cn: anti-gay slurs and harassment
My husband and I have been together since 2011. And it used to be that when we walked around in the streets and used public transit, we’d occasionally get harassing comments. Someone would yell out “fags” from a passing car. People would stare at us, and then make negative comments just as they were getting off the train or bus. Homeless dudes would rant, and I’d come to the realization they were ranting about us. One time a girl hugged us while her friend took a picture. In one especially memorable incident, a middle-aged lady accused my husband of being my father. These incidents would happen about once a month.
And then after about a year, it suddenly stopped. I don’t know what changed. At first it seemed like something must have changed about us. Maybe we were walking in the street less often, or walking in different neighborhoods. Maybe the visible age gap between us shrunk. Maybe I was mentally blocking it out. But in hindsight, it seems like what changed was the times.
Years after the harassment stopped, there was one final incident that happened around 2015. Somebody called my husband a faggot, and then swung a bag at his head. My husband was shaken, and a police report was filed, but nobody was hurt. And that was the end of it.
All of these incidents occurred in San Francisco, Berkeley, or somewhere between. These are relatively liberal cities known for high densities of gay men. Because I didn’t know any better, I was initially surprised to get any street harassment. Then I was surprised again when it stopped.
Many cis men will never understand what it’s like to experience street harassment. I didn’t understand it until I felt it myself. The experience of harassment extends far beyond specific incidents. There is also the fear that harassment is just around the corner. Even now, when the harassment is gone, we never know if it is truly gone.
Likewise, I will never understand what it’s like for people who have experienced harassment far worse than us. If you lived in a different place, or a different time, or perhaps at a different intersection of race, gender, age, and class… For us, harassment was a nuisance. For others, harassment can be centralizing.
These days, I occasionally hear young queer people talking about anti-gay harassment like it’s the thing that earns you your queer card. Street harassment is what gives gay men the right to be queer, and anybody who experiences less than that is simply appropriating queer struggles. This fails to appreciate the sheer range of harassment experiences. Some people experience a lot of harassment, some very little. Some of us experience harassment, and then it stops and we don’t know why. Some people frequently experienced street harassment well before they were ever visibly queer. How much we experience, and how it impacts us depends on time, place, intersection of identities, and sheer chance. If experiencing less harassment is a sign of appropriation, then I’d have to conclude that each generation is appropriating from the previous one. That’s appropriation I can live with, especially if it means people’s lives are improving.