On the day of SlutWalk Portland, I was irritated because I was running late; I’m consummately punctual and tend to feel anxious if otherwise. (I’m the girl who arrives one hour early to her strip-shift, every night for the last two years). So I was relieved when my boys found a parking spot reasonably close to the starting location of SlutWalk, at the park near the courthouse in downtown Portland, at 4th and Jefferson.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from SlutWalk, but I had high hopes. Previously, I had been asked by a man named Sean Scott to speak candidly for a short video that he was working on. Sean asked me what I hoped to experience at SlutWalk Portland. Speaking honestly, I replied that I was hoping that it would be a gathering where victims and survivors could feel free from harassment, in public, together.
There were dozens of bicycle cops in small hordes, lining the street. Faces partially obscured by identical sunglasses and helmets, standard issue no doubt. They, for the most part, looked less than amused. Another gathering, another parade to babysit. I tried to smile sheepishly at them as we crossed the street.
The crowd was less than I had anticipated, but people were still arriving. Men in drag, glittery fishnets and body paint, the neo-punks with their shaved, shaggy hair. There was an impressive amount of older dykes, a few middle-of-the-road hetero-couples, and even a handful of near-naked ladies.
“Hi, Elle.” It was my friend Andrew, a.k.a. Deputy Andy. Andy is a longtime porn clerk who writes the “Blue Reviews” for Exotic Magazine. A self-proclaimed Republican, he seemed visibly uncomfortable in his surroundings. I thanked him for coming. He’s a good guy, and having worked and surrounded himself with sex workers for years, he has empathy for that which he cannot possibly understand, and at that moment I hugged him for that reason.
“I’m very out of my element,” he said. And my heart swelled. “I know, Andy. I’m really happy you came out. It means a lot to me.”
At that moment I saw Luka, my glorious lesbian-burlesque-stripper-co-worker. She was wearing an American flag one-piece and go-go combat boots, laced to the knees. I gave her a sweaty hug. Her eyes looked alive.
The guest speakers began.
I didn’t recognize the other two organizers, but a curvy black woman with a Mohawk introduced herself as Sophia St. James. When she noted that she was a pornographer, among other things, I made a mental note to check her out later.
Since the crowd had quieted itself to complete silence, there was no noise except the passing traffic and the occasional rumbling motorcycle, and I nodded my chin to my boyfriend as I picked up my camera to photograph the audience. Taking care not to cause a disruption, I moved to the outer edge of the lawn and stood in the shaded bushes, zooming and focusing on the rapt audience.
There were lots of lovely subjects. Two women seated with their heads together, fingers interlaced. An elderly man with an enormous snake tattooed on his back, the words “TORMENTOR” emblazoned above it. Okay… A young couple, the boy with his Mohawk standing at attention, the girl with cotton candy pink hair. When she raised her arm to howl in support, I snapped it.
I heard beeping behind me.
A white-bearded man in a fisherman’s hat, his face mostly covered in sweat, was aiming a point-and-shoot camera at my bare legs. Feeling immediately defensive, I narrowed my eyes and raised an eyebrow, looking him in the face. He clicked once more, and lowered his camera, and turned to walk away.
I held up my Canon and aimed deliberately without looking, and took a photo of him. Documented, weirdo. He smiled, and stepped toward me, out of the bushes. He extended an arm to reach for my shoulder. I turned my shoulder away while maintaining my stance.
“Did you get that tattoo in San Diego?”
I blanched. I’m from San Diego. Keeping a dry face, I replied that no, I had not.
“Okay.” He turned and walked away. I watched him cross the street, away from the gathering, away from SlutWalk, and he was gone.
I sighed, and glanced at the crowd once more. I wondered how many other outsiders had ventured in to peek at us. I relaxed my camera to my side, to take in the words of Sophia St James.
“Three years ago … I was raped …”
The audience held their breath.
“… by a very … prominent member … of the community …”
She paused, and my throat tightened, because I knew she was screaming his name in her mind. She didn’t say a name. Instead, she choked back tears, and lowered her head to take a deep breath. I recognized Delilah Sinn from Portland’s Casa Diablo and put a hand on her shoulder.
“I was awakened in the night, by someone I had trusted, and allowed into my home. I was raped in my bed. While my son slept in the other room.”
I studied the faces of the hundreds in the crowd. No one spoke. I returned to my ex-husband and my boyfriend and Andy, where they were still seated in the grass. I thought of myself, and of the men who no longer know I exist, though the memory of them still haunts my existence. I did not move until the speakers had finished, except to glance lovingly at my strong, gentle male companions.
I realized that SlutWalk wasn’t a safe haven for victims and survivors to dwell in. It was the whole big, ugly, beautiful world being summed up in that park. There are always going to be creeps, perverts, outsiders, attackers, and those who just don’t “get it.” There is no place to hide or even seek solace. Instead, we must confront our fears face to face, holding up our beliefs and standing behind them. If we don’t protect ourselves, there is no one who can do it for us.
That park was a microcosm. SlutWalk isn’t just a movement. SlutWalk is holding up a mirror to real life.