Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sