A couple years ago a young man I knew came out. He was one of those innocent and sweet young men who didn’t really come out as much as extend his collection of hair sprays, body glitter and mascara. I’d sometimes see him running off to a club, 17, in a body hugging T-shirt and fairy wings. Then one day a man came up to him when he was walking in the park and started beating him. A couple months later, after leaving the Golden Cross, a local gay bar, some “lads” decided to set him on fire. He wouldn’t have been the first gay burned alive in our town that year; it was local trend. The lads couldn’t get their lighter to work, and he escaped. But now he worked hard to look straight, to not stand out. Where he had once bubbled with enthusiasm, he didn’t like to talk to people or be around strangers. “It changes you,” he said about his attacks. I know.
Last night at 1:00 am our apartment buzzer went off. “It’s a drunk.” Linda said. “It’s them.” I said my heart racing. I was remembering our apartment in the UK, where men would come at midnight, once the pubs had shut, to yell things at our windows. We would turn off all the lights and hope they went away, knowing the police wouldn’t come for hours if at all. When they pushed things through our mail slot, we creep downstairs to make sure it wasn’t burning. Once you’ve been attacked, you’re always waiting; waiting for them to come for you. Hate crimes aren’t about someone who has a grudge about you, or who you offended. It’s about people who simply hate the fact that you exist, or that you can walk the streets, or have jobs. You don’t know them when they attack you, and there are always more, more who find out and are offended because you are different to them. Once, coming out of the Golden Cross with friends, there were a couple police officers and behind them lads on bikes, riding back and forth yelling slurs. The police would protect the bar, but once you left, you were fair game. There were always a few beatings around Gay Mardi Gras. Seeing us all have so much fun triggered a lot of hate.
I used to work in a shop next to a Council Estate (think GIANT trailer park). My manager was homophobic and would randomly tell me he thought I was trying to hit on customers (Apparently UK customer service is so bad that “have a nice day” is the equivalent with “I want to sleep with you”). Yeah. Once a group of 20 drunk lads decided to smash the windows; I had to lower the security grates and wait inside for over two hours for the police to show up. It’s that kind of place. But I’ve never walked away from a job because someone didn’t want me to do it.
There were a couple 15 year old girls who used to come and get drunk outside the shop and gossip, and they knew a bit too much about my life and orientation. This pissed off a particular 15 year old boy, who, with his buddy, decided to come so they could shout things at me at the start and end of my shifts. Then he got some more friends involved. And the word spread. Until one day, I was caught outside the store and told that if I didn’t apologize (for simply being) that I would get a beating. I wouldn’t apologize. They didn’t beat me, they just wanted to terrify me. Like the time they surrounded my car one afternoon to trap me so they could yell out all their hatred against my orientation. People nearby looked and then looked away.
They wanted to terrify me and they did. Hours before a shift my heart would start pounding, I would stutter; someone asked me at a party what my greatest fear was and I immediately replied, “gang rape followed by murder” That’s what happens to uppity lesbians. I had kept a notebook of every incident. I went to the police. They couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything without names. I found out names. It kept getting worse. Every day there were insults, obscene shouts from the darkness. One day, one of them came in to the shop and started making loud insults about my breasts. I went over and grabbed him by the neck, I walked him up against a case and I whispered in his ear that he should never come near me the rest of his life. He ran out and I called the police and reported myself for assault. I had become so filled with fear that I became what I hated most. The police listened to the incident and told me they didn’t consider it assault. In the end, the police confronted the original ringleader in the family home. His mother, I was told by the constable, was shocked. It had gone on for over three months. For a time, I couldn’t go out in public alone, I had panic attacks. It changed our lives. From now on, when things happened, we asked ourselves, do they know we are a couple? Do they know our orientation? Friends in the next town over had a hate campaign against them at their apartment. They were in their 60’s. Someone kept breaking into our car to smash it up, about once a month for over six months. “Do they know the car is ours? It is because of our orientation” we asked ourselves.
We went jogging around a green park and woodland next to the hospital. I would try and memorize the license plates of cars that passed us. Often cars full of lads would whip round so they could scream at us. Once I went running alone on the street and a car full of four guys came past me three times before slowly stalking me. I heard them pull up next to me and saw the bumper as they rode the car up on the sidewalk. I didn’t turn around, I jogged on, waiting to hear them get out of the car. They didn’t. I looked up and a police car had stopped 50 yards ahead, facing me. I didn’t run alone after that.
Last November, Linda and I went for a jog around the green between 6pm and 7pm. There was a one way lane around the green and lads would sometimes use it as a shortcut in their cars of super bass stereos and running lights. A car came by, then doubled back and came again. The last time it roared by and we could hear things smashing into the walls of the residences around us. Something hit my leg, hard. I cried out and the car took off. I could feel moisture on my leg, I didn’t know if it was blood but I kept jogging, I didn’t want to make a standing target. Linda wanted to run to the car and go home. I wanted to make another lap. I didn’t want to let them dictate to me how to live simply because they hurt or terrified me. I should have listened to Linda. Every time a car came up behind us, we waited, hearts pounding, to be attacked again. It turned out they were throwing eggs, but with such force that by the time I got home there was an ugly welt, just smaller than a fist, where I had been hit. We called they police. They said they would “note it down.”
Fear and terror did not give me insight. Often people stood by and did nothing, sometimes they watched. It was always males who attacked us. When Linda went to a giant flea market to sell some things before moving, a Christian started harassing her, escalating into yelling curses and insults. Finally a guy at the stall next to hers told the guy to buzz off. That was the sum of concern. I get angry sometimes at a world where straight men are free to attack women or gay men. I get angry at a world which holds dominance and violence up as male rights. I get angry at the crowds of people, who I will and do risk myself to help, but when we are attacked stand by and WATCH.
That teenage male who decided I shouldn’t be? He walked, because of me. I couldn’t go to trial. I couldn’t go and testify in court about the things he said and did, about how it made me feel, cross examined, accused by the defense barrister. So he walked. It made me feel like I deserved it. Back when I wouldn’t apologize and thought I was going to be beaten unconscious or dead? I was relieved. All I could think was, “It will be over now.”
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