I saw a girl with blue hair and tattoos and a guitar covered in stickers from chick rock punk bands and anarchist rallies. I saw her and I thought, “I want to go wherever you’re going.”
The girl was wearing a hoodie and a black leather jacket, and dark blue jeans and boots. The guitar was in a case. The case was painted pink and orange and had a sacred geometry symbol embossed through the paint.
I didn’t look long enough to see what the symbol on the case was. I didn’t look long enough to see if the jacket was made of leather. Even if I had, I wouldn’t know real leather from fake just by looking. I don’t know if the jacket was made of any material that isn’t even trying to be leather. Even now, I don’t know if it was black. I don’t know what color the jeans were.
She was wearing two jackets and jeans and I couldn’t see if she had any tattoos at all. I couldn’t see if the guitar had any stickers on it. I couldn’t see if there was a guitar in the case.
Her hair was more cerulean than blue. Cerulean and short. If you showed me a palette of blues and greens, I couldn’t now pick the one that it was.
I don’t know if this person was a girl. I don’t know if this person was born with XX chromosomes.
I don’t know if I saw anything. I don’t know if I hallucinated. I don’t know if my perception of reality is accurate. I don’t know if reality is real.
I assumed the stickers on the guitar were from chick rock punk bands and anarchist rallies. That there were stickers on the guitar. That there was a guitar in the case.
I assumed that I wanted to go wherever this person was going.
I tell myself that assumption is a form of violence, especially when assumptions are rooted in oppressive beliefs.
I ought to know by now not to assume someone’s gender, or their sex, or that anything I perceive about one means anything about the other. That assuming there was a guitar in the case is a different kind of assumption from assuming this person was a girl. That assuming I saw anything at all is different from assuming what it was. That there are varying degrees of probability in any assumptions, and varying degrees of violence.
And there are varying degrees of helpfulness in deconstructing your assumptions, and the degrees can change depending on when and where and why you assume.
I look at my feet and where they go. In Amsterdam, I didn’t know which was the bike lane and which was for cars, where the sidewalk ended and which way the cars in each lane were going to go. And I realized that it was all just ground. Specifically, asphalt over ground. And under that was dirt and rocks, that carried on without boundaries to the entire rest of the earth. But depending on where I stood, I was more or less likely to get hit by a car. What I needed was not to be hit by a car. To not be hit by a car, and also to realize that nothing ever has to mean anything except what it means in terms of your needs.
If what I needed was to go where the person with the guitar and the tattoos and the leather jacket was going, then most of the assumptions I made to go there were helpful. I don’t think assuming their gender was helpful either way, even if this person was a cis woman, even if that identity means to them exactly what it means to me.
I don’t think assuming gender is helpful because what I need is to build a world without oppression, and that, to me, is so obviously rooted in beliefs that feed oppression.
What I think is, I can’t deconstruct this much every time I see anyone. But I can do this sometimes. I can check the assumptions I have that are rooted in oppression more often than I can check my assumptions of perception and reality. That I would rather assume the guitar had anarchist punk rock stickers than assume this person was a girl, but I’d most like not to assume either.
Assumption is a desire to take away someone else’s agency, to decide for them who and what they are. Assumptions of other people are small forms of violence, even if you assume everything correctly. Yet in any moment, you still always assume something. Assumptions, like violence, can be helpful at times, but they must be made with the utmost care and only when necessary.
The person with the guitar case and the blue hair only went about twenty feet away from where I first saw them. They stopped and put the guitar case on the ground. I think they intended to busk there. I think they intended to play soulful covers of folk songs I know all the words to. I don’t know any of this, and I didn’t stay long enough to find out. What I know now is what I needed: to watch them long enough to write this about them.
I don’t think they saw me, noticed me watching them and wondering, if violence is violence only when the other person knows you’re doing it and doesn’t want you to.