The Moment I Went From Predator to Prey
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
March 30, 2018
In many ways, the first 29 years of my life was like that of most of the men around me. I was nearly 6’2” tall, 190 pounds, had a job, worked out regularly, partied at bars, dated, and morphed my high-school sports process into a backyard version of its former self. I did it all without much thought. I certainly did it all without fear.
I’m not talking about the ‘big world’ fear of nuclear war (the Cold War was still going on), or things like that. I’m talking about fear on a personal level, of just surviving the day. I didn’t have any. If I left a party at 2 am and needed gas, then I pulled over, bought gas, and went on my way. Simple as that.
Looking back, I should amend my opening statement to read “like most of the straight, white men around me”. But at the time, ‘straight white men’ were all I knew or hung around so no such descriptor was needed.
But then I started gender transition to female. I allowed people to see beneath my well-crafted veneer, and literally every person I knew was surprised. Within a year, my hair grew to below my shoulders and was colored a chestnut brown. I lost 20 pounds thanks to increased cardio and a too-severe diet regiment. And my Marriott uniform slacks were replaced by a black skirt and nylons.
Every day brought new change to my life. My body was changing to recently introduced estrogen. I was struggling to strip away the personal and social cues I had learned during my first, ‘man forming’, adolescence so many years before, while simultaneously learning to understand and accept the ‘woman forming’ second adolescence I was now in. it wasn’t enough to learn how to do my hair and makeup (which was both a joy and a challenge); I needed to learn to how to do it quickly enough to be up, dressed, and out to work every morning.
I was also learning how to react to strangers reaction to me, to understand how they saw me. The most immediate difference was from straight men. The first time a man ‘hit on me ‘I nearly laughed in his face! Not because of anything he had done, but because I realized he saw me as a woman he was interested in dating, not as ‘the guy behind the bar making his drink’ or just another guy he might run into at the gym. I told him ‘no’ because I was smart enough to know I wasn’t ready for dating, and suspicious enough to understand I did not know his motives or whether or not he could be trusted.
This new, second adolescence was even more awkward and difficult than my first as I was enduring this one alone. My peers were not going through their own alongside me. Society around me did not simply brush off my amateurish mistakes as ‘part of growing up’; they were the magnifying glass to my stumbling, and their laughter or looks of disdain were the judgement of my every action.
In times of stress, I did what I most of us do: I reverted to what had worked in the past. Late one evening at work, a guy who had one-too-many drinks stepped into my face in a threatening way after I refused to serve him more alcohol. I instinctively puffed my chest, raised my self-up to full height (so as to look down on him) as I said “back off”. His laugher shocked me back to my new reality: he did not perceive me as a threat.
This point was further illustrated a few days later, while driving home from work after my late shift, when I realized I needed gas. I pulled into the nearest station as I’d always done. I pulled up to the pump as always and, as this was before you could pay at the pump, began to walk into the station to pre-pay for the gas. I stepped around the back of my little truck, and saw two guys standing by the station doors. One was each side, meaning I would have to walk between them to get into the store, and then again when talking out of the store back to my truck.
Part of me wanted to stop, turnaround, get back in my little truck and leave. But that would signal to the men that I was afraid, and I wasn’t 100% sure I could safely get back into my truck and leave if indeed they were committed to hurting me.
I continued on my original plan.. I felt the men stare as I walked between them and into the store. I purposefully made eye contact with each one, letting them know I knew they were there. Once inside, I went to the back of the store to get a soda from the cooler, solely because I wanted to be sure no one was behind me as I approached the counter. And to ensure I had reason to face door, not the clerk, when paying. The two men outside watched me the entire time.
I paid for the soda, pre-paid for the gas, and walked back thru the doors. “How you doin’?” the man on my left said as I walked past. I smiled lightly then glanced down as I kept walking. The immediate sense of relief I felt upon reaching my truck evaporated when I realized I still had to put the gas into the tank. The cold, winter winds swirled around my legs and under my skirt as I stood with one had on the nozzle and the other clutching my coat around my neck. The two men watching me the entire time. I returned the nozzle to the pump, stepped into my truck, and left without incident.
As I drove home, I began to question why this incident felt so seismically important. I thought of the hundreds of times I had gotten gas before and how I had never given it a thought until now. If there had been men standing outside the doors of a gas station before, and I’m sure there had been as times, I never paid them any attention. Because I knew my then-veneer: over 6’3” in my cowboy boots, 200 pounds in an army fatigue or leather jacket, and beard was enough to signal ‘there are easier targets’ for those looking for trouble. But now, the look in the eyes of these two men was completely different.
When I told my women friends about the gas station incident, a look of ‘duh!’ crossed all of their faces. Each of them told stories of similar incidents, and worse, that made me realize I was now in the reality they’d known their entire lives. Society had taught them long ago the importance of being aware of their surroundings.
They knew better than to go out at night without first being sure they had enough gas to get home, especially when driving alone. They knew how to navigate the world, and it involved a very different roadmap from the one I had originally been given.
In many ways, that one incident was the last nail in the coffin of my male life. From then on, even in the face of sexual assault, I would approach life with a very different mindset. This was the moment I went from being perceived as a potential predator, to prey.