This article turned up in my feed today from LGBTQ Nation, telling about a married gay couple who have gained some notoriety by baring their butts and taking pictures, whilst traveling to exotic locales. Gotta agree with author Bil Browning here: they earned their trouble.
A few years ago, I traveled to Jordan for work. The hotel I was staying in was popular with tourists, owing to its location outside the main crowd of the central city, and its closeness to the Dead Sea and other sites of interest. For me, it was handy, as it was less than a kilometer to the office where I was working, so I walked back and forth most every day for that two-week trip. I got asked out practically every morning and evening, but once you let them know that you know they’re not supposed to be talking to strange women in the street, they skedaddle. No problem, and it was a pleasant walk, particularly in the mornings when it wasn’t too hot.
One morning at the breakfast buffet, two young women approached me. They were dressed very-much as young Western women visiting a hot place reasonably would be: shorts, tank tops, hair up. One said, “Excuse me…are you an American?”
Turns out they were, too, on a trip with their college–I forget the name, but it was some little somewhere I’d not heard of before. They were curious if I, as a transwoman, was having any trouble with the local men hooting and catcalling and getting handsy. “Not a bit,” I replied. “They’re respectful, if a little more forward than their culture would normally allow. As soon as I tell them I’m not interested, it’s over, and no problem. Why?”
They were having tons of trouble, it seems. Random guys, doing the things empowered random guys do from time to time pretty much anywhere in the world, especially when they know the lay of the land, and the visitor doesn’t.
After hearing their story, I sighed in exasperation. “How many of you are on this trip?” “Twenty, plus our professor,” they replied.
“Didn’t any of you think to read WikiTravel, or do any research at all about how to dress?”
…they hadn’t, of course, taking their (male, of course) professor’s word that you don’t have to dress any differently.
“You’re dressed like prostitutes,” I told them, “so it’s not unreasonable for the men to think you are. No self-respecting working girl in Amman would dress the way you are. I can’t fix the culture, and neither can you, but I can tell you how to fix your immediate problem.”
They asked how…I sighed, and said, “Go to the suq, and buy the longest skirt you can find, ankle length if you can get it, and don’t take it off until you’re back in the States. Cap-sleeve top, longer would be better, but at least cover your shoulders. And cover the back of your neck–for some reason, it’s a turn-on for some guys here.”
“But it’s hoooooooottttt,” they whined, practically in unison. Too predictable.
“Then suck it up and deal, ladies. You’re not on campus any more, and the rest of the world doesn’t care about how we do things in the States. They follow their rules, not ours.”
The next morning, they were wearing long skirts, and short-sleeve tops, and had their hair down.
The maze of “rules,” written and unwritten, about how women are supposed to dress, was one of the trickiest bits of transition for me. Even in my home country, there’s a code, and breaking it gets you funny looks, at the very least. A man can wear trousers and a sleeved shirt just about anywhere on Earth, and fit in fine, but the rules for women change from country to country, her age, the time of year, and even the occasion. It’s mind-boggling.