2013 was a landmark year for the LGBT community. The Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, thereby invalidating Prop 8 and granting Edith Windsor her victory. The Exodus International program shut down, proving once and for all it's impossible to pray away the gay, and on Glee, Alex Newell's transgender character, Unique, became a series regular.
It was clear that we were no longer an invisible community sidelined to bathroom stalls. We were out of the closet, and equality was a national agenda.
However it was amidst this year of progress that I found my mood shifting towards a sense of dread. Suicides attributed to LGBT bullying were still frequent, hate crimes were up 33 percent, and bloody photos of LGBT activists in Russia were being circulated worldwide.
Even New York City, the apparent epicenter of tolerance, felt dangerous. The city had become dystopian; plagued by a meningitis scare that prompted the New York Department of Health to issue a recommendation that all gay men in the city be vaccinated as if meningitis was exclusive to us.
Gay men were also being attacked, sometimes even shot, in neighborhoods like the Village.
"Do you want to die here," the gunman asked his victim before pulling out a .38-caliber revolver in front of Gray's Papaya on West 8th and 6th ave.
It would seem that 2013 brought an end to our anonymity, but our newfound visibility made us greater targets.
The below is my journal entry from November 2012, where I not only saw a drop in tolerance, but was weary walking the streets of Manhattan.
November 27, 2012
It's unfair to be called a faggot your entire life; however, the slur becomes most dangerous when you let it no longer faze you.
I was called a "fag" today while crossing 21st street in Chelsea, on my way to Barracuda for happy hour with a friend. The slur, I believed prior to this instance, had lost its shock value. I had been called a "fag" my entire life: while on the playground pretending to be April O'Neil from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; in junior high when I did not understand why Monica Jordan was considered the most beautiful girl in school; and when I was a high school freshman and refused to give up my seat on the bus so that Dan Gomez could stretch out his legs and sleep. That last instance is particularly important to note because it was the day I was no longer emotionally stunned by the F-word.
"I'm gonna kick you in the face, you fucking faggot," Dan said to me.
I had a crush on Dan. Up until that point in my life, a boy like him had never existed in my narrative. He had grown up in a neighborhood far from mine, where kids like him never went to the schools I was sent to. What he was doing at my small private school in Coconut Grove back in 1998? I don't know, because I never questioned why he shouldn't be there. I accepted him as part of my life as easily I did the kids who drove BMWs. Dan, however, did not accept me as easily.
One thing I easily figured out about Dan was that he used fear to gain respect. That was an advanced tactic for a fourteen-year-old boy. In retrospect, he probably used fear at places like the bus or at school because those were the only places he could. This use of fear made him appear dangerous to the kids with BMWs and to me, but more importantly it also made him vulnerable. I saw him turn bright red when talking back to teachers and similarly I noted the way he incessantly coughed after inhaling a cigarette. I did not believe for one second Dan would kick me in the face.
I stood my ground that morning on the bus the best way a boy with a mushroom haircut and Trapper Keeper could. Dan slammed his legs onto my lap.
"I'm gonna ruin that faggity nose," he yelled. The bus driver and the other kids all looked forward.
I want to call this moment an act of bravery on my part, but it wasn't. I understand now that this confrontation had nothing to do with my sexuality. Dan wanted respect from a world he felt wronged by. I did not back down because I too believed I was wronged and entitled to the seat. Turns out, we had a lot more in common than he or I thought at the time.
Dan didn't kick me, and after that morning I became numb to the word faggot. But hearing the word again in Manhattan, in 2012, in my late 20s with a better haircut, shocked me. This afternoon I came to the startling realization that I was the same teary-eyed boy on the school bus who thought I was owed respect.
Description of my heckler: male, Queens accent, salt and pepper hair, and a Yankee's baseball cap. He was driving a delivery truck heading crosstown towards 7th ave. When I look at the crossing signal, I see that I have the right away.
The altercation itself was brief. He honked, I jumped, and he shouted the F-word.
No gay man moves to New York City and expects to be called a "fag" in the world's most famous gay neighborhood. My first thought is that the trucker didn't mean fag in the colloquial way.
The trucker steps on his accelerator and zooms pass me, the roar of his engine making it clear that he does not care if he runs me over. He meant "fag" in every sense of the word.
I want to forget I was called a fag in Chelsea, but can't. I gave up a lot when I left my hometown for Manhattan. I gave up the house my parents built from the ground up, the mall I had spent hours discovering myself, and the state that was always sunny and warm. I gave all those things up because I could not handle being ridiculed by bigots who wouldn't accept me -- who would throw the word faggot at me for no reason other than to hurt me. I gave those bigots my history and moved to a far away island where I would have no past, but the trade off would be I was safe.
"That shouldn't have happened in Manhattan," my friend told me once I arrived at the bar. "This island is a haven."
Let's go over the description of my heckler once more, shall we? Yankee's hat. Salt and pepper hair. Queens accent.
Was this island ever safe to begin with?
As I take the subway home that night, I take out my journal but do not immediately write about the trucker. Instead I wrote about being an intern at The Advocate in the fall of 2006, and walking through Chelsea for the first time, believing I had finally arrived at El Dorado.
I gave the city a lot of respect that first fall and did not even dare insult the sales associates at West Elm by going into the store because the idea of affording a bed frame was still a lofty goal. I did go into Crispy Pizza on the corner of 17th and 6th and for the first time savored authentic New York pizza. I stood on the corner of the street, folding the slice of pepperoni pizza into my mouth, the grease dripping onto my hands, and remember thinking the City of Gold was real and I was her newest resident.
As I walked back to the office I saw graffiti written on a telephone booth that read, "Fags die like crazy dogs with rabies."
I wiped my hands of the grease but ignored the graffiti.
This shouldn't have happened in Manhattan.
Really, who were we kidding?
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