Life or Something Like It
More than words
Published Thursday, 25-Sep-2008 in issue 1083
Last week I was out on an errand in La Jolla. The sky was clear, the sun was shining – it was one of those blissful days where everything about the world seemed right. My travels took me to the Vons at the intersection of Fay and Pearl streets, and after I gathered the items on my list I made my way to the check out line. The man in front of me was flamboyantly gay, a pleasant surprise in a more conservative area of town. His voice carried through the store in a way that had me thinking he fell somewhere between fabulous or maybe even just plain boisterous. Regardless, I couldn’t help but smile as he finished his purchase and made his way to the exit. As he walked away, at the exact moment it was certain he was just out of earshot, the woman who was about to ring me up decided to speak.
“Fag,” she said.
I was appalled. Granted, I’m a huge proponent of free speech. I’m also a full believer people have the right to feel what they want or believe what they want. But to be so blatantly discriminatory while, No. 1 at work, and No. 2 in uniform, is still something beyond my comprehension.
In 2005 I found myself in a similar situation, while having the misfortune of needing to switch planes in Houston of all places. While making my way from one terminal to the next, I found myself lured into filling out a Southwest Airlines credit card application due to the promise of a superbly tacky T-shirt for my efforts. My hair was in pig tails and I was wearing something pink, which in retrospect has me thinking I must have blended in well with the breeders. So well, in fact, the three women working the table decided to start a round of smack talking about all the dykes and fags that had been through the terminal that week. I stopped for a moment, put my pen down, and twisted my mouth as I chose my words.
“You might want to mind what you’re saying a little more closely, because you never know when a dyke in pig tails is going to be standing in front of you while you’re talking.”
At that point the overt ass kissing ensued – and I think between the three of them I was complimented on everything from my backpack to my shoe laces. It didn’t matter though – I was pretty irate with the whole thing. So much so that when I landed at my final destination I placed a call to the Southwest manager on duty at Houston Hobby and voiced a complaint.
And for as much as I didn’t want to let that check out clerk at Vons get to me, not 15 minutes after I left the store I was dialing 411 so I could place a call to whoever was in charge of the staff that particular morning.
So many people are so soon to forget that words do have meaning, and if you really think about it, name calling can, in a lot of ways be considered a passive violent act. And no matter where in the city, the country, or the world you are, the nasty little epithets still flow freely. They’re everywhere– if you listen hard enough.
When I first began penning this week’s column, I envisioned taking the path of a well thought out rant about the challenges of overcoming the gay bias and slander in modern society. I had planned on pulling research from research psychologists and intended to track down some compelling statistics which would correlate homophobic verbal attacks to violence, rage, depression and suicide. Yet as I sat in my home office, about to delve into the task at hand, I heard a commotion outside my bedroom window. It would seem that a surly group of young, black men had decided to run up to the main gate of my condo-complex, ring all the units at the same time, and scream : “Fuck you white people!”
I admit, I laughed. Mostly because I wanted to ask if they were sure that was going to be the most appropriate minority group to shout expletives at while walking through the streets of Hillcrest.
While this may be 2008, and while society as a whole has come a long way from where it was a hundred years ago, the fact is people still get so worked up and angry about race, gender and sexual orientation. And it’s borderline heart breaking that so many people still attack each other, either verbally or physically, just because someone looks differently, dresses differently, or loves differently then they do.
Is there an answer for all this? Probably. Do I have it? No. But I felt that the reflection was worth sharing, that the dialogue was one worth opening, and that the ink used to print this week’s column would be well utilized in putting a little proverbial food for thought on the page.