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On Being Gay When That’s Enough to Make You a Target

original

Zachary Wilcha for UnitedMag.com

Someone texts you to see if you’ve seen the news. You have, and you’re horrified. You know gay beatings happen all the time because you read gay websites that seem to feature a new one every day. But you’ve never heard of one happening so close to your home. You walk past that intersection all the time. You look over your shoulder sometimes because you know you have to, but you’ve never felt truly in danger of imminent, physical harm where you live.

You pull up the news story and look at the bruised and bloody eye of the anonymous victim. You wonder if you know him. You feel a little guilty about just how glad you are that it isn’t you.

You’re disheartened that it happened so close to you. You’re disheartened that it can happen anywhere. You’re disheartened, but you’re ultimately not surprised.

People around you say they can’t believe this kind of thing can happen in 2014. None of the people who say this are gay. You think about how many times you’ve seen people stare at you on a date just a little too long. You remember all the times you’ve heard someone mutter faggot as you pass by. You remember walking home at night when you lived in the Gayborhood and seeing cars drive by filled with people who made the journey just to gawk at you. You are other, and people will always find ways to remind you, even if it’s subtle.

God help you if you are gay and have the audacity to enjoy yourself too much. Double that if you’re a gay man of color.

When police release the video, you watch it a couple times. Your original notions of gay-bashers are challenged by the demographic make-up of the suspects. You see the people you went to college with, well dressed, upwardly mobile Caucasians. Some of them could have even been your friends.

While people are shocked by the white gang of hooligans simply for being the color they are, you’re not shocked. You know something they don’t. You know that the last group of people you’d want to run into at the end of the night is a group of drunk, straight, white men full of equal parts insecurity and liquid confidence.

You post the surveillance video, and the most wonderful thing happens. Your timeline fills with support. Everyone you know in Philadelphia, gay or straight, is disgusted with the suspects’ actions. Your Facebook page is flooded with the videos. Your allies sharpen their pitchforks. Maybe they wonder how they’d react if you were the one who was beaten. These events shed light on the daily safety many of your friends enjoy.

When the remarkable Twitter detectives unearth the photo of the suspects at dinner, your heart stops. You see how happy they are, unaware of where their privilege is about to lead them. You imagine the mob of them descending on gay couples you know. You know if they attacked you that you’d never be able to escape. You want to punch them all. You want them to be shamed in the eyes of their community. You want their parents to suffer for not raising them right. You are not a violent person. You want them to die.

It’s not fair, but you’re especially disappointed in the girls. Girls have always been there for you. Girls are the first ones who listened to you. They’ve always looked out for you. You think about how they should have stepped in and done something. You can’t believe that all of them failed to come forward. You hope they can’t sleep at night.

You never thought you’d be so inspired by Twitter, of all things, as people worked together to solve the mystery of who the suspects are. You actually tear up as you watch it all unfold. You’re used to relying on the kindness of others. You’re overwhelmed by the decency of others. You want to believe there’s more good than bad.

You blanch as friends continue to call the episode a hate crime. You know that in Pennsylvania gay people are not entitled to the same protections as other minorities in hate crime legislation. You can still be fired from your job in parts of the state for being gay. You know people are sickened by your boldness in wanting more rights now that you’ve already been granted marriage. You are different enough to be legally set apart from others, but you are not eligible for the same kind of security. You are disposable.

You realize more acutely than ever why when you came out at home, your mom held your chin in her hand, stroked your hair, and told you how worried she’d always be for you. You are not welcome in everyone’s life.

You are hopeful for justice. You imagine the suspects turning against one another. You’re resigned to the fact that if the suspects are found guilty, they will not receive the proper punishment. You’re aware that these young men and women will get off easy because of who they are. You know they’ll use self-defense. You know they’ll claim to not be homophobic. You know if they were black, they’d already be in jail. The news about their fate can’t reach you quickly enough.

You’ll continue to look over your shoulder because you have to. Sometimes you’ll see people walking toward you and wonder if today is your day.

You push all these thoughts away as you try to fall asleep. You have to. You’re exhausted.

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