My gym is located in an interesting area of Montreal. As a refresher, in the past 2 years:
- 2 dudes attempted, and failed, to mug me at the nearby metro station (story here);
- I got offered a really good deal (no sales taxes) on a underground artist’s music album because I am white (story here);
- I got the most colorful cat-call of my existence, in front of one of the many strip-clubs of the area, on my way to a wedding reception (story here).
Yesterday, as I exited the metro station, and started the short walk to the gym, at the reasonable hour of 7:30pm, a homeless man walked beside me and repeatedly asked me for $5, alternating between English and French. I politely smiled and refused several times, in French – because growing up in Quebec, I’ve long accepted that it is just easier to speak French to strangers to avoid triggering words of abuse about being an anglophone and a hater (not that those unpleasant episodes happen frequently, but still. I prefer avoiding hateful comments whenever possible. And really, it doesn’t cost me anything – I speak the language well, and enjoy it. I just wished I had learned to enjoy it without the context of discrimination and sour politics. #naive #wishfulthinking)
The homeless man walked alongside me, crowding me, until he abruptly stopped right in front of me, showed me his cigarette and whispered,
C’est parce que j’ai vraiment envie d’écraser ma cigarette dans ta face.
Which translates charmingly to:
It’s cuz I’d really like to stub my smoke in your face.
He stayed there, standing in front of me, with the burning cigarette 2 inches from my face just long enough to make sure I believed him, and then he walked away.
While he did that, the full irony of the situation (I was on my way to boxing) was not lost on me. Yet I stood frozen, and scared, not sure how to handle the situation. As always, afterwards, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling having been too passive, too accommodating, too female. Wondering how I could have handled it better and more assertively.
I also wondered if any of my feelings would have been shared by Marie-Antoinette, long ago. Poor scared little (relatively) rich white girl, and all that.