I took my friend Amanda (the one with the great boobs) to the dentist this week. She needed a root canal, which meant she couldn’t drive herself around. I needed to get some writing done, so I figured we could parallelize. In the waiting room, I joined an elderly woman, her daughter, and her daughter’s grandson (who was playing merrily on his computer in the corner).
As is custom with me, the old woman started talking to me about two minutes after I sat down. She talked about her nine children (“And I’m not even Catholic!”). She talked about living through some really hard times. She talked about surviving 65 years of marriage (old women always talk of “surviving” marriage). She talked about painting her walls a lovely calm color so she could just stare at them when the kids were wild (and with nine of them, when weren’t they?).
She was a fount of humor and wisdom. She said, “Well, with life, first you learn to pray. Then you learn to laugh. Then you learn to do both at the same time.”
I adored her.
Then, on one of her frequent trips to check on her husband, she asked me what my tattoo said. I smiled up at her and said, as I do: “It’s a commitment band between me and my wife. It says she loves me – and she has one that says I love her.”
I could almost feel the room grow cold.
Her eyes flashed, she backed away. She said, “Oh.” She looked at me with fear? hate? anger? all of the above in her eyes. She backed up so far she tripped and sat hard in her chair. Her daughter looked up from her work, but wasn’t paying enough attention to know what was going on – or didn’t care. The old woman sat and stared at me for a few moments, during which I smiled pleasantly and then returned to my own work. Then she got up, skirted past me – I kid you not, she actually hugged the far wall when walking past me – and disappeared. She didn’t return until her husband was done, at which point she snapped at her family and pushed them to leave as fast as possible, including yelling at the boy when he didn’t pack up his computer fast enough to please her, then snapping a curt farewell at him and walking out in a huff, leaving him there. Her daughter, calmer and not a total bitch, helped the poor kid pack up, and then they were gone.
In my safe bubble?
Yes. I made a friend – and then lost her, because I’m gay.
I wasn’t any different between 2:14pm and 2:37pm. I didn’t change clothes. My tattoos weren’t suddenly more visible, my hair wasn’t suddenly more unsymmetrical.
All that changed was her knowing a truth about me that she didn’t like, a truth she previously didn’t know.
What would she have done, I wondered later, if when she’d mentioned her husband *I* had freaked out? What would have happened if I’d been the intolerant one?
I wouldn’t know, because I never get the chance to be the intolerant one.
I was pretty shaken by the whole thing. I kid myself that everyone in Austin is quirky and cool, but it’s not true. Even here, in my safe little bubble city, there are people who would rather beat me to death than allow me to legally marry my wife.
Even here, there are people who would literally rather kill me than even try to understand me.
I had tweeted the old lady’s sweet wisdom, so when she turned on me, I tweeted about it.
And the responses I got were interesting.
In general, people who are queer in some way were outraged and comforting.
And generally, non-queer people were… misguided.
Listen, I know they meant well. I know they were trying to be reassuring. But I get this shit all the time. Gay couples are “cute”. It’s like we’re in perma-puppy love, like we’re 5 and with our first love which no adult around takes seriously (which, by the way, pisses me off, too). We get talked to in itty-bitty voices, again like we’re 5 years old.
Straight couples look good together. Gay couples are “cute”.
Straight couples are taken seriously. Gay couples are not.
When I tweeted that the old woman had gone nasty, non-queer people said things like, “Well, I like Pace!”
But queer people said, “That’s awful!” or “How scary!” or “It’s not about you, but I know that was uncomfortable.”
And here’s the thing – everyone thought they were being kind and helpful. People don’t see the difference because it’s subtle. They don’t see what’s wrong here.
So I’ll tell you.
I didn’t need to know that you like Pace. I know you like Pace – everyone likes Pace. It wasn’t about Pace – the old woman didn’t even know her. It was about intolerance. Ignorance. Fear. Hatred.
I needed comfort. I needed understanding. I needed sympathy. I needed my bubble to bubble up, because it had been punctured. I wasn’t feeling safe anymore.
I’m not angry about this. I’m not placing blame. I’m not casting stones.
I am calling attention.
I am standing up.
I am saying that it isn’t fair.
It’s not right.
I am gay.
And I am still human.
Just like you.