I have to share, too

I have to share these posts, the first by a colleague of mine and the second by his friend Justin (whom I have never met).

ANDREW:

I have to share this post by my good friend Justin. He sums up very eloquently the plight of harassment that is still very real for gay people (tempted to emphasize ‘gay men,’ although some may disagree with me) and even people simply assumed to be gay. Read this if you want to know what it feels like, if you want to understand why myself and many others are still so outspoken about creating an accepting world for gay people to live in. It’s not just about rights; it’s about about respecting difference on all fronts, and it’s about bringing a moderate-to-high level of understanding and empathy to your interactions with your friends, and, yes, even strangers. We all have demons and prejudices that were transplanted to us at a young age. At this point, it is our moral and civic duty to try to obliterate these prejudices…to see people for the good that radiates from them rather than judging them for the aspects of their person that you cannot understand. Read below.

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JUSTIN:
“I feel the need to write something VERY important and I hope all of you will read this and consider it. I don’t want to proselytize here, but this is something different anyway, a personal issue.

Last night, walking in downtown Boston from the subway to the museum, I was harassed by a small group of (white, male) thugs. It was dark but very early in the evening, and somehow I was the only one on the street. Had I needed to call for help, I’m not sure from where it would have come. I tend to pay no attention to people on the street and have only rarely had issues of this kind, but this group of men proceeded to provoke me from across the street with homophobic slurs (“faggot”, “Clay Aiken” – never heard that one! – among other things too explicit to write here; to my brothers and anyone else who thinks “faggot” is funny, *this* is how it is used and what it feels like). I didn’t acknowledge them, and they proceeded to cross the street, follow me, and continue to harass me. One of them laid an aggressive hand on me. I naturally walk quickly, and somehow was able to get away with only a little more attention from them. I said nothing throughout the whole exchange – an exchange of their demeaning idea of fun (or “civil duty”, for all I know) for my sense of security.

(It’s worth mentioning that I was dressed normally, like any New Englander in deep winter: heavy coat, hoodie, scarf, boots. That I was immediately assumed to be gay, however accurate, was not obvious. That merits a different discussion.)

I do not often fear for my safety on the street in general, and I am loath to think that I should have to as a gay man. However, this is not the first time I have been accosted in public for being a “fag”. As for last night, I am over it, in as much as that is possible. However, it leaves a myriad of questions to be addressed. Questions which range from: “What the fuck kind of society is this?” to “How is a verbal and physical violence of this kind any different from the non-support so many LGBT people receive, from people they know, from their country and society at large?” I can’t answer the first question. But about the second: “It’s not different.” The effect – be it psychological or physical – of not feeling as though you matter, to a single individual or to a society, is an silent and destructive form of abuse. I in no way mean to trivialize the troubles of those who have suffered abuses far greater than I have; and I should mention that in many areas of my life, I feel supported and cared for. But not in all, and incidents like these remind you of those colossal gaps. For the record, my sexuality (like gender, like skin color) is on the table for precisely no one to discuss, for no one else to have a say in. The ways in which one can be violated are many, but all they feel the same at the end of the day.

I consider myself lucky to have gotten off so easily this one time, in a situation in which my privacy, my personal space, my sexual safety, and possibly even my life is at stake. You never know, and everything hangs in a tenuous balance. There is no excuse for sitting idly by. To say nothing IS a lack of support. To say nothing is to do nothing, while abuse ten times greater than this is happening all the time. People need to know EXPLICITLY that you are backing them, that you care about what they are feeling, and that they are valued; and it is not enough to be “mostly valued” or “pretty much supported, but not totally”. Nothing – literally nothing – will happen on a societal level without this kind of attention on a personal level.

I don’t mean to be sappy or dramatic, but I feel like, this once, I deserve to say whatever the hell I want. Because it’s huge, but it is so, so fixable.”

I felt the need to repost these thoughts once I read them via a facebook post of Andrew’s. I thought that this would be a way of giving the matter attention on a personal level, as Justin calls for. 

