I was in the West End library, happily flipping through the latest in vegetarian cookbooks, when the boys descended upon me.
They were young, just-post-pubescent, their age revealed by their bumpy facial skin and self-conscious movements. They converged in the cookbook aisle almost stealthily, muttering to one another and pushing me aside without really acknowledging my existence.
I glared at them, my contact lenses momentarily blurring, then returned to my perusal of French chick-pea dishes.
Only my previously contented concentration was shot.
Their mumbled conversation penetrated my senses. My heart started to pound. Because I knew, I just knew, that they were doing something homophobic. Call it a sixth-sense-meets-gaydar kind of thing.
Reluctantly, I tuned into their muffled guffaws. They were looking at pictures of some sort. I tried surreptitiously to dart my eyes toward the section title above their heads to see what had captured their interest, but my contact lenses refused to cooperate.
I glanced back at the book under my nose and tuned into the teens once again. They were talking about rock stars, I think, pawing through the music section.
Then I heard it.
“Why do you want to wait outside so badly, man?” One of the teens was looking earnestly at his highly uncomfortable buddy.
Mumble, mumble, replied buddy, though I couldn’t catch what he said.
“It’s okay,” his friend reassured him. “It’s not gay unless ”
I am very sorry to say I missed the last part of that sentence. I so badly wanted to hear the indicators of gaydom in the world according to these obnoxious, self-conscious boys.
None of the boys even glanced at me. Which was good, I guess, since I didn’t know whether to laugh, scream or bolt.
I’d be lying if I said my heart wasn’t pounding by then.
I tried to tell myself that I was safe, that I was in a library surrounded by friendly enough people. What can these obnoxious, self-conscious boys do to you? I asked myself, trying to breathe normally.
Today, that is.
Tomorrow, or in 10 years, they could be running for office and deciding what rights I get to keep as a queer.
Hell, in two years, they could be driving around my beautiful, gay neighbourhood in a jeep, yelling “fucking fag” out the window and chasing my friends.
What could they do to me, indeed.
There I was, in my neighbourhood library, catching a glimpse of yet another pack of potential bashers-to-be.
My heart rate redoubled.
I wondered if I should reach out to them in some way. Maybe start the “I’m-okay-you’re-okay” education process that they so obviously lacked. I could start with the most uncomfortable boy, the one who wanted to wait outside for fear of seeming gay.
Maybe I could tell him how proud I am to be gay, how much I love my partner, how hot our sex life is. Maybe I could tell him that it’s okay if he thinks he might be gay, too.
I never got the chance.
The teens shuffled off, leaving me fuming and shaken, staring at a bookcase lost in thought.
We have got to put a stop to this, I thought, no longer noticing the cookbook in my hands. We have got to start raising gay-friendly kids. Kids who don’t sneer and say, “that’s so gay” to describe things they hate.
Kids who don’t jump in their cars to bash queers like me as soon as they’re old enough to drive.
It seems to me that James Chamberlain and all the gay and lesbian education activists have been right all along. The key to raising generations of gay-friendly, non-homophobic kids lies in changing the school system.
And I don’t just mean letting teens listen to the occasional Pridespeak in high school; though I applaud our generous youth who have the courage walk into those classrooms and reach out.
No, I mean getting in there, from day one, and presenting our images and our realities to kindergarten classes across the country. I mean immersing these kids in a gay-friendly environment from the moment they set foot in our school system.
And yes, I mean taking on any school, and school board, who refuses to cooperate and persists in presenting only traditional images of straight people to their students.
Then, maybe, kids like these won’t make my heart pound in my neighbourhood library.
Maybe, kids like these won’t use their cars as tools to terrorize innocent queers like me.
Maybe they won’t even see me as queer at all.
* The provincial task force examining how to make schools safe is coming to Vancouver Dec 5. Hearings will take place at the Vancouver School Board office, 1580 W Broadway, from 2pm – 8 pm. To participate, call 250.387.2796 or 1.800.663.7867 and ask to be transferred to Lorne Mayencourt. For more information, visit www.safeschooltaskforce.bc.ca.
Robin Perelle is Staff Reporter for Xtra.