or, Irrefutable Proof that Life is a Simulation
You know how some people believe that the universe is literally testing us? Like, once we believe we’ve accomplished something or overcome a personal emotional hurdle, the world will throw you a challenge, or a test, to see if you’ve actually overcome it? I never believed that to be the case… but I do have some pretty strong evidence to support the hypothesis.
This blog is going to be the simple story of me going for a walk.
Here’s the thing—I’ve been officially out as trans for over a year now, but for the first 9 months of that year, we were trapped in a pandemic with a government that seemed to be going out of its way to make sure we didn’t survive. Coming out was a minor salve on what was, generally speaking, the most consistently stressful time of my life. Considering the amount of time that has passed, I haven’t actually engaged with or explored my gender nearly as much as I would have liked to.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t written a post in quite some time, and the reason is that I started a job. The job allowed me to get vaccinated early and will soon give me healthcare, something I felt I needed before beginning the process of starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy, for those not up to date on their transgender terminology). Despite the fact that I’ve been wearing makeup, got my ears pierced, and have been wearing more “feminine” clothing, most people still look at me and say, “hello sir!” without batting an eye. I’m sure part of that is that our work uniform is just a plain t-shirt with the company logo, and part of it is my deep voice and 6’0″ frame.
So, with what little free time I still have, I’ve been trying to explore my gender as much as possible. For the past year, most of my exploration has occurred indoors (again, pandemic) or in a “safe space” like my new job. As euphoric as it often was, I still felt like I was taking baby steps, when I wanted to try to walk so that I would eventually be able to run. One night after work (10pm), I decided I was going to go full-on girl-mode and take a walk through my neighborhood. Because I frequently take my dog for walks around this time of night, I knew that there wouldn’t be many people around, and I would be able to exist freely in the open air.
Before I go any further, I’d like to mention that I don’t live in the greatest neighborhood in the world. Most parts of Los Angeles are kind of a mess even on the best days, and where I currently live has been slowly dying as gentrification rolls ever closer. There have been multiple occasions where someone locked eyes with me on the street in broad daylight and attempted to start a physical altercation when I was in boymode, so for as much as I’d love to say “I’m not afraid of people, I feel totally safe being my authentic self!”, there are valid reasons to be afraid of walking alone at night as a woman of any kind.
I put on a skirt I’d purchased earlier in the week, along with a frilly blue shirt and as much of a full face of makeup as I’m capable of doing at this point. I threw on a pair of comfortable walking heels and headed out.
The Simulation Begins
I approached the front gate of my apartment complex. Typically, this is the easiest part of any walk—literally just getting outside. As I reached for the door, two middle-aged cis women opened it first. The moment they saw me, their conversation stopped (or at least paused) while they took in everything that I am. I smiled, but then remembered I was wearing a mask and they couldn’t actually see it. They made no attempt to disguise the fact that they were staring at me. On the bright side, “middle aged woman” is hardly what comes to mind when you think “hate crime,” so I remained unafraid, if mildly annoyed.
As I made my way down the street, I noticed a number of people out and about. Generally speaking, if I saw someone who seemed like they might be a cis male coming my way, I crossed the street to avoid them. I made it all the way to the end of my street before anything happened. There, I noticed two separate groups of people approaching me from opposite directions. Each group consisted of exactly three people, all of whom seemed at least slightly intoxicated.
Relax, Chloe, I thought. This probably isn’t a setup, no one is going to jump you.
(At this point maybe I should mention I was raised in an environment where danger was seemingly omnipresent, where murderers and kidnappers were lurking around every corner—so I’m a little prone to irrational fear in the face of trying new things.)
I got a few sideways glances, but we all went our separate ways and I carried on with my walk. At this point, everything seemed more or less normal, like I would have expected from a late night walk, albeit with a few more people around than I would have guessed. If I were to liken it to a video game, this was the part where Mario is jumping over the basic obstacles at the start of a level. Sure, he has to crush a Goomba or two, but for the most part, things are pretty simple. But you know, eventually, Bowser is coming.
I round the next corner and pass through a group of people waiting at the bus stop. For the most part, everyone ignores me. They’re veterns of the Los Angeles Public Transportation System—they’re used to seeing much stranger things than a trans woman going for a walk.
