Now this article is not about being a savvy street worker as the title suggests but perhaps the wisdom and experience of the girls and guys working the streets is invaluable here.
Situational awareness is the theme of the day.
Recent events surrounding the safety of gay people on our streets, not just here but in other major cities across the globe, have got me to thinking about my own safety when walking down the local gay strip as well as the safety of others.
Parading my fabulousness from one gay venue to the next, while under the influence of a brightly coloured beverage or two, donned in a bright blue weave and sky-high neon yellow heels, the invincibility of modern day ‘Gay Rights’ shielding me from taunts and slurs from the bars we must pass to get to the next glittering bastion of flashing lights and thumping pop remixes. Sounds like a regular Saturday night right? All except the Invincibility of the modern “Gay Rights” part.
While my opinion may cause controversy amongst the very people who have fought for the rights we have today, it’s another right I use to ask the question: “Are we doing everything we can as individuals to protect ourselves?”
I understand that the rights we have been fighting for all these years and the progress that’s been made recently is an amazing triumph for all GLBTI people, but the fact of the matter is there are people who oppose this; people who feel threatened by a change that has minimal – if any effect – on them personally. It’s a story as old as time. Change is scary for some and some of these scared people are occupying bars and clubs on that same road as your local venues and we should be aware of this fact and take steps to protect ourselves.
Now I don’t mean we need to start taking Kung-Fu classes or carrying around a baseball bat in our purses, but to learn to recognise a potential hazard and avoid putting yourself in a situation where your safety could be at risk. I mean, you wouldn’t drunkenly stumble through the most troubled neighbourhood of your city, wearing your brand new kicks with your iPhone 5 out texting your BFF all alone at 4am down a dark side street, would you? I believe the phrase most often coined when we talk about an occurrence like this is: “Well, you’re just asking for trouble!!” So what makes the streets around your local gay bar any different?
In no way at all do I suggest that anyone who has been the terrible victim of a ‘gay bashing’ was “asking for it” and my best wishes for justice and a swift recovery are with all concerned, but I do ask was there anything that could have been done differently to prevent this happening in the first place?
I have heard the stories of “I was just walking home after a night out and three guys jumped me!” or “These guys were throwing insults at me and I just tried to ignore them and walk by but they started getting physical!” A common thread I often hear – and honestly, some stories must be taken with a grain of salt (cue controversial statement) – is that often times these people are alone or down a dark side street in the early hours of the morning, a little drunk and looking possibly a little vulnerable.
My questions is: “Why are you putting yourself at risk?”
As a performer on Auckland’s notorious K’ Road I have walked up and down that street in the aforementioned weave, heel and beverage combo, past the many ‘straight’ venues on my way down the road for a well-deserved beverage after a long night in the office. But my fellow stage bitches and I know – we walk down together. When we leave to go home to peel off the layers of fabulosity that are the tools of our trade – we walk together. Each time we take a calculated risk of walking down the road in full face but mitigate this risk by travelling in packs. One 6’4” drag queen is intimidating for most but a flock of fierce female impersonation will make people think twice about causing any trouble… generally.
Yet even when travelling as a pack we are aware of the group of guys leaning on the car watching and commenting on everything passing, the guy that’s having an argument with security at the door of the club and the people milling about on the street in groups just hangin’. We have situational awareness.
While I’m aware the general populace don’t have the intimidation factor of drag as a tool, the advice is still the same – at the risk of trapping a song in my head – I’ll never walk alone! Be aware of what’s happening around you. Cross the road or take a different route if it looks a little shady. Don’t be a hero and offer a witty retort to an ignorant comment made by someone who is sitting in a bus stop drinking out of a brown paper bag. Get a taxi outside the club you’re at or if you, like many of us have at one stage or another in our illustrious bar hopping careers, find yourself at the club and all your friends have gone without you as you’ve been too busy chatting to the hottie at the bar who tells you at the end of the night “I don’t do hook-ups” and leaves you alone and stranded… look for the blue weave and neon yellow heels, I’ll be happy to walk with you.
Article | Taro Patch. Photo | K’Road at night by Yvonne Shearer.