What it feels like for a girl

Madonna, music video, What it Feels Like for a GirlFriends, acquaintances and strangers keep reminding me, usually in a positive way, that it’s ballsy to be writing about sex and traveling alone as a woman. Because as an American woman (or at least one living in America), I’m generally not expected to have an opinion on sex, let alone be writing about it. And traveling… well, traveling is dangerous alone for a gal. But, for better or worse, I never felt uncomfortable about any of it.

When it comes to writing about sex, it just so happens that I have (or had) an interesting sex life, I do have an opinion AND I’m a writer, so I thought I’d blog about it. The fact that I happen to be a woman writing about it is of no consequence, or shouldn’t be. At least it doesn’t bother me and (I’d hope) shouldn’t bother anyone else. Or, maybe, it makes things all the more interesting. And sure, when it comes to talking to professional-life-related people, my introduction probably wouldn’t be, “so I’m writing a sex blog…” But in most other cases, I don’t feel awkward talking about it. Slut shaming only works if you’re actually ashamed of what you do or have done. I’m not. Maybe it’s New York or the open-minded scenes/communities that I happen to be a part of or maybe it’s just my character, but I feel totally comfortable in talking and writing about these things (and hope that it will help other women do the same).

I also love to travel and won’t let this nebulous perception of “danger” stop me. Most of my travels have been to Western Europe and none of them really felt dangerous. At least not yet. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to any bad neighborhoods in these cities, but a lot of these places actually feel much safer than some of the ghettos of New York, where I’ve often found myself walking in or living near over the past 20 years. And it was in New York (my home sweet home!), where I had my bag stolen once when coming home late from a party (admittedly, I was very drunk and in no condition to fight my assailants, but still). And it was also in New York where I occasionally got beat up by bullies when I was in junior high school, straight “off the boat” and didn’t speak much English (I have a degree in it now, thank you very much!)

But I haven’t had anything terrible happen to me in New York or while traveling in a while. Sure, when I first get to a new place, I often look some combination of lost, confused and distraught because I have no idea where I am or how to get to where I’m going. People will usually notice and either look at me funny or offer to help. But by the third day, I’m at least armed with a map, can read the street signs, know where I live/am staying and how to get there and can take care of myself. I think that humans, ones that are prone to violence or misdeeds in the first place, are like dogs. If they smell fear, they’ll attack. And I just don’t exude fear these days, whether I’m traveling or walking around the ghetto in New York. Fear is simply about the perceived “otherness” between “us and them.” And I don’t think we are all that different, at the end of the day. We’re all just trudging through this endless maze of cities with blinding lights and a questionable existence.

This is not to say that annoying things haven’t happened when I’ve gone traveling on my own. Though I’m specifically saying “annoying things” and not “bad things,” because they were just that: annoying, not terrible. And partly my fault.

Saatchi Gallery, London, MuseumsExhibit A: When I was in London a few years ago, I went to the Saatchi Gallery to see the Dali exhibit for the umpteenth time. I met a Nigerian guy who worked there and took a liking to me, so we talked for a bit. About Dali and art and dancing (I told him I liked to dance. He told me he did it on the side quasi-professionally). He asked me to wait until the museum would close, so he can take me dancing somewhere afterwards. There was only another half an hour left till museum close, so I waited for him. When he got off his shift, he took me by the hand and dragged me to the tube station. We got on one train and then another and the next thing I knew I was on one of those long-distance trains to fuck knows where. I started to panic a little, not gonna lie. He was still telling me we were going dancing, just somewhere in his neighborhood that was apparently far away. (Side note: I wasn’t actually interested in him, I was just looking for an adventure).

Salvador Dali, Museum, paintings

I’ve gone chasing this guy all over Europe.

After an hour-long train ride and a bus (you might ask, at this point, why I was still following him and not just turning back from whence I came, but I was still feeling adventurous and wondering where he’d take me) we finally got there. To his place, that is. It was a tiny room he was renting in a family house. There was no A/C. It was the middle of summer. The place stunk like hell. He also stunk like hell as he tried to dance with me to Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean in a fedora. When I bolted, he was like, “but I thought you liked to dance!” So that was a bad idea. I found my way back, luckily, and got chewed out by my friend Helen, with whom I was staying. She expected me home at a certain time for dinner. I didn’t have a working phone with me and got there late. When I told her what I’d been up to, she yelled at me and gave me the “he could’ve killed you and chopped you up into little pieces” spiel. But, he didn’t. He just stunk, literally.

Exhibit B: I was in Barcelona and walking by myself down the bustling Las Ramblas street on a weekend night. People were constantly pouring into and out of bars or clubs and the street looked like a never-ending river of bouncing heads. One of those guys who was handing out flyers outside of a bar gave me one. He thought I was cute, so he beckoned me inside. He asked the manager if he could take some time off, sat down with me and got me sangria. He was Brazilian, it turned out, and had lived in Paris before, so we talked in some combination of Spanish (which I barely knew at the time), French (which I was rusty on) and English (which he barely knew).

He did away with his work shift completely and went bouncing around to a bunch of dive bars with me. He kept buying me drinks. I kept insisting on paying for them myself, but he refused my money. By the time we got to the fifth bar, they were playing some kind of popular American music and people were dancing, so he convinced me to dance as well. Then he started trying to make out with me. I wasn’t into it (again, I wasn’t interested in him. I was just looking for an adventure. But I suppose a gal should know that adventure comes at a price oftentimes). Anyway, we danced and drank some more and he kept trying to make out with me. Eventually, I told him I was going to go home. He thought this meant we were going to his place. I said no. He flipped out and asked me to give him “all the money” that he spent on my drinks back to him. I told him I never asked him to buy me all those drinks in the first place! He demanded something ridiculous like 50 Euros (which I’m sure is not even how much they all cost) and was grabbing me by the arm and not letting me leave until I gave him the money. Eventually I threw a 20 Euro bill at him and bolted.

La Rambla, Barcelona, night views, nightlife

Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

So, yes, both those experiences were unpleasant, but not the worst that could happen, all things considered. And they were drops in a very large bucket of fantastic experiences I’ve had while traveling. At the end of the day, I actually like traveling alone. I like making up my own schedule, waking up when I want to, going to sleep when I want to. Going to sightsee and museum-hop to the things that interest me. Eating what and where I want. And doing all this without having to check in with someone else.

My ex-girlfriend and I were great at traveling together, actually, and were always on the same page about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. And she was a great tour guide to boot, but until I find a connection like that again, I’m perfectly fine flying solo and by the seat of my pants. Additionally, I’m usually not completely alone. I often have friends or friends of friends in town, or can make new ones. Actually, I tend to meet more people from all over the world when traveling alone, particularly because I’m alone and feel like I need to make new connections. And I’ve made some great friends traveling by myself in the past year.

Meanwhile, as I roam the streets of whichever city on my own, I actually like figuring out what to do and how to get around without playing the “damsel in distress” card or having anyone to play it to. That’s so… last century.