I have this theory that you can’t shock someone with the same thing twice. My Coney Island walk supported this theory.
Coney Island is where four men were arrested in the 1930’s for appearing in public bare-chested, sparking public outcry (from men) and leading to today’s normalization of the exposed male breast. So while trekking bare-chested around NYC this summer, of course we had to go.
First of all, I have walked in some seriously crowded places, but this took the cake. Hot August Sunday, super duper crowded. I started in Brighton and walked toward Coney Island. Given the work of the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society and Moira Johnston and Felicity Jones and Scout Willis and all the other bare-chested women around New York, I thought Coney Island would have been there done that.
The first leg of the journey earned me a lot of attention. Per normal most of the people were still neutral or supportive but this was the first time I’d experienced jeering. With that said, each time someone jeered me someone else spoke up for me. (Something like this, “That’s diz-gusting. No one wants to see that.” Response from someone nearby, “Shaddup! She’s allowed to be topless in New York!” Etc.)
As we neared Coney Island proper, the density of people increased to the point where we would take a couple steps, stop, wait for people to clear, stop, go, etc. People yelling (in general, not at me), pointing (at me), taking photos, ignoring me, kids running and crashing into us, people everywhere. It was intense.
One woman in particular called out negative things for quite some time. She was really upset with the sight of me walking past her on the shore line. I did not engage her in conversation. I simply looked at her to acknowledge that I had heard her, she need not yell, but then I just continued my walk. A man near her called out that it was legal, but that only escalated her. Eventually she faded into the noise behind us.
We broke free from the crowd near the pier and came to a man named Anthony who stopped us and asked permission to take a photograph (well done, asking permission). So we posed for some photos in front of the Coney Island backdrop. He asked permission to post them to Instagram (again well done) and I gave my consent. He then put the camera down and started talking to me like I was, gasp, an intellligent human being, asking me about the experience I just had.
He had, apparently, been watching me approach through the melee, ignoring the jeers, navigating the chaos, and declared my walk a revolutionary act. High five for that, right? Once Anthony had broken the ice, others approached me to ask for pictures, which I obliged gladly. The whole point is to normalize the sight, so the more the better.
We hung out with Anthony and his wife (I’m sorry we didn’t get her name) for about 15 minutes before beginning our walk back. And guess what…?
The trip back was met with almost completely neutrality. Almost completely normal. It was wild. All that attention from the outbound trip dissipated into normalcy on the return. They had been shocked, now they couldn’t be shocked. It was awesome.
Then the weirdest thing happened. As we arrived back at the woman who had been heckling me the hardest, she called out, “Oh there she is again, the bitch with her tits out! Let’s all get our tits out!” I ignored her, but my fiance looked over my shoulder just as she lifted her bikini top and flashed her breasts and shook them about, put her top back on and gave us the middle finger.
Other than that, the rest of the walk proceeded with calmness and quiet. I spent the next two hours laying around, walking and swimming in the surf on Brighton Beach, and while people would sometimes double-take or sneak a photo, I had no negative confrontations and no objections from a distance.
If I’d had time, I would have gone back and done it again the next day. We went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn instead, and walked the residential streets before entering the park. That’s another post…