frantically dug around my pocket for my security pass, quickly pulled it out of my pocket, scanned the door, and slipped inside to the lobby of the building. The door clicked behind me, and when I found the courage to look back, the three men were no longer there.
I made my way across the lobby to the elevators, down to the parkade and walked to my car. I grabbed the handle, jumped in, and locked the door. I sat there. I caught my breath, and as I took my mitts off to start the car, I realized for the first time that my hands were trembling. Tears welled in my eyes with the stark realization that this situation had the potential to have turned out much worse. At that moment, I realized that in the future I needed to be more careful than I had in the past. I didn’t want to feel this unprepared and vulnerable again.
In the counselling I did leading up my transition, one of the exercises I went through was to evaluate my male privilege and what my life would look like without it. I anticipated that this task was given to prepare me for any surprises or changes that I may experience as part of my gender shift. I saw the value in this and as such, invested much time in thoughtfully exploring all the situations that would be different. I imagined possible ways that my career would be harmed. I considered how I would be treated when I got my car fixed and what it may be like when I needed to pick up wood at the lumber yard. After a great deal of reflection, I felt comfortable that I had thought through almost everything.
However, in all the thoughtful exploration I had done before transition, I had missed the most significant aspect. I had never once, in all that examination, considered this feeling of defenselessness. I didn’t appreciate how it would feel to be so incredibly alone, vulnerable and exposed in a situation which I had never before had reason to worry about. As I sat in the car, composing myself before driving home, I realized what the lack of male privilege felt like, and perhaps most importantly, it sunk in that this is what women, all around me, have had to deal with and be aware of their entire life.
I can now begin to truly appreciate how much I underestimated the power of the male privilege I once held. This experience provided me with a great deal more awareness on how much more work there is left to do in this world so that my spouse, my daughter, my sisters and every other female identifying individual out there can walk tall without the risk of feeling targeted or threatened.
Hopefully, it is apparent that I believe the value of living an authentic life is exponentially more important than maintaining male privilege. I am hesitant, as a transgender woman, to unintentionally discourage anyone who may be considering their own gender transition. It is not my intention to frighten anyone into staying in the closet. It is my hope by sharing this experience; we can all be more prepared and aware, and ultimately, a little bit safer. I know I still have more to learn about living a life without male privilege. As I continue to live and learn I will also continue to contribute to the efforts of my fellow citizens working towards lasting change in creating safety and equality for all.
Two weeks later I was at another work dinner that lasted into the evening. This time, as we walked out of the restaurant, I made sure I had others to walk back to the office with. I love the person I have become and the life I have found, but I also guarantee that now I will always have a plan to get back to my car without fear.
~ Kiersten (she/her)