Don’t Stop the Music: Headphones & Street Harassment

This month’s columnist explores his love for headphones as an armour against street harassment

Feature by Jake Hall | 15 Jan 2019

It sounds cliché to say that I love music – every guy with a Tinder anthem and a fake-deep lyric quote can wax lyrical about the power of melody – but for me the statement needs to be more specific. It isn’t music that I love; it’s my headphones.

Growing up as a visibly queer kid on a council estate meant regular street harassment, and the slurs hurled at me all chipped away at an armour I was trying desperately to build. Headphones became a way to muffle a world which hated the idea of my existence; even the shit pairs created a tiny, crackly barrier between me and the bigoted conversations I would hear on public transport, or the cries of “faggot” that followed me as I left the corner shop. They were the first protection I knew, and to this day nothing spikes my anxiety like a lost pair.

Now I lean on them even more heavily because I’ve learned what happens when I respond to hatred. In the past I’ve been drunk and emboldened, frustrated and ready to take down anyone that tried to fuck with me. Often I can diffuse situations, but in the past I’ve also just escalated the chaos. I’ve been threatened, spat at and sexually assaulted for daring to address the discrimination that queer people are merely expected to accept.

On the increasingly regular days I wear make-up, I queue up the loudest, most furious songs on my phone. I blast them as I walk rapidly through the streets, my semi-beat face lowered slightly to avoid eye contact with potential aggressors. It’s a feeling that minorities worldwide know well – the fear that one hesitant gaze could result in immediate violence. It’s one which disproportionately plagues people of colour, trans and gender non-conforming people and women, whose catcallers can quickly turn nasty. 

I might be louder and more unapologetically queer than ever, but my confidence still crumbles quickly when I’m forced to walk through the world without music. My headphones give me more than just music: they muffle bigotry, drown out my fears and allow me to face reality with a sheath of musical armour.