The Jazz Party
We have these parties a few times a year. They are always in the city. In one of “those neighborhoods” the type devoid of whiteness and respectability. The sort of neighborhood where white kids from the suburbs come and try to buy heroin from any black person they see. Where the police patrol extra hard, but only during the day, where everyone knows someone in a gang, someone who has been shot, or been to prison. It’s grimy, it’s dark, but it’s still home, it’s still where I was born.
It’s my safe space, the place I go to when I need to feel secure. Tonight is no exception. I am on the platform waiting and waiting because the el* is late and I’m getting cold, and I am going to be late to my own damn party.
Tonight the main event is a jazz party. Where we get together. All of us. The rejects, the undesirables, the unlovable, the poor, sex workers, drug users. We really could be a propaganda poster to either increase social services or eliminate social services entirely depending on where your political allegiances lie. The el finally comes, and I get on before I can decide to leave and go back home. I have the next few minutes to avoid the drunk man trying to hit on me, and I am worried when he gets off at my stop. I ignore his words while trying to gauge how far behind me he is. He follows me for a half a block yelling “hey ma” and finally “ugly bitch”. I avoid eye contact with the homeless man on the street feeling guilty for not having anything to give. A solidarity nod to a woman leaning up a against a brick wall wearing very high heels and very tight pants. She’s probably working, and suddenly I’m in tears again for the third time today. I finally make it to the apartment. I take a deep breath and knock on the door. When I get inside its all small smiles and gentle, hesitant hugs, and quiet chatter.
We are a room full of women. All shades of brown and black. Full of melanin and life. Beautiful. And we are having a party. It’s a party they put on for me, but nobody knows what to say or how to treat the guest of honor.
“Did anyone bring empanadas?” I ask loudly throwing my arms up and smiling in an attempt to break the tension.
Everyone relaxes, I have set the mood, for now we will all be happy. The party is very casual the sort of thing you would expect on a girls night out, or rather a girls night in. drinks, catching up, talking about kids, works, college, news in the neighborhood, favorite TV shows. The only difference is we’re all here because we are part of the same club- sex workers who have been raped and are in need of solidarity and understanding. Influenced by the funerals of New Orleans, we have a party where we walk in sad, but leave happy and try to make the best out of the worst. There’s little else we can do if we don’t to be consumed by the pain of the world, so we enjoy this party.
After a while I need the bathroom. I realize I’d forgotten tampons. I ask my host for one. Most everyone hears the request and cheers. This is a good thing. I have my period. I get a hug. My friends are relieved. They would’ve crowd funded an abortion if I had needed one, but it seems that won’t be an issue- this is a good thing for poor people when Christmas on the way.
I laugh and make a quip about silver linings. Could be worse right? I could’ve ended up pregnant.
“Or you could have ended up all fucked up in the hospital”
That comment creates a moment of silence we all know. We all could’ve ended up dead at one point. The moment where a cop pulls out the night stick, where someone puts their hands around your throat, when your ex shows up feeling drunk and mean, when someone approaches you for services and you tell them no and they don’t appreciate your answer. Death is a very real part of the day here. In truth, many of us have ended up dead. This life is a hard life. There is no glamour, relaxation, or days off. The misery sticks to you the way smoke sticks to your clothes to remind you how close you were to the fire.
And suddenly for the fourth time today I cry. Ugly cry. Loud bawling, should shaking sobbing cry. Everything hurts. I’m angry, I’m upset, and I am tired.
“Cry it out, get it out”
Good advice. I nod and keep crying and then I cannot help myself, I launch into the long ramble. The ramble we all know because we’ve all been there, we have all said, lived it before.
It isn’t right men can just go around raping women. It isn’t fair that men can just go around raping sex workers. They only do it because they know I can’t tell. I don’t deserve this type of treatment. I can’t report to cops because I’ll be admitting to a crime by admitting I was selling sexual services. Not that cops would care anyways, since the last time I got raped it was a cop who did it. I can’t tell my other friends or family because if I do then the questions will start “why were you out so late?” “What were you wearing?” “Did you fight back hard enough?”
All the things that are irrelevant. Nobody deserves to be raped. Not even sex workers, not even women in heels, not even me. I struggle to remind myself of this. It’s hard and I am grateful for my friends who understand. I am grateful for this night, one small slice of safety and sanity in the middle of the hurricane that is currently my life.
And of course they understand. They have all been here before. We have these party more often than we should because this is the reality of our life. Rape is just something that happens. All you can do is move on from it, because there is little choice to do anything else.
If we tell cops, they’ll rape us. They will put us in prison, most likely a prison with male guards who will rape us. Or in the case of J., who is a Trans woman, she’ll go to a men’s prison and the inmates will rape her.
We can’t tell other family and friends because they think the problem is prostitution! Not rape culture. Not that men target us because they can. Not that the stigma around sex work leads predators to find. Stigma is nothing more than blood in the water and predators are adept at following the scent. Our churches will tell us to leave the life of sin, our mothers will cry and ask why we’re so immoral, our fathers will say we need a strong husband to keep us on the straight and narrow, the rescue organizations will try to cure us even though we aren’t ill, and the courts will put us into prison, and cops will rape us on the way to booking. The rest of the world will just wait for us to go public with our stories so they can make a joke about how it wasn’t rape, it was theft of services. I debate going reaching out to feminist organizations I know, but ultimately I decide against it. I’ve been told one too many times that I’m a collaborator on the oppression of women, or that I am too stupid to understand consent. I’ve had sex before, consensually, for money. It didn’t leave me bruised and bloodied like this did. I can’t talk to someone who make slight of my trauma. It will just be this party. This will be my only place because I do not have access to safe resources outside of this room.
At this moment I am surrounded by the dearest of friends but I feel isolated and alone because I can’t help but dwell on how much the world hates me. Really truly hates me, will dance on my grave when I die hates me.
- tries to make me feel better “at least you don’t have as many injuries as the last time”
This is true. Last time I had cuts in my palms, arms, and legs from the bottom of an alley way. Gravel in my knees, glass shards in my palms, filthy rain water from a pothole in my hair.
But I cannot dwell on that now. I only have a few hours to unpack as much of this trauma as I can. So the mood lightens again. Hugs. Drinks. Twerking, makeup swops, hair tips, what we’re buying our children for Christmas. For a few hours we look like normal women just having fun. You wouldn’t know how much baggage we carry in our souls. That we’ve all been raped, most of us more than once, that we do sex work or have other hustles to pay bills. That we’ve all thought about quitting life, that we don’t know how to make it around the rules of a society that hates us. That we have nightmares about past attacks sometimes. That sometimes we cry ourselves to sleep.
No. tonight we’re a group of friends watching movies and having a party. The night ends far too soon, and I have to leave to make it back to my own home. I feel sad as I walk out the door.
- reminds me that I did my job- “you made it home alive. That’s all that matters” and gives me a final hug.
I did make it home alive, I have won yet another round of this game where the grand prize is not dying. I wonder what kind of world I live in but suppose I will have the next few train stops to figure it out.
*el- elevated train, public transit in the city of Chicago