As we waited for the subway, among the other milling New Yorkers, a man approached me and said his friend would like a photo with us. I glanced back at the ‘friend’ who seemed to be more interested in the pavement. The man had a leer I didn’t like; what’s worse, he reminded me strongly of a creepy ex-boyfriend of mine with twenty years added. It wasn’t his physique or his haircut or his nose; it was a bright, unhealthy glow in his eyes and twitch in his gums. I tried not to look him or his friend directly in the eye while I said, no, no photos. The guy asked demandingly, why? A bad sign. Feeling irritated and wary, I said that we were just waiting for the train like everyone else and are not available for photos.
My friends and I boarded the subway and snagged some empty seats. Within moments we realized that the guys who had just been bothering us had sat down directly across from us and had a large camera out, snapping photos and then, even worse, directly filming us – with a blinking red light like a pervert’s eye. The guy was leaning over to his friend and giggling as they watched the screen. We were not people sitting across from them. We were not real girls. We were little images on a screen, clearly for their enjoyment. Our only defense was to speak more and more loudly about pathetic people who get their kicks from bothering girls on the subway. After ten or fifteen minutes of this stalemate, a couple from the other end blocked the camera, giving the guy a great shot of the boyfriend’s butt. Thus we made it to our stop and escaped. I couldn’t help but glance backwards as we ran down the platform. The man was craned around in his seat, grinning like we were old friends. My heart hardened, and in true New York style, I flipped him the finger while Miss Lumpy
grabbed my arm and ushered me away.
Fastforward a few weekends. My boyfriend lives in a very small, rural town in northern Connecticut, where there’s no radio reception tucked into the edges of the mountains and the sunsets melt across the hills – a place I’ve often called ‘God’s country.’ He doesn’t agree. I didn’t really understand it – the railroads, the sunlight, the fireflies that wink in the dark – what’s not to like? Not only recently, when the carnival came to town, did his meaning hit home. The carnival there was small, set up on a green no bigger than a soccer field. I was excited to nab some cotton candy, ride the carousel, and take photos. He was nonplussed but willing to go until I mentioned I’d wear my Starry Night Theatre skirt from Angelic Pretty. He said to me: “Doll, I love you and I love how you dress. But you can’t wear lolita to this. It’ll be a problem.” I laughed it off. People stared at his supermarket, yeah. People said things about my hair. What could they say that I hadn’t heard before? I had long stopped caring about the comments and gawks.
He wasn’t kidding. It wasn’t until he said that he’d have to bring a knife that I began to understand. As he explained: there would be problems. They would be drinking. They would confront me, confront us both. It’d be five or six to his one. There aren’t any police in his town – just a local trooper for the nearby villages. They didn’t like outsiders and they didn’t like anyone different. These were the kind of people who were going to start a fight if too many minorities came to their carnival. This was a small town with small people. It is far from New York City, far from Boston, far from even Connecicut’s capital, Hartford. It wasn’t the place for people to stand out.
I have been bothered in public before. Heckled, crazy questions, slurred at, photographed, all the usual things. Sometimes it was implied that our style was sexual. I’ve been called a cracker, hooker, freak, an embarrassment to my family. But there is an invisible line. Sticks and stones may break my bones, surely, but so can threats and videos uploaded to myserious websites and forums in the shadowy corners of the Internet, where footage of girls unknown to the danger can be replayed again and again to anyone who wants to see it. The memories and angers we replay in our own heads, at their disrespect, at the blatantly obvious fact that we are not human to these people. They do not know that we are lovers of toy dogs, makers of jewelry, collectors of Godzilla figures or writers of children’s books or anything else. And what is worse, they don’t care. Their ten minutes of fun have ruined the rest of the day, a shadow of primitive fear and suspicion that hovers over our previous joviality. Or worse, for those who are actually attacked and suffer the abuse, their few hours of fun have ruined lives. The lives of these girls, who had no idea what was coming; the lives of their friends and families and lovers who will suffer alongside them and never be the same.
How often does this happen to people in our community? How often does this happen to the alternative subcultures as a whole? Is it as rare as the media makes it out to be, or is it unreported? Do we pass these stories around furtively even amongst ourselves? I’ve heard snippets of rumors – girls who have had black paint thrown at them from cars, or that a man threw a slushie into a crowd of lolitas. Even more disturbing, a friend of a friend was actually attacked on the bus. While with another lolita and on their ride home, the man harassing her began to choke her. After both girls fought back viciously, the man suddenly just got up and left. When my friend angrily turned to two other men who had witnessed the attack and done nothing, they said it was their own fault for instigating the attacker. How had they been instigating? By ‘looking like that’.
This isn’t just a question of being lolitas, and it isn’t just a question of being young girls or even adult women. This isn’t just about feminism and a woman’s right to take the subway in the middle of the day with her friends without worrying about being attacked. This is about the right of expression and right to follow a subculture. Subculture violence is not limited to our tiny kingdom – S.O.P.H.I.E
, Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere, began when its namesake, Sophie Lancaster, was kicked to death in her small English town for being a Goth. She died protecting her longtime boyfriend from the blows of their teenaged attackers. This music video/animation
was done in her honor to show exactly how she died and what the SOPHIE Foundation stands for. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it; if you believe this should never happen again, repost/retweet/retumbl and get the word out.
Time and time again, lolitas have insisted that we are not out for attention. We do not dress up to be stared at or asked about or to feel some kind of limelight. It’s been stated as much to me that the reason I and my friends get dressed up and go into the city is to be a spectacle. They say tha we must want and enjoy that kind of attention, if we keep doing it. They fail to realize that lolita is not about other people. In such a tell-all, reality-show, made-for-TV, pix-or-it-didn’t-happen culture, we do not actually care about the people around us. If a lolita is alone in the forest, is she still a lolita? She doesn’t need an audience to be a lolita. Lolita is for the individual. Lolita is about what I find attractive and how it makes me feel beautiful. It is my standard of beauty that I have adopted for myself, and how I want to see myself. It is how, after a time, I feel comfortable and how I see myself. It’s always a shock for me to leave my bubble of friends and family and realize that to others, even my hair makes me alien to them. But to try to assimilate would be trying to be something else – something I am simply not programmed to do.
I admit, it took me a long time to write this article. This subject was hard to discuss, let alone write about and feel the closeness of home. I am lucky enough to live in a mostly tolerant, if unimpressed area. I’m from the edges of New York City, I love to spend my time in bohemian Seattle. I’ve never had to endure the hard edges of the deep South or the deeply conservative Bible Belt. I can only imagine how much worse it is for lolitas in areas even more restricted, even more determined to keep their world homogenous. And how they will go to any lengths to do that. For those who have experienced anything similar to what I have discussed, violence, sexual harassment – stay strong. You can do it. Don’t stop being who you are.
Note: I’ve added LC’s first ‘feminism’ tag, necessary for anyone who wants to start reading all of my lolita + feminism articles or who supports feminism from any subculture.