SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies


Learning to Stand Up and Fight Back

    I was walking to school in August of 1987 with Jeremy, my best friend, both of us anxious for the first week of school to be over.  We talked about what we thought to be the most important issues at hand, how well we were liked and what we would do during the weekend.  We bantered back and forth, smoking up a storm until we arrived near the football field.  We meandered next to the line of orange trees that separated our present from the world of high school.  It was nice to just hang out and talk with someone and not have all of the external stimuli associated with high school life.  The contentment was short lived as a ruckus could be heard somewhere near by, guttural yelling and a large car speeding around.  Coming out of nowhere at an impossibly fast speed a maroon truck approached us and squealed to a stop a mere few feet in front of us.  As quickly as they approached the guys inside the cabin and bed of the truck began to curse us, calling us “fags” throwing rocks, cans, and other bits from the bed of the truck. 

    The seemingly endless sidewalk swallowed my legs.  I was paralyzed, existing in that moment for what felt like my own personal eternity.  Everything looked cloudy and diffuse, yet the detail s of it all remained remarkably vivid.  At some point in my mind, it became increasingly clear that I needed to run.  The animalist urge to flee washed over me, shutting off whatever logic I could muster up. 

They sped away, traveling for 20 yards and turning right into the student parking lot.  This blitzkrieg attack did not go unnoticed, as two unknown students came from across the street, reassuring us that “those guys were assholes.”  My concern was not over their character, but of my safety.  It was more than likely not actually thought of as safety then, but the feelings of fear and confusion are unique in hind sight. 

    Later I learned that Jeremy thought nothing of the whole situation.  I had tried my best to act as though nothing had happened and it worked, until lunch that day.  It was not until lunch that day that I began to feel anxious at the thought of sneaking off campus, risking a reoccurrence of the day’s events.  Jeremy, it appeared, knew that I was done for the day, and offered to just ditch the rest of the day and go to my house for cartoons. Lunches like this would become more frequent as the days and eventually months passed by.  It was not that I did not want to go to school; rather, it was more comfortable to be at home.  This continual state of panic and solace affected both me and my education deeply.  While I was a decent student, the attendance issues proved to be the most noticeable change to my family. 

I tried to tell myself that I would not let people like them get to me, that their words were just words.  It was not the type of situation that caused one to fear for their life, but that was not at all why I was scared.  It was that someone, somehow, had obviously discovered my secret and that soon everyone would know that am gay.   

Staying with the “normal” homosexual development, whatever that truly may be, I had told Jeremy a year before that I was bisexual.  His sister was gay; as such he seemed really comfortable with my lifestyle.  I knew that I was lying to him, but the thought of telling even him that I was gay was horrific.  Gay people, and especially AIDS, had been in the news a lot for the years preceding my event.  I remember thinking how much everyone seemed to hate gay people, and how AIDS was seen as the cure for the gay plague.  I had tried my best both to acknowledge my homosexuality as well as deny the subculture and victimization.  It may not have been a lie to just Jeremy in retrospect, given my fear of getting beat up and what people would think of me; I wanted more than anything for it to not be true.  Truth of it all could be that I hated being gay.  Yet one can never hide from that which they are, and I indeed would, sooner or later, need to embrace wherever I fell on the spectrum of sexual orientation. 

I did a lot of thinking during my educational respites; mostly perseverating over what would become of me, my social life, and my family should my “dirty laundry” be inadvertently aired.  Thankfully I had been graced at an early age with a love for CNN, so my mind was kept busy with world affairs.  One night however, after watching a forgettable news piece I came to a certain understanding that I would always be sitting, one way or another, in fear.  I realized that hate crimes, though not called that in my youthful internal dialogue, can take place at any time.  It meant that I could be victimized whenever anyone else wanted.  It was an extreme feeling of sadness and a lack of power.  I became powerless to protect myself from societal norms and values.  It was my deviancy that ensured my weak social bonds and a life of fear.  Knowing that others thought the battle for respect should be fought, the feelings eventually turned to anger.  I wish they had become acceptance, but I do harbor a certain hate for the straight world.  Its exclusivity based on a certain birthright disgusts me.

Reliving my first hate crime, I remember feeling increasingly uneasy around people, wondering if it could get worse.  “Could I be killed,” I asked myself in certain situations, situations that seemed to happen every day.  The fear of death was real yet moot in comparison to my concerns of being found out as gay.  Both of these fears compounded upon each other, seemingly linking death to my possibly being “outed.” 

    Everywhere I turned that day I could have sworn those guys were there, preparing to taunt me in some fashion.  This fear ruled my life for almost six months, waiting for the day I would be ruined.  It was not until telling my best friend of my “horrible” secret that I realized that I was letting people like the boys in the truck have power over me.   Jeremy explained to me that if I did not ever fight back or stand up for myself, people like that would continue torturing me and other people. 

    The calm monotone voice he was well known for made my epiphany all that more empowering.  It was a novel concept at the time, I had never thought to stand up for myself and fight back.  I promised Jeremy the same night I told him my secret that I would never let people “get me down for things I could not control” and I remain true to that promise to this very day. 

    Not all gay people experience situations like this.  Yet I believe it is important to tell the story of a hate crime against a gay person that doesn’t end in death.  There is no end to the story, unlike the stories of those who have died.  My story keeps changing and growing.  So much so that I think I have reached a place where I can forgive the guys in their red truck for what they did to me.  In fact, I think I may even be grateful, because I am safe now.


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