Philadelphia

On vulnerability…

I’ve been feeling vulnerable recently. I mean, we all have.  The recent gay bashing sent a shiver of fear down all of our spines. Violence towards a member of the LGBT community is not something new. Over the years, we’ve all received emails from the HRC or have seen posts on Facebook or the NYTimes about some one gay or trans being victimized by some ignorant straight person in one town or another.   But they have always felt removed to me. In the 5 years I’ve spent living in Philly, I can’t recall anything being so brutal, the reaction so public or hitting so literally close to home.

This attack, which rendered a couple battered and bruised at the mercy of a drunk group of 15, has been a cruel reminder that even though our beautiful gay community is so close knit and strong and this city seems to embrace us with open arms, still we are endangered.  Sometimes I forget that.

On top of all of this, my car was broken into on Wednesday.   I had a particularly rough day at work; one of those days wherein everything I did was wrong. Being the perfectionist I am, you might understand why I felt particularly frustrated with myself. After work, I forced myself to the gym despite my despondency.  30 minutes in, I was spent. I left deciding to treat myself to something lovely for dinner and a six-pack (because grocery stores sell beer now and it’s amazing.)

I got in my car, put on my seatbelt and that’s when I noticed the shattered glass on the seat next to me. I let out a “What the fuck!!” before noticing my backpack, which had in it my wallet, phone charger and various work materials, had been nabbed. Without screaming, crying, panicking or freezing, I got out my phone, dialed 911, reported the crime and my location, then called the bank, cancelled my credit cards. I, then, informed my coworkers of my situation alerting them that they must cancel my company card.

I did all of this while remaining steady and focused.

In the half hour I had to wait for the police, I congratulated myself for handling everything so calmly.  How adult of me. The cops arrived, I gave them the necessary information and waited (and waited) for them to fill out whatever paper work they needed.

Still calm. But eventually the breath gets heavy and the chest feels tight. The realization that I have been violated hits. I maintain my cool even though I start thinking about what needs to be replaced, how much a new window will cost, that the mechanics are closing and it’s going to rain tonight and these damn cops are chatting and smoking a cigar (no exaggeration) when they could be chasing this criminal!

But the thing is, I know the rules. Losing my temper and displacing my anger does not make the situation better. Suppressing keeps me safe, right?

I started thinking about the couple, those victims. So the story goes, the drunk assholes called the couple “dirty faggots” and other harassing terms. And they yelled back. My friends and I debated this action recently.

All of us had been there. Had been walking around holding the hand of a boyfriend or displaying our gay in some other way when a person of group gave us a look or shouted from a car or did something vile to let us know that they hate us for being who we are and either verbally or physically wanted to destroy us.

For the most part we all agreed on the appropriate response: You shut the hell up and move along. Don’t yell back. Don’t even make eye contact. Because if you engage then it’s going to escalate.  (For the record: I get why those boys defended themselves because no one needs to be harassed walking home.  They had every right to tell those assholes off and NO ONE should be attacked for that.)  But we all learn that the safest move is to ignore, ignore, ignore.

So there I was: standing next to my car, furious that my shit was stolen and outraged that the police were taking their sweet time to dismiss me and catch this perpetrator. (Didn’t they hear me when I said my boss was told by the credit card company the perp made a purchase at 7-11? Why weren’t the on the way immediately!?) But I kept it all in because yelling at the cops or chasing the perp myself would only make this worse.

IMG_3308Instead, I posted this picture of my car on Instagram and Facebook. I typically only use my social media to post funny non-sequiturs, news stories I feel passionate about or Beyonce. Shitty things that happen to me are kept away from the FacePlace because when I’m upset I tend to want to be left alone. But I figured the condolences or likes might lift my mood. They really did. Knowing I have a community of people who not only felt badly for me but are willing to help me out meant more to me than I even knew.

Like the “I’m sorry” comments left for my broken-into car, seeing so many friends, gay and straight alike, posting about the gay bashings was another warm reminder that people in the world do care. Not everyone is as despicable as the “La Viola 15” (a name I’ve now coined so please credit me, all media outlets.)

Sometimes pain and tragedy teach us valuable lessons or show us what we need to fix. We are all now fervent that Pennsylvania must include sexuality in its hate crime laws. I know now that I must hide my belongings in my trunk when I go to the gym. Change is in the works.

The day after the incident, I went back to the gym, admittedly, with some trepidation. After talking it over with my mom she reminded me that if a criminal can’t see anything worth stealing, they won’t break into my car again. So I went.

I stopped at the front counter just to tell the employees what happened. They apologized profusely, which was sweet since it wasn’t their fault. They also told me they noticed some guy suspiciously riding his bike around the parking lot, looking into car windows right around that time of the break-in… probably the criminal. Hopefully next time they see something suspicious they’ll deal with it before any one else is robbed.

I got on the elliptical, still feeling uneasy and eager to finish up quickly so I could return to my car before another incident or, worse, return home to ensure that that wasn’t burgled too now that the criminal had my license and address. But I breathed and was proud of myself for being there.

As I got my cardio on, I was listening to my gym playlist, sinking into fitness mode and glancing once in awhile at the various  TVs broadcasting the evening news. Eventually, I noticed one of the stations talking about Brian Sims and the rest of gay Philly at Thursday afternoon’s rally. It was a wonderful sight, seeing our community stand together to demonstrate that we deserve equal protection.

And just then, I caught the guy two ellipticals away from me scoff. I took my headphones out and tried to surreptitiously listen to his mumbled rant when I caught this:

 “We’re still talking about this? Who gives a fuck? Get over yourselves!”

It was like some one ripped the air right out of my lungs. My eyes began to water and I wanted to just stop moving and collapse into a lifeless puddle of tears and fear. Like the slight pinch of pain I felt when my finger caught the tiny shard of glass left behind on my passenger seat, I was brutally reminded that I am still not safe. We are not safe.

Hiding my bag will not totally prevent future burglaries just as including sexuality into hate crime laws will not stop violence. If laws could prevent this, then no one would ever be robbed and white men wouldn’t kill black children claiming self defense and no one would ever be raped or abused.

Our problem isn’t legal; it’s ideological. We can pass laws until we are buried in rules and regulations, but when we still live in a society that teaches us to celebrate certain traits in people (straightness, whiteness, maleness, wealth) and devalue and denigrate others (gayness, anything not white, womanhood, poverty, etc) maintaining dominance will always lead to violence. And we learn this from childhood. (I shudder when I think that Kathryn Knott, one of the attackers, was allegedly raise by a police officer, some one we entrust to uphold these laws.)

Sure, we cognitively know that racism and homophobia are wrong. But even in this “progressive” or “post-racial” society, I still hear of my own students sitting alone at lunch because they are bullied.  Somehow our knowledge is not guiding our actions.

I do not profess to know the answer to these large sweeping problems. But it seems to me that passing a law teaches us that we shouldn’t commit a crime because of the punishment NOT because it is inherently wrong and every life is valuable and should be cherished.

I know now that hiding my belongings might prevent future burglaries. And witnessing my beautiful community come together to fight for a common cause fills me with a love and pride I can’t seem to find the words to express. But I don’t feel safe.

And yet…

 

And yet, I’m going to continue to be out and open. I’m going to sashay when the music and spirit moves me. I’m going to hold the hand of a man who is lucky enough to be the object of my affection and kiss him hard on the street because I can’t help myself.

We all will. Because, no matter the act of violence, we won’t hide. We won’t disappear.

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

-Nelson Mandela