After spending a fun, hot, sweaty, exhausting day checking out the Pride Parade and street fair, I emerged above ground from the subway station wearing the rainbow beads I had been tossed by TD Bank during the parade, the rainbow Macy’s “pride + joy” bracelet, the stickers affirming the importance of being true to myself and my voice provided by GLAAD and AJWS, and of course carrying my “Totes Gay” tote bag I received for donating to HRC.
As I began my walk home, slightly longer than usual since the local train was too slow and the breeze outside was preferable to the sauna of the subway station, I, for a moment, considered removing all this pride gear, excepting the rainbow yarmulke that had elicited numerous compliments throughout the day. Considering removing everything and stuffing it in one of the less obviously LGBT themed bags was a throwback to past fears and internalized homophobia, something I could get into but isn’t the focus here. Instead I’ll just say that I considered suppressing my outward expression of pride since I was no longer surrounded by the LGBT community, allies, or my friends. I quickly suppressed the urge. I was headed home and why should I feel the need to hide what I had only moments ago been so eager to display.
As I turned down a side street, I was lost in the world of a Robert Jordan audiobook and barely acknowledged the small group of guys that I passed. After we walked by each other I heard some shouting and looked around confused. I took out an ear bud and saw the guys I had just passed looking back at me, one of them waving and shouting “Fucking faggot, FUCKING Faggot!” You know, when they put the emphasis on the “ing” in “fucking.”
I actually thought for a second, are they just messing with each other. Is this a “macho” friendly bullying moment between friends that absolutely has nothing to do with me? Nope. They were staring right at me; one was punching the air with his first in my direction. I turned away with a calm that was mostly inspired by bewilderment as the rainbow beads felt slightly heavier, the stickers seemed to pull at my shirt, the bag felt like a purse and the young bullied kid inside thought about how much I must look like a girl (as if this would be a bad thing).
I didn’t remove any of my pride accessories; I didn’t turn the “Totes Gay” against my body so no one would see. I put the ear bud back in and continued on my way. I was hyperaware of everyone around me at that point, but kept my calm, New Yorker “I don’t give a shit” face and wondered if I even really did give a shit.
I didn’t have a knot in my stomach, didn’t feel especially nervous, but I did feel something uncomfortable. I texted the two friends I had been with earlier (straight females, if it matters) and they quickly responded with, “Where do they think they are” and “Hey, the fifties called, they want their homophobia back.”
I have no particular insight to share from this event. I didn’t return home invigorated to fight homophobia, I didn’t curl up in a ball and cry (both valid responses, just not mine). I just considered how long it had been since someone called me a faggot to my face. I considered the stark contrast of seeing elected leaders, celebrities, and major corporations show their support for inclusivity and tolerance (a misleading term, people shouldn’t settle for being tolerated) only to be followed by a few young men taking a minute to try to dispel any sense of pride I may have in my identity.
It’s worth noting that I barely batted an eye at the two protestors at the parade that calmly explained how we were all going to hell (I’ve always felt my Judaism provided a great shield against such nonsense).
As mentioned before, I have no real moral of the story here. No pretty conclusion. Homophobia is still rampant, our country isn’t perfect, a lot has changed in the 45 years since the Stonewall Riots but I didn’t even know what those were a few years ago.
I’m still me and I’ll continue to be me. An LGBT (because one letter isn’t enough for me) Jew with a tattoo, a loving family, good friends, and a neurotic need to constantly question myself. Calling me a faggot, a kike, or claiming that you know more about my gender, sexual, or religious identity than I do has yet to change any of that.