The world can be a dangerous place for LGBT people, as we all know. For many, a big part of building a life is creating a zone of safety—whether that means moving to a big gay metropolis, creating a smaller-scale network of friends and family or finding ways to “pass” in difficult situations.
Then something happens to shatter that sense of safety.
For example, I was recently walking through the Denver airport, just trying to make a connection, when some random guy in a cowboy hat leaned into my path and called me a “faggot”—then walked away with a chuckle.
On the spectrum of hateful behaviors against gay people, this is almost a non-event. But when things like this happen to me, they call up a lifetime of painful memories—and fear. It’s partly the recalled fear of a bullied 11-year-old boy, but it’s also the fear of a grown man who knows that thugs kill gay people all the time (and that you can’t necessarily count on the police to help you).
Scott Thompson would surely tell me to “grow a pair.” Well, I do already have a pair—but they’re very sensitive and averse to violence.
Here’s another recent traveling experience: I was sitting on a plane with four day-of-travel drink coupons that I knew I wouldn’t use, so I offered them to the beer-drinking guys in front of me. They accepted the coupons—and then spent a few minutes giggling and not-so–quietly mocking my slight case of “homo voice”:
“Excuuuthe me, boyth, do you want my drink tickethth? Wouldn’t that be fabulouththth?”
I could hear them—and people around us could hear them. And I sat silently with a sweaty, stomach-turning embarrassment that you might be familiar with. For me, occurrences like this expose a secret fear: that this is what all straight men secretly think when they’re talking to me: “fag,” “weak,” “fabulouththth!’”
So what does one do in a situation like this? What would you have done?
As a student of manners, I know that an etiquette expert’s best advice is to ignore the passing jab. There’s no point and no benefit to engaging with dickheads like that on their level. Thompson advises, in addition to generating testicles, learning to fight physically. But that can be unsafe (when you’re alone in unfamiliar territory) or unwise (when you’re on a plane). And I’m a mere wisp of a person.
But turning the other cheek and “rising above” aren’t very satisfying, either, after taking an insult like that. Not when your gay heart cries out, “Destroy!” and a series of revenge scenarios play out in your mind, Kill Bill-style.
I wish there were a better answer.
Well, maybe there is: I like to think of myself as a blend-into-the-crowd kind of guy, but I know I “read” gay. On the day that dickhead called me a faggot in the Denver airport, for instance, I was wearing a purple sweater and carrying a rather marvelous fluorescent orange duffel. This outfit wouldn’t stand out in my neighborhood, but I guess at DIA it did. Later that day, I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t wear this purple sweater when I travel into the square states” and “Maybe my orange duffel is too much.”
Then I thought, “Hell no—I like purple. It brings out the green in my eyes.” I reminded myself of something I know logically but haven’t quite internalized: The best way I can think of to fight back is by not letting the dickheads change me. I won’t get into a brawl—but I won’t act any less “gay,” either.
And I’ll remind myself, once again, that the best revenge is living well—and being “fabulouththth.”
Charles Purdy is the author of the book Urban Etiquette: Modern Manners for the Modern Metropolis and a longtime manners-advice columnist. In his Queerty column, he addresses issues related to social behavior. Find him on Twitter: @charlesqueerty