Des (deskitty) wrote,

Standing Up to the Fear

Last Wednesday evening, like most such evenings, was Revenge of Pizza night. It usually happens at a small, family-owned pizzeria in Sunnyvale. The shopping center is old, but the restaurant is friendly and our usual waiter is amazingly, flamingly gay. It's a good place for fur gatherings -- we can be somewhat obnoxious and goofy, and the owners don't mind; sometimes they even join in.

Outside the restaurant, it's a different story. The shopping center is not well-lit, and when it closes, people of a somewhat ... questionable nature emerge from the shadows. I frequently see police patrols cruising through the parking lot, slowing down whenever they see a group of people, observing them closely. Before that night, I never understood why.

After Pizza, those of us that are left usually hang out in front of the pizzeria (which by this time has closed, along with most of the other shops nearby). We'll stand around, chat for a while, and generally be silly. Most of the time, this doesn't attract more than the occasional hostile stare.

Last Wednesday, it did.

There were maybe four or five of us in the group, and over the course of the evening, it dwindled down to myself and one other. We were standing in the parking lot in front of the pizzeria, and a group of maybe four or five people, of high-school or perhaps college age, came up behind us. We had our arms around each other's shoulders, as it was cold, and we didn't care if anyone saw us.

These people cared. They seemed to decide, for whatever reason, that our presence and behavior offended them. They began heckling us, demanding to know, "You got a cigarette?"

"Nope." I didn't turn around.

"You got a dollar?"
"You got a dollar?"
"You got a dollar?"

I paused, taking a deep breath. Show no fear.

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Slowly and deliberately, I took my hand off my friend's shoulder, slipped it into my pocket. I ran my thumb along the side of my phone, considering. Not just yet. I turned around and faced them, waiting.

"You got a dollar?"

I swept my gaze over the group, then focused on their leader. Stories of similar encounters flashed through my mind, most ending in homicide reports and murder trials. My chest quivered as I took a breath.

I spoke quietly, evenly. "No."

He stared at me. I returned his stare, projecting what I hoped was calm confidence.

After a moment, he and his group sidled off, back the way they had come. I exhaled, relaxing very slightly, taking measured, deep breaths. In the distance, shouts of "Faggot!" rang out, echoing across the parking lot as they retreated back into the darkness. I half-turned, watching them go.

I put my arm around my friend, my hand quaking, but not from the cold. As they passed into the neighboring lot, I smiled thinly and muttered, "Bye bye".

The immediate threat had passed. But it left me with a much bigger question.

How can we let this pass?

There were so many things I wanted to say to that kid, so many things I could've said. All of them may have gotten me injured, or worse.

But how can we, as self-respecting GLBT individuals, continue to allow this to happen? Why do we allow ourselves to be isolated, segregated, cast off as the "other"? Why do we allow society to define us solely in depraved, sexual terms, when the reality is so very different? What are we afraid of?

Thugs on street corners. Thugs in strip malls. Thugs in the White House. Our coworkers. Our parents. Even our friends.

Here's the thing, though -- if we don't face that fear, if we don't stand up to it, it's never going to get better.

Kids will still say "That's so gay". Bigots will still pick fights with faggots. The likes of Sally Kern will still spew their hate-filled bile. Our parents will keep hating us, driving some of us into the houses of friends, if we're lucky, or onto the street if we're not. We will keep hating ourselves. Some of us will even take our own lives. Unless we do something to change this, none of this will change.

So I will do the only thing I can do -- live as an example of an out, successful bisexual man.

That doesn't mean waving a rainbow flag and wearing my hot pink "OUT AND PROUD" T-shirt to work every day. It doesn't mean marching in pride parades, or engaging in raunchy public displays of affection with my (hypothetical) boyfriend.

It does mean this: I will do my best to show the world, through my actions and deeds, that we can be warm, caring, friendly people. I will show them we are good neighbors, trustworthy friends, and diligent coworkers. I will show them we are made of strong moral fiber, and we do the right thing when given the chance. I will show them we are just like them. And most importantly, I will do this without apologizing for or hiding the fact that I am bisexual.

I do this because if I don't, it's never going to get better.

I'm just one guy, lost in a sea of billions. Nobody knows me. I don't have lots of money, or prestige, or power. But I take pride in who I am, and I will do my part so we all may do the same.

-- Des
Tags: fear, lgbt

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