Last Friday, I played a gig with two other DJs. I was up first, and I tried something totally new (for me): a set of music from my childhood. Pink Floyd, Cream, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, David Bowie, The Talking Heads… Music I remember falling asleep to as a little kid. If I’d come up with the idea a little sooner, I would have loved to add some Golden Earring and Moody Blues and ELO, but anyway, it was fun.
There was a guy (we’ll call him Stripey Shirt) who was pretty drunk and trying his luck with a lot of the women at the venue. With me, it was “Wow, you got some good dance moves. I mean, I’m from Jamaica and I know you got some good moves!” while his arm was on the back of the chair in which I was sitting. I was leaning away from his arm and planning how to extricate myself when he added “You gotta give me your number. I want to you DJ a private party I’m throwing!” I laughed at him and said “Yeah, because THAT sounds totally legit!” When Stripey Shirt insisted on getting my number, I told him that I do not play the music that he likes. He was too drunk to get the metaphor. I went to the dance floor to get away from him, and he followed and tried to put an arm around my waist, at which point I faced him straight on with my “fuck-off-and-die” face, and he staggered off to grab the butt of one of the other DJs. Dude. Seriously. I will never play the music you like.
Then there was this other guy. We’ll call him Blondie. Near the end of the night, I was sitting by myself at a little table close to the dance floor, watching people dance, playing with my phone, and generally taking a break. Blondie flung himself into the chair beside me, even though there were lots of empty tables around and other empty spots at my table that weren’t RIGHT IN MY SPACE. I ignored him, wondering what this particular guy’s next irritating tactic would be. He banged his glass around a bit, perhaps thinking that I just hadn’t noticed him yet. Then he thumped his hand on the table. Then, when I kept ignoring him, he pulled his chair forward impatiently and banged mine. I looked over at him in annoyance and he leaned in to me and slurred something. I asked him to repeat himself and he said “Isn’t it exciting to see everyone out there dancing?” To which all I could manage was a blank look and “Uh…..” Then he poked my hand hard (my hand was on the table, resting near my water glass) and said “What gets YOU excited?” And my rage came up and I said “ExCUSE me?” So he poked my hand again and was about to repeat himself (I think) when I barked “DON’T POKE ME!” Blondie looked all petulant and hurt, then told me that we should go dance. “No, thank you,” I said, my words polite but my tone and face disgusted. So Blondie stood up and went around me toward the dance floor, and grabbed my shoulder to pull me along! The “fuck-off-and-die” face came out again, and I held up a finger to him in his very last warning and simply said “DON’T.” He wandered off looking confused and sulky. Dude. You just don’t get it.
Then there was this third guy. We’ll call him D because that’s his actual initial. He was with a small mixed-gender group of people who’d been there for a while, dancing and having a few drinks and laughing together, but not rowdy. As that group was getting their coats on and preparing to leave, D came over to my table and said hello, and once I said hello back, he held out his hand to shake mine and told me his name. (I had to wipe my hand on my dress first because I had just wiped sweat from my forehead after some enthusiastic dancing!) He said he would like to have coffee with me sometime and would I be interested in that. He said he and his friends were just leaving but he was hoping he could get my number. He was not slurring or staggering. I gave him my number and invited him to text me. He texted right away, while leaning close enough for me to see his phone, but not close enough that I couldn’t stand up and walk away. I was very obviously looking at the screen of his phone while he typed, and he didn’t angle it away from me. Once he sent the text, I told him I’d see it the next day when I woke up, and he was fine with that.
So it’s obvious what Stripey Shirt and Blond Baby did wrong (or hey, maybe it’s not, so let me list some of their screwups: Don’t crowd me. Don’t block my exit. Don’t touch me without consent. Don’t force your presence on me. Don’t approach me when you’re drunk. Don’t ignore my “no.” Don’t act like an entitled baby who deserves my attention. Don’t make up bullshit stories. Tell me your name. Don’t stare at my boobs the whole time. Don’t spend all evening coming up with a “private party” story or a line like “what gets you excited?” Don’t forget your goddamn manners. Don’t assume I’m lonely. Don’t “accidentally” bump into me. Don’t ever show up at my table with a drink that I then have to refuse, and don’t get mad at me when I refuse it. Et cetera.)