There are a couple things I wanted to call attention to, and to discuss a little. First the “gay thing.” As a girl who’s grown up on the outskirts of a small town, and a smaller community, I was privy to the typical village-y small-minded stubbornness and old-fashioned thinking. Remarks like “that’s so gay” were common in my public middle and high school days and toward the end of high school “faggot” was a frequently heard term, especially from the athletic, “I’m really hot, cool, etc” boys (both white and Native) who thought that they could continue to reaffirm their manhood by supposedly undercutting their peers’.

I don’t pretend to have never spoken the word (although I do not use it now, and haven’t for what feels like a very long time) and I don’t pretend to have held the same views I do now in high school. But the beauty of humanity is in change, and accepting the faults in one’s own character and learning from them, addressing them. And in trying to fix them.

But even in the adult world I’d experienced problems, stemming from lack of consideration, respect and education.

I’ve worked for Cattaraugus County in western New York for two summers now, and I like my job, for all it doesn’t challenge me a great deal. It’s physically demanding, and the hours are long and usually not air-conditioned or filled with empty time. I’m either working extremely hard (physically) or I’m sitting around, extremely bored. But 98% of the time I am accompanied by at least one white male over the age of 20.

None of these men are gay. Most of them are outspoken. And nearly all of them refer to one another in a playful, down-putting but affectionate sense as “homo” or some variation of “faggot” (I’ve heard “gay boy,” too) at least a handful of times a week.

One of these men was my supervisor. I can’t tell you how depressing this became. I made every effort to ask him to stop (not in front of his work buddies, so as to not upset him). We had many conversations about homosexuality, not because I really wanted to, but because he liked to hear himself talk. We also discussed gay marriage, but to my surprise, on this he ended up agreeing with me– in that everyone has a right to marry someone they love, no matter the gender. After that small victory I began to think there was a little hope for the manly-man men at the county.

My hopes were dashed when one of my other supervisors, a devoutly religious guy, decided to bring up the topic of gay marriage and lecture me on it one day in the truck on the way to a job site. He asked me what I thought, and I told him, assuming he’d agree, too. He’d seemed like an easy-going, open-minded guy.

He puffed right up like a bantam rooster. “it’s wrong, it’s immoral, the Bible says, blah blah blah.” I’m embarrassed now because I kind of just let him ramble on. But this summer I called him a bigot to his face, in front of a few coworkers. I might have been considered insubordinate or what have you, but he went on a rant in front of everyone about “the gays” and I let him have it. He wasn’t expecting me to say anything, but I made it clear that I found his remarks offensive and he never brought up the subject again. He had obviously been raised with a specific set of values and adhered to them– that in itself is admirable. But he refused to reconsider, to self-reflect, or to admit that there might be something in the world he had a limited understanding of.

And honestly, the biggest fault in a small town,small county setting is the sheer lack of awareness. Half of those people haven’t met an Asian, let alone a homosexual, and wouldn’t know what the hell to do if they did. They base their judgment and mindset on the media and what their children come home talking about (that is, if they pay attention to their children in the first place), and of course, the stories their friends tell them. And that’s really all. Until some fresh wave of insight arrives to deconstruct the ignorance, there will continue to be huge numbers of people (small-towners particularly)

who do not realize the sheer injustice and prejudice in the views they hold. It’s just miserable that so little is being done to bring about the awareness and the acceptance that gay people (among other minority groups, as well) so desperately need.  What’s America doing to remind everyone of our little motto– oh wait, it’s actually a pledge, right? “…With liberty and justice for all.” …RIGHT?

– – – And now… a New Ramble! Get excited, kids. If you’ve stuck with me this far, that is.

The second thing I wanted to dwell on is street harassment. There were some really good comments below Andrew’s post that talked about this. I won’t post them here because, well, I’m going to talk about it (and also this isn’t facebook).

There’s been an escalation in street crime in my area. I live in the artsy-fartsy district of Rochester (East End) and we’re all music people, in some form or another, living one on top of the other in our own little corner of the city. It’s unlikely to walk to class or down the road or across the street without saying hello to someone you know.

That said, we’re smushed up against kind of a seedier neighborhood. Not that seedy neighborhoods as a whole are filled with creepy, lecherous middle-aged men with a hard-on for engaging in street harassment, but the likelihood increases that there might be a handful of people you pass on the sidewalk that are, frankly, unsavory.

I mean, no biggie. You just pass on the street and go about your separate lives. Right?

