By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
In high school, I got called “faggot” a lot. It didn’t happen every single day, maybe not even once a week, but it happened enough that I noticed. Getting called out on your shit when you’re a terrified church kid trying to keep all your skeletons sorted and stashed in the closet is utter horror. Fairly quickly, I relied on wit and sass to protect me. (Plus I did the jocks’ math homework for them. You’re somewhat less apt to be called names or harassed if you’re the smartest kid in the room.) As a grown man working and living in an arguably progressive city, I still hear “faggot” occasionally. Today, even though it shouldn’t, the word, when tossed by a reckless assailant, cuts a little too deep.
Every single time I’ve dated anyone—or even gone on a date with anyone—and held his hand, I’ve been called a faggot. My ex-partner was once attacked for his perceived gayness. I’ve been pushed, punched, shoved, spit on, and made to feel generally unsafe on more occasions than I can count, and I know far too many people who tell similar stories. Several years ago, some friends and I, reacting to yet another gay bashing during Rose Festival season in downtown Portland, called on Q Center to host a town hall meeting. There, leaders from the city came, listened, and, eventually, Q Patrol formed. Q Patrol was not perfect and it was not the answer to all the problems our community faces, but it was heartening to see so many from the community get involved.
Late last month, two men I know were assaulted while standing outside a taco truck on NW Fourth and Davis. Fortunately, they’re both healing and on the mend mentally, though the experience has left them traumatized and in shock. Thankfully, I work for a queer publication and we can offer these men, Daniel and Gary, an outlet to share their stories and give voice to an alarming problem. I’ve been heartened by the outpouring of support from many folks in Portland—and beyond. However, there have been hecklers and detractors.
First, let’s be clear. No matter what some queer person says to some gentleman who shoves them or pushes them aside, no one deserves violence as a repercussion. After getting shoved, one friend said to another, “What manners. At least he has a nice ass.” The suspect replied, “Is this some gay shit?” Would the assailant have turned around, seen Daniel’s drawn-on eyebrows, and punched him anyway? Who knows. The bottom line: the man said, “Is this some gay shit” and went ballistic. That is horrific. Let’s not wag our fingers at someone for saying something we may or may not have said were we in the same scenario. How many times have you said something sassy about someone while you’ve been in a bar? Care to count the number of snide drunken comments you’ve made in your lifetime?
Second, my blood pressure cannot handle another person implying someone somehow deserves it because they’re partying in Old Town, as if there exists some sort of queer caste system wherein people who frequent CC’s or Embers or Silverado deserve to suffer because of their choices in nightlife. Anyone committing any hate crime should pay a steep legal price; we should not have to suffer for our perceived difference; the city should and must commit all its resources to keeping its neighborhoods safe. Perhaps that means dismantling the “Entertainment District.” (P.S., any belligerent straights stumbling upon this, we were there first.) It is reprehensible that there is a spike in hate crimes during the Rose Festival; it is unacceptable that the city can’t seem to manage a district it created; we should demand more from our elected officials.
I have been consumed emotionally by the violence. Since telling last month’s story, more have been brought to my attention. Two men were bashed at the end of April; another man was violently attacked a few days before this column’s deadline. People are reaching out, telling their stories. I am seeing terribly upsetting photos—people are suffering from horrible injuries. Mental anguish abounds. The people attacked are beautiful souls—talented and smart and witty and beautiful. Decidedly queer.
As I write this, activists are talking about resurrecting Q Patrol. I am not sure Q Patrol is the answer, but I wholeheartedly support people trying. It beats armchair and Internet activism.
I’ve heard lots of people want to bash back; while I do not condone that, I don’t judge it. I understand your rage, hurt, and anger. Some people want to carry mace, others more potent weapons. There are all sorts of reactions to a very complicated issue that hits people right in the soul. Personally, I’m employing the buddy system, charging my cell phone, and screaming like a banshee if anyone approaches me or my friends. I’ll also be dialing 911, because what’s not reported, the city can do nothing about.
In the interim, try to withhold judgment. Don’t scold victims for how they process what happened to them, or for what you feel they “did wrong” in any given scenario. These things happen in a split second, in the blink of an eye, and reactions occur accordingly. I have a thousand clichés to toss your way, like: hindsight is 20/20. Don’t be a Monday morning quarterback. Put yourself in a victim’s shoes.
Be vigilant, but don’t hide who you are because you’re afraid. I am certainly not suggesting you run around hurling sexual innuendos at every straight man you encounter, but there’s a happy medium. The fact that anyone would dim their big gay light because of a handful of unhinged assholes breaks my heart nearly as much as the violence does.
“They wish we were invisible. We’re not. Let’s dance.” –Joe. My. God.