Last weekend, my boyfriend and I went for vegetable thali and devilled fish at the Ceylonta Restaurant on Somerset Street. Sunny with clear skies when we entered the restaurant, the rain was coming down in sheets by the time we left. My boyfriend had thought to bring an umbrella but I’d forgotten, so he pulled me in close with his arm around my shoulders for the 10 minute walk home.
We headed down Bay Street, sidestepping the large puddles quickly amassing and making plans to lie in bed and watch back episodes of So You Think Can Dance? on the internet. Coming up on Gladstone, we were hotly debating whether Twitch has enough of a serious side to be crowned America’s favorite dancer when two young guys sitting on their front porch began taunting us.
Imagine being so paranoid about how others perceive your gender that it would be better to soak yourself in a thunderstorm than physically touch another man to share an umbrella. Imagine having such an unstable vision of your own sexuality and inherent self worth that you resort to degrading strangers in the street.
Last year, the same house was having a joint street party with their neighbours across the road. When my date and I passed by holding hands, the men and women on either side laughed openly at us and one of them shouted in disgust, “Are you guys fucking gay?!”
In the eyes of homophobes, my sexual desires and the way I express my gender is such an egregious affront that it necessarily negates whatever else I have been, currently am or strive to become. I am without history and I have no dreams. I was born nowhere, will finally rest nowhere and could do nothing of value in between.
I can serve my own community and the community at large. I can actively pursue a life of learning. I can travel home to help my mother re-learn to walk as a partial paraplegic and over the years I can build a friendship with the girl who lives next door and cheer her on as she teaches herself to skateboard with Hannah Montana cranked at full volume on her pretty pink ghetto blaster. I can live a dynamic life of communion with the people I love.
In 2000, I published an open letter in the Montreal Hour after being gaybashed a block and a half from my home. Eight years have passed since then, and I grieve that I am still unsafe in my own neighbourhood. I grieve that the words with which I addressed my so-called neighbours in 2000 are no less relevant today:
This is a letter of forgiveness extended to both you and to myself.
I forgive you for intimidating me in my own neighbourhood, on the street where I live. I forgive you for filling me with fear and for telling my friend and I that we were outnumbered and that we were at your mercy. I forgive you for threatening us with violence and for cornering us and for screaming “Faggot!” and “Pillow Biter!” and “Fudge Packer!” and for following us to my door and staying there when we went inside. I was crying on the other side of my door when you pounded on it and sang “God Save The Queen!” and I forgive you for your ignorance and your bigotry and your lack of human respect.
I also forgive myself for feeling ashamed. I forgive myself for not speaking up. I forgive myself for allowing you to make me feel like a coward and a child.
Last year, I hitchhiked in Iraq, and I learned about the social humiliation of poverty. I visited a Jordanian-Palestinian refugee camp and I learned about the painful senselessness of marginalization. I worked with sexually-abused children in Nicaragua, and I learned about this world’s abandonment of respect for our shared humanity.
I learned from an eight-year-old girl who was raped in Nicaragua that silence is death. She taught me to stand up, speak out and to not be ashamed and I forgive myself for not employing what she taught me.
This is a letter of forgiveness. I forgive you for your incredible lack of dignity and your utter ignorance of the concept of brotherly love. I forgive you for not realizing that I am, in fact, a human being — with a life and a mother and a sense of self.