Hate in all its forms is almost as powerful as shame. It has the power to stop you dead in your tracks, question your being and sometimes do something even more unexpected in a human mind when triggered emotionally – shut it up entirely. The reality is that the mind isn’t typically a quiet place after something happens that shakes you to your core, but there is a flash of a moment where the silence is eerie. It’s the moment when you feel like a child all over again, helpless in every way to stop the flood of emotions and feelings that wash over you.
That’s what happens to me when I experience hate related to my sexuality. When I have someone talk about my “lifestyle” as if it’s not a life at all. When vulgar words are used to talk about “those people.” My people. Me. I’ve felt the blow, emotionally or physically, of being different and hated for it. It hurts.
To hear the tales will never really convey what happens in the seconds, days and years following a prejudice motivated interaction and moments that evolve into a criminal act. A hate crime, to be more specific. Ironically, the word “hate crime” is a trigger for bigots. They get defensive of their race and rights – implying that the existence of laws to support balance create a world that’s not equal for them, too. As if the world doesn’t offer most of them a lot of benefits no law could balance in the first place.
Anonymity, for one thing.That’s the unspoken benefit I miss the most. The absence of curious eyes, incorrect pronouns and fear. Fear of being ripped out of a bathroom because someone thought I was a man. Fear I will experience yet another moment like the ones I’m about to share.
And I will, unfortunately.
Hate is rarely talked about. We post on Facebook about our grievances and with hundreds of likes, it slowly disappears into the background. “There’s nothing we can do,” they think. But there is.
I’ve never been a victim of a physical hate crime, thankfully. I have experienced a lot of conversations and interactions I wish I could forget. And I’m going to share some of my experiences not for your sympathy (those kinds of feelings creep me out) but instead, I want people who read this post to empathize more with the LGBT community. I want to inspire and motivate more advocates for our rights. I’m willing to be a little vulnerable in hopes that my experiences make you think. I want to do that with my writing, especially during Pride month.
Hell, selfishly – it’s really therapeutic too.
- So first, I have to add an addendum to my coming out story. I never had the chance to come out to my extended family because my Mom outed me to them at Thanksgiving. My aunt was spouting off about politics. A Republican and a born-and-raised racist, she started on Obama saying the terrible things you likely suspect. Then she started to talk about Hillary Clinton, finishing her rampage with “she’s a dyke.” My mother, with what I assume were decent intentions, shouted back: “Your niece is a dyke.” Then, that weird silence. It has been almost 10 years and I still feel like a gong went off next to my head telling that story. I just spin. I didn’t say anything. No one did. Everyone just started slowly leaving the room. We never really talked about it again until my Grandmother decided she loved Ellen. Seriously.
- In the first few days of moving to Nashville, I was driving into my parking garage as a car sped through. I was cut off by the car and the driver yelled, “Faggot!” He continued to follow my car and park next to me, using every gay slur I’ve ever heard. I knew my HRC and rainbow stickers had given him verbal ammunition. I locked my doors and called the police, showing the man I was dialing 9-1-1 as he walked up to the door. He quickly scurried away. I was scared. Today when I tell the story, I jokingly say ‘well, that’s not even the right slur’ but the reality is that the word still stings nonetheless.
- I was in Boston a few months after moving to run a half marathon. I went into a Chipotle in Kendall Square, my typical night before a race tradition, and was greeted with “welcome, sir!” I cringed. It’s embarrassing. The girl behind the counter immediately noticed her error. Somehow, she felt like this gave her permission to begin an inquisition instead of an apology. “Are you offended when people call you a boy?” Shocked, I stuttered “I don’t know?” I still don’t know if offended is the right word.
- My first time in New Orleans, I went to a bar on Bourbon Street. It was a quiet Tuesday night. Quiet for Bourbon Street, at least. My group was moving to our next bar to listen to music. I had a few drinks by this point and went straight to the bathroom. There was no line, thank God. As I pushed the heavy wooden door, I felt a tug on my shoulder. Both shoulders. I fell back a few steps and made eye contact with the person grabbing me. It was the bouncer. His eyes were big. “My bad, I thought..” he said trailing off. I turned and went into the bathroom. In that stall, I cried. Likely from the adrenaline and fear but I still couldn’t go to another bar after that. I was petrified to use the restroom. I still think twice before I go into any bathroom.
- Or the time I went to Waffle House one Sunday morning. My fiance and I sat down in the only two open seats at the bar, right in front of the cash register. We looked over the menu and waited for someone to take our order. And we waited. And waited. Then, it became obvious. They weren’t going to serve us. People who came in after we sat down were already eating food. As I leaned over the bar and said “excuse me,” the people behind the counter just kept walking past us. People around us just put their heads down, ignoring our pleas for any attention at all. We walked out without a single person speaking to us 20 minutes later. I cried that day, too.
I’ve heard so many people say it’s just a pronoun. Just a word. Just that one guy. Just in the South. But it’s not. It can happen in blue states, red states and on every road in between. I have more stories, unfortunately.
Hate is a bigger issue than we want to acknowledge. One that will take an army of people, gay and straight, to make any progress. That fight, I believe, can be achieved by beginning with one simple step: to slow down. To notice other people. To stand up for what’s right.
You’ll notice, in none of these occasionswere there passionate people standing by to come to my rescue. That’s because those heart string stories you read on Facebook are 1 in a million. It’s not normal for people to stand up when someone else’s rights are being infringed.
Just stand up, ok?