Psst. Can you keep a secret? OK, don't tell anyone, but I have a superpower. No, I can't talk to seahorses or make tulips grow to towering, city-menacing heights. But I do have that meta-human ability to take any situation and make it gay. And yeah, I know I'm not the only one, but I still can wield it in spectacular (and obviously fabulous) ways.
The check-out girl only offers me paper and never plastic? She can sense my gay environmental sensibilities.
The ice-cream place closes for the night within sight of my car pulling up? Homophobia, plain and simple.
The Thai place throws in extra peanut sauce? Well, you get the picture.
So, if something comes up that is unequivocally not gay, then it is doubly not gay given my superpowers.
Such was the case when I was punched in the face in broad daylight this summer. There's not much to the story. I was walking the three blocks home from my beloved Twilight Tea Lounge in downtown Brattleboro, Vt., at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night in broad daylight. As I walked by some guy, he said, "You look nervous." I smiled and tried to walk around him. He drew his arm back and punched me square in the jaw.
I called the police. They picked up the guy (who made no move to leave) and told me, "Oh. Yeah. He does this all the time. He's a drunk who decides to punch someone in the face every few months."
I'm an out gay man with a syndicated gay radio show who wrote about the word "gay" for his dissertation and was elected to public office after having been endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. But this wasn't a gay story. This guy didn't know me from Adam (or Steve) and his punching me in the face was the utmost in random.
I've retold the story countless times in the past few months, and the reactions have caught me off guard. I would sort the respondents into four different categories:
- Those who were relieved that my getting punched had nothing to do with my being gay: These people care about both me and the world. They knew it was a possibility that my sexual orientation got me punched, but they still didn't want to live in a world where that happened. I was happy to contribute to their feeling relieved.
- Those who were disappointed that my getting punched had nothing to do with my being gay: These responses were a bit tough to stomach. Some of these folks wanted my pugilistic pal to face more severe, hate-crime-related punishments. Others were looking for a more salacious narrative, as the randomness of the violence just wasn't satisfying. Either way, their responses had little to do with me or my bruised jaw.
- Those for whom it never occurred that I would be punched for being gay: This was the easiest group to deal with, even if I worry a little that they're living in a happy place where gay people aren't the targets of violence due to their sexual orientation. But that's OK, because in this situation, their happy place was a destination to which I was able to travel.
- Those who insisted that my getting punched had everything to do with my being gay, even after I told them it had nothing to do with my being gay: Consider this exchange, which I relay to you word-for-word:
Ken: I got punched in the face the other night.
Friend: Oh! Because you're gay.
Ken: Nope, it was a random act of violence.
[Friend looks Ken up and down.]
Friend: Are you sure?
Ken: Uh. Yeah.
Friend: Well, which glasses were you wearing?
Ken: Um. I think my red ones.
Friend: Oh, because the blue ones you often wear are pretty gay.
It wasn't that these folks wanted me to get punched for being gay. It was more that they decided that it was the only logical reason, and I couldn't deter them from that notion. It is the responses of this last group that I have had the most difficulty processing. If my superpower couldn't make this situation gay, their dogged insistence to the contrary ended up feeling extraordinarily violating. They made me "too gay," a description that is arbitrary, ludicrous, and a smidge self-hating.
Ultimately, the whole getting-punched-in-the-face thing has been an amazing conversation starter. There's clearly so much more we all need to talk about with regard to the intersection between stereotypes, sexual orientation, violence, and extra peanut sauce. For my part, I'm just happy that he didn't break my red glasses. Oh, wait. Was I wearing the blue ones? They are pretty gay...