The other day I was on my way back to my office from a few morning meetings. There was nothing specifically extraordinary about this day. The sun was out, Chicago was busy, and I was at work, again.
As I rode the train back to my office I noticed a woman at the other end of the train who I had met earlier that day. She had complimented my shoes while I waited for an earlier train and even expressed a desire to wear them, but couldn’t wear sandals for a variety of reasons, which I didn’t inquire about. She seemed nice, she was nice, and it was a nice interaction.
As the train pulled into the next station I watched her get up and stand in front of the door, readying to leave. I watched her in hopes that she would look my way and we could share a friendly wave. But as she stood I saw that her, attention was grabbed by someone else, and suddenly she burst out with: “What did you just call me?”
Her question was directed at a man who sat a few feet away from her. The man and everyone around him began to laugh — some laughed from humor, others laughed from discomfort, but they all laughed. I saw his mouth move again but didn’t hear what he said. “I am not a f*ggot,” the woman responded to him, which I could hear because her voice boomed through the car. More laughter.
Over the next few minutes I watched this woman — who was being identified as a trans woman by the man that who called her a “f*ggot” — begin to verbally fight with this man. They went back and forth while a train full of people watched. For her, it seemed like a fight she had fought often. She had quick remarks and even quicker one-liners. The man lacked her quickness and used worn out remarks that many of us LGBTQ folks have heard so much before: “stupid f*ggot,” “pansy,” “tr*nny,” etc. etc.
As the fight kept going and the woman stayed on the train to continue the argument, tensions rose even higher between the two, leading to the man threatening to fight her. Hearing this, I grabbed my phone and inched forward, ready to at least call the police and identify the assailant if it turned physical.
The woman also reached for her phone and began calling the police while spouting, “Imma have them lock you up for a hate crime if you touch me.” I shook my head in agreement. If he did hit her, it should be a hate crime. We even had a train full of witnesses.
Suddenly, she put her phone away and began a long diatribe about how this man shouldn’t treat ‘us’ like ‘his people’ were treated back in the early 1900’s. And that he, as a black man, shouldn’t oppress LGBTQ people because he of all people should understand. (We’ve all heard this speech before. The one that separates people of color from the LGBTQ community and calls upon people of color to understand LGBTQ folks and the oppression they are facing, because, you know there are no such thing as queer people of color, riight?)
Anyway, as this speech came to a close the man responded with a ‘fuck you’ and at this moment things turned for the worst. The train doors opened at my stop now, she had missed her’s I presumed, and out of her mouth she began chanting: nigger. Over and over again, the word punctured the air and mouths dropped. My mouth dropped.
The entire time before this I had been on her side. I had readied myself for violence to unfold, I was ready to help report the harassment she had faced, I was ready to do a lot for my fellow queer-person riding the train. But as she began spewing more and more racial slurs I lost hope. I abandoned the ship.
I got off the train, shaking my head, and headed to back work.
Recently, there was another gay bashing in New York, but this time it was by a group of Brooklyn Police Officers. Josh Williams, a 26-year-old gay man, was beaten eight days ago just outside Brooklyn’s 79th Police Precinct by police officers who made gay slurs, according to The Village Voice who spoke with the victim and two friends.
More details from this story are emerging, including a video obtained by The Village Voice of part of the incident. But what I found most disheartening in the video is that in the end you see both sides (police and civilians) exchanging words, including the officer using a gay slur, and two other people who call the officer a pig, telling him to go eat a donut and saying, “What the fuck did you say, you want to call me a f*ggot, you fat pig. Go eat a fucking cock, nigga, what you want.”
I cannot count the number of times that I have seen an LGBTQ person fall under attack, whether verbal or physical, and begin to use racial slurs to attack the other person. It seems as if that is the ‘break in case of emergency’ for many LGBTQ people in America, and it’s something that hurts me everytime I see it happen.
You see, I do in some ways understand why some respond this way. One’s being attacked, someone is hurting you due to something that is inherent to you: your sexual identity. And like the Bible said, ‘an eye for an eye,’ so many queer people will use this mentality when in an altercation with someone of color.
It’s the easy way out, but guess what: It’s the wrong one.
I may feel so strongly about this because I am a person of color and I am gay, and I live within a LGBTQ community that seems to not be able to reconcile that. And when I hear about these moments, I feel like I must choose to either be gay or be black, which is not a fun feeling, believe me. Both are huge parts of my life and huge parts of my personal history of violence.
But even when I step back, outside my identity, and critically think about the methods in which we choose to enact when stopping oppression, and especially dealing with it, I don’t see racism as a tool recommended.
Both of these incidents I have mentioned, and others not mentioned, remind me of the famous essay by renowned feminist Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”
This iconic work took aim at feminism and pushed feminists to reconsider the ‘women’ they were fighting for, and most importantly, that they needed to allow women of color into their movements, thoughts, and actions to get any work done that wasn’t dependent on patriarchy (read: oppression). I feel that this piece of work needs to be mailed to all LGBTQ people now, but in another context. All of us as LGBTQ people MUST always think about all the different categories that fall under our colorful umbrella if we want any real change to take place.
We must think about the black trans woman just as much as the cisgender white man. We must consider the feelings of the Latina woman who identifies as queer and is differently abled when we are thinking about the bisexual black man facing homelessness. We must truly begin thinking about everyone, instead of thinking of a spare few if we really want anything to get done.
Sure, things like marriage may continue to pass and DADT will continue to be gone if we stay on this path. But honestly, I don’t want any of these things if in 10 years I have to witness one more fight — violent or not — and I have to hear one of my fellow LGBTQ people scream “n*gger” as a last resort. Because that tactic does nothing to end the pain we deal with every day for being “other.”
Oppressive language should never be words we yell, even when we’re angry.