I walk for quite awhile without seeing anyone or anything apart from the odd passing car. What I saw next made me reconsider my entire worldview and everything I thought was real in this universe. What I saw next made me realize, with absolute certainty, that we must be living inside a simulation. My encounters with people before this grew progressively larger: from two women, to 6 strangers, to a crowd at a bus stop. But now I’d reached the boss.
In a small garden in front of a church, a man was practicing knife throwing. From a distance of around 20 feet, he was launching knives into the trunk of a tree, and not a single one missed. After one of his daggers stuck into the bark, he would retrieve it—slowly, confident in his movements, like a panther approaching a fresh kill. Then, thwip!—and the knife was an inch deep in its target. Maybe this man meant me no harm—but if he did, I had visual proof he could kill me without lifting a foot off the ground from at least 20 feet away.
I thought about crossing the street, but this one is 6 lanes (7 if you count the turning lane) wide and traffic is a lot heavier than on the street I live on. If I keep going the way I’m walking, I’m almost home. The only other option is to turn around and go back the way I came, adding an extra mile to my journey.
Fuck it, I think, and keep walking. As I get near the man with the knives, he hears my heels on the sidewalk and turns to get a good look at me. Once he sees me, and sees how hesitant I’m being in my movements (I sound a lot more confident in this retelling than I was irl), and he leaves his knives in the tree and steps an additional 20 feet away.
I can’t even tell you how high my hopes for humanity soared in that moment: An adult cis White male recognized another human’s fear and took steps to make that person feel more safe. COVID made me feel like that level of kindness would never again be possible, but I was proven wrong in that moment.
I give him a nod of gratitude and doubled my pace, looking back every few seconds to ensure he wasn’t chasing after me—I’ve watched enough horror movies to know that killers like to toy with their victims (okay, so my faith in humanity wasn’t completely restored).
Home stretch! I’m finally almost—
I thought I beat the boss. Turns out that was a decoy. Now the path home was (being) paved with the literal stereotype that comes to mind when someone says “catcaller”: A horde of construction workers. Better yet, graveyard shift construction workers (I don’t actually know anything about construction workers, please don’t @ me).
If it wasn’t clear before, it was now. I was being sent real-life manifestations of every woman’s worst fears while walking home alone at night—and in increasing order of fear-induction. I’m telling you. Simulation.
The construction workers didn’t do or say anything as I walked by, but they did stop their conversations when I got near and resumed them when I’d passed. That was the extent of it, and now I was on the final final stretch toward home. The only person I saw on the way was a security guard on patrol. He seemed like he didn’t want anything to do with me.
At last, I had reached my apartment complex again! I beat the level, the Princess is in another castle, and I’m ready to get these heels off because even though I said they were comfortable to walk in, that shit wears off somewhere before a mile and a half.
I go to open the gate, and realize I haven’t actually beaten the level at all. And even though I thought “construction workers” were the culminating experience of my journey, there was one type of person who terrified me more than anyone I’d encountered so far, and I was about to run into a full baker’s dozen of them.
Frat guys. Drunk frat guys. I didn’t know anyone that young lived in my complex, but as I mentioned, gentrification.
They take one look at me and more than one of them starts laughing. “Do you see that?!” one of them says, louder than he thinks he is. One of his buddies shushes him. I hold the door open for them as they step outside. None of them look me in the eyes. None of them thank me. But that’s the extent of it—they shamefully avoid acknowledging me beyond their initial amusement.
And then I’m home. I won. I beat the first level. And I know that whatever the simulation throws at me next, I’m going to be that much more prepared for it.
I don’t actually think we’re living in a simulation, but I have to say that was one of the strangest nights I’ve had since coming out, and possibly ever. I’m open to educated guesses and interpretations as to what you think was going on (Mercury in Retrograde?), so click that Contact button or leave a comment if you have a hypothesis.
Thanks as always for reading, and since we cut back on the number of podcasts we’re putting out every month, I have a lot more time for writing, so you can expect a new post here when I’m in between chapters of my novel.
—Chloe Skye, June 27, 2021