But what’s maybe not so obvious, if you’re a [male-presenting person] hitting on a [female-presenting person] in our patriarchal rape culture, is what D did right. So let me list them as clearly as possible, for others to use as tips:
- He approached me as he was on his way out the door, which means there was no pressure to hang out with him right away or deal with the awkwardness of NOT hanging out right away.
- He was not (obviously) drunk or high (which, honestly, if you’re too impaired to talk or walk straight, how flattering do you really think your attention is?).
- He used his manners. He told me his name, asked for mine, and shook my hand (by holding out his hand and waiting for my response, not by grabbing my hand).
- He behaved as though I am a person, not just a body. He did not tell me how gorgeous I am (see also: “look at my eyes not my nipples”) or what a great dancer I am (see also: “don’t mention my hips the first time you meet me”) or that he’d been watching me all night (see also: “how not to be a creepy stalker”). Instead, his line was “I feel like we should have been talking all night here!”
- He was there with a mixed-gender group, which generally bodes well because it means he can hang out with women socially even if he’s (maybe?) not sleeping with them.
- He was not secretive about his phone. (While I am adamantly in favour of people’s privacy, and am bewildered by the assumption in some couples that phones / email accounts / Facebook / text histories etc. should be fully open to each other, it is also nice to know there’s no obvious “couple picture” on someone’s lockscreen when they’re trying to pick you up.)
- He did not insist that I check his text message right away (that’s a classic to make sure they weren’t given the wrong number… Which, dude, if I give you a fake number, it’s because you’re creeping me out enough that I’m scared to not give you a number at all).
- The place he chose to stand while approaching and talking to me (and leaning down to text) was beside my chair—not behind me where I couldn’t see him well (and makes me vulnerable), nor in front of me to block me. At all times, he was positioned so that I was absolutely free to get up and walk away with no impediment.
- Aside from shaking my hand at the beginning and again when we finished our brief conversation, he made no attempt to touch me. (Those fuckers who are all “Don’t I get a hug?” should all get poison ivy in their butt cracks, as far as I’m concerned—and that’s as true for family members as for strangers in bars.)
- He suggested an activity (going for coffee) that involves being out in public, at a time of day where public transportation is readily available. It’s also an activity which is very negotiable in terms of location and time, which allows me to negotiate around my own sense of safety.
- He did not at any point suggest that he pick me up for said coffee date, or ask where I lived, or ask for my last name, or wonder how I was getting home, or in any other way intrude upon my privacy or autonomy.
This is such a stark contrast to all the times I have been grabbed or groped, to all the lies and contrivances I’ve heard, to all the boastful or creepy pickup lines I’ve heard, to all the ways people (mostly but not only men) have tried to manipulate or force me into “getting close.” The guys who think it’s okay to grab my hips from behind when I’m dancing and shove their groin against my ass. The ones who get mad when I won’t dance with them. The ones who try to move in for a kiss, or who haul me into a hug against my will. The ones whose opening lines are rude or crude or lewd. The ones who won’t accept a polite “no” and either keep after me or else attack me verbally (“You fucking frigid dyke!” comes to mind—which, dude, either I’m fucking OR I’m frigid, plus you say “dyke” like it’s a bad thing…?). All the ways in which I have been approached or hustled in bars, combined with my very own streaks of misanthropy and cynicism, make me wary and dismissive of most strangers who come up to me.
But last Friday, I was utterly charmed and disarmed by the most polite and respectful approach I have ever experienced in a bar. And so I gave my number to someone for the first time in a very long time. Maybe when we meet for coffee tomorrow, it’ll turn out that we have nothing in common or there’s no spark. And that will be fine (albeit disappointing). Because no matter how this ends, there has already been this lovely, surprising beginning. Mostly I hate surprises, but I am making a massive exception for this one!