Joel, over at The Search for Love in Manhattan has a really intense and terrifying story on his blog today about an "incident" on a downtown train yesterday afternoon, where he accidentally jostled a man on a very crowded train, and had it nearly turn into a serious gay-bashing incident. It's incredible to me that something like this could happen on a crowded train, in Manhattan, of all places, and that it could get taken so far. Even having grown up in Arkansas, and frequently being in situations where I felt very threatened, there was only one time where anything ever really went down in public, in front of a lot of people, that had me really scared, and also wondering what the fuck was wrong with everybody else that no one was saying anything.
One night in Fayetteville, when I was in college, me and two male friends went to Waffle House, and sat down, and were just being our normal selves, whatever. It was a weekend night, and the place was packed, but for some reason, the redneck fuckhead sitting at the booth behind ours took great offense at our mere presence as soon as we walked in. He started complaining very loudly to his girlfriend or wife or whatever, about how he was trying to eat his breakfast and he had to sit there and watch "three faggots sit there and play with each other's dicks right in front of me." We knew he was talking about us, but we had no idea what he was talking about, so we thought it was sort of funny, and tried to ignore him. His complaining grew increasingly louder, and one of my friends decided he wanted to leave, but I refused. Finally the man slammed down his silverware on his table and walked over to ours and started screaming at us about being dirty fucking faggots, and playing with each other's dicks in public, and how wanted to vomit, etc etc. You could have heard a mouse run across the floor in that place; I'm not kidding. Everyone stopped what they were doing, even the waitresses just stood there and stared at this man, and us, sitting there silently and humiliated. The man then went and sat back down, and I kid you not, his female companion said, "What is wrong with you? You've been so grumpy lately."
Needless to say, my friends and I up and high-tailed it out of there with our tails between our legs. There were several boys from one of my classes in there too, just a couple of booths down from us. I can't remember a time in my life where I'd been that humiliated, either before that or since then. And angry. The helplessness, and shame, and fear, and embarrassment you feel in a situation like that is unbelievable. Maybe other people would have handled it differently, but we were three skinny little punky-looking 18-year-old boys who'd never been in any kind of fight in our whole lives. And no one said a word to us in our defense, even to apologize. Of course the man wasn't removed, and as we walked out, past the silent, staring faces, not even a waitress or manager approached us to apologize or call the police on our behalf.
I really like to think that if something like that were to happen to me now, I would handle it much differently, and not be so paralyzed, to stand up for myself in some way. Though Joel, in his story, did retaliate in his own way, and later only regretted not standing up for himself in a way that didn't "confirm these two men's prejudices," in a situation like that, you rarely think rationally. I'm glad he did something, and didn't let these two wackos think that they can just get away with that shit, though ultimately, as I'm sure Joel learned, it probably would have been best to have just ignored them.
All of which brings me to a really great book I read last week that I've been wanting to write a bit about, but this entry is already so long, I guess it'll have to wait. But it all applies. Glad you're okay, Joel.