(Photo by Vivienne Gucwa.)

Well, or not. We’ve had two muggings in the past week. One of them happened outside of an apartment where some of my good friends live. I know that at least two of them heard the victim yelling for help and called the police, then ran down to him as his attackers were scuttling off with his cell phone and wallet. This occurred in a well-lit, highly populated little section of our corner of the city. This happened right down the road from my building. This took place shortly after the school closed for the night (eleven pm) and the person who was attacked and robbed was walking home from practicing.

It doesn’t matter whether he was gay or straight or a fucking Martian. He was victimized and it happened very close to home. That is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable anywhere.

I feel that, as a student population, we have been (for the most part) walking to class and our friends’ apartments and home from the gym and to the library and the café and our jobs with more than just a small slice of fear tagging along. When I walk home, I walk fast, and I keep my cell phone in my bag (although that’s just being safety conscious in general) and my coat zipped all the way. I don’t wear heels unless it’s to studio class and I keep my bag across my chest so no one can grab it easily. It might be paranoia, but I’m not that tall and against two bigger guys I might not stand a great chance at keeping my valuables (or potentially even my physical safety) unless I could clear a knee to a set of balls. You know?

On top of that, last Tuesday a friend and I were harassed– verbally– by a set of four or five guys, clearly inebriated, pushing a bicycle (yes, between the four or five of them) up the street. They were coming from the seedier part of town. My friend and I hurriedly crossed in front of them… I’m an impatient person and they were taking forever to meander their way up the sidewalk. We kept our heads down and simply walked across the street toward our building, but one (and then two, and then three and the rest) of them called after us. “Kelly, hey Kelly!” At first it was an invitation, a cajoling, “Hey Kelly, hey blondie, where ya going?” Then they started to warm up to the game, and the catcalls became threatening. “Kelly! Hey, fuck you Kelly! Why don’t you come back here, Kelly? We’ll fuck you, we’ll fuck you up!” And so on.

There were others on the street. It was well lit. It was right in front of Eastman. We didn’t report it– we didn’t think to, we were just happy we were across the street, and after that we tried to ignore them, and they continued on their merry way in the other direction. We’re lucky they didn’t follow us, I guess, now that I’m thinking back on it. I’ll admit it, I was a little shaken… mostly pissed off, but nervy and jumpy as well. It just sucked.

And I can’t say that an alleged increased police presence has helped a great deal. They increased the police after the first mugging. And oh look, then there was a second one.

I guess I just don’t know where a desire to commit a crime, or to waste so much energy on violence or hatred comes from. Yeah, there are times when I want to give an annoying classmate, a difficult colleague, or a creepy guy leering at me in the gym a healthy punch in the head. But that negativity spawns from frustration, at myself or at a situation or admittedly, often at a person– even then there’s no real inclination to actually physically or emotionally harm someone. And, to be honest, as someone who’s experienced a form of emotional abuse, that shit’s no joke either. You’re left feeling just as vulnerable, just as wrenchingly insecure, and you hate yourself and resent the rest just as much.

And I mean, let’s be serious, all violence is horrific in real life. But there’s something about randomly mugging someone on the street– or following them, harassing them– or calling names to a random passerby– that’s chilling. It could happen to anyone. And as Justin pointed out, you really never know. The situation he (or I, or the guy outside my friends’ apartment) found himself in could have escalated and become much, much worse. You just never know. What happened to Justin is terrifying, and I think it’s made worse by the fact that his antagonizers– bullies with nothing better to do– used homophobia as a mask for their own cowardice (as evidenced by the Pack Attack) and general jackassery. 

All in all, I felt it was important (for me, anyway) to add my own thoughts about harassment to Justin’s and to Andrew’s. The more ideas that can be pooled and discussed and thought about, the more consciousness can be raised around these very real problems in our society. Because you really never know. That’s why I wanted to talk about it: so more people might know, and maybe think about it and talk about it with their mother or their roommate or their elderly neighbor with fifteen cats. And then maybe someone somewhere might, instead of watching How I Met Your Mother, walk their elderly cat lady to the post office on the day a group of Hey Kelly-ers might have considered her easy pickings. You just never know.

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This is just a picture of a crazy cat. Not a cat lady. Sorry…

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