So I’m driving through Kensington Market with my boyfriend the other day, windows rolled down for lack of air conditioning. We pass this group of kids in their late teens. One of them looks vaguely familiar. As I’m trying to figure out if I’ve slept with him, he turns to the car and yells angrily, “Hey, faggots!” Slightly baffled, we drive on.
“Was he yelling at us?” my boyfriend asks uncertainly. I guess so. There wasn’t anyone else on the street. Was there something about our rusted-out Audi with the NDP bumper sticker that acted like a big flashing sign proclaiming, “Sodomy here”? What made us a target and how did he expect us to react?
I’ll tell you exactly what he expected: nothing. Guys who yell “faggot” or “dyke” or “tranny” at people on the street don’t expect a response. They expect us to cower in fear.
My instructor at the gay self-defence class I took last year at the 519 Community Centre taught us that you should always avoid an altercation when possible. Unless you are in physical danger, don’t do anything. Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.
But this sort of thinking doesn’t do anything to disrupt the stereotype of queers as wimps who won’t fight back. It’s a stereotype that makes us particularly tempting targets to these casual bigots. If we’d been a couple of black guys driving by would they have yelled “nigger” at us? Would they have called us “chinks” or “kikes” or “Pakis” or whatever other words ignorant assholes use to describe visible minorities? I don’t think so. Or, at least, I think they would have taken a moment to size us up first.
If we had been anything other than two pasty white, skinny urban homosexuals they would have thought twice about yelling anything, lest they get the shit kicked out of them. The simple fact is that queers make the perfect target for this kind of verbal attack because people don’t expect us to fight back. As long as we play to type, harassers don’t have to worry that we might just pull over, get out of the car and knock the offender’s head in, much less pull a gun out of the glove compartment and pop a cap in their ass. They can feel a little better about the size of their dicks, knowing that they won’t actually have to prove anything.
Growing up, queers are conditioned by the education system to ignore our bullies. We’re told that if we just ignore them they’ll leave us alone. Or worse, we’re told to accept it because, as the police officer said to my friend when he had his front teeth knocked out at 16, “If you didn’t look different, things like this wouldn’t happen to you.”
It’s true that queers have been delegitimized as victims of violence over time. At least in Canada, the general consensus is that it’s no longer okay for us to be lynched, burned at the stake or shot and pissed on, as one of my high-school teachers was fond of saying. However, we are still seen as safe targets – victims in the classic sense of those who do not fight back.
But what if we did fight back? What if North America tuned in to the six o’clock news tomorrow to find that some straight guy had been beaten beyond recognition because he had made the mistake of calling the wrong person a faggot? What if a group of undercover ninja-death lesbians took the head of Focus On The Family hostage and demanded a ransom of $1 million be donated to queer-friendly charities in exchange for their return? What if a flock of killer trannies, armed with butterfly knives and machine guns, suddenly descended on the provincial legislature, occupied the building and demanded that funding for sex reassignment surgery be restored?
What if an all-out assault were launched against opponents of queer rights à la Black Panthers? What if Stephen Harper, George Bush, Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson and every other self-righteous Bible-thumping homophobe suddenly became targets for violence because of their public statements against homosexuality? What if we did not rest until those who hate us and actively work to have our rights eroded were afraid to speak out against us?
But we don’t do things that way, right? Engaging in violence to forward the queer cause is wrong, isn’t it?
On the way home from dinner my boyfriend makes an abrupt detour into the parking lot of Canadian Tire. I sit waiting, smoking half a joint that was left in the ashtray and watching the sun set in the rearview mirror. Five minutes later he returns and tosses an aluminum baseball bat into the backseat. “For next time,” he says.
As we float along in silence I start to wonder what the next time will look like. Will we actually have the guts to get out of the car, baseball bat in hand, the next time someone shouts “faggots” out at us? There’s only one way to find out.
I say, “Bring it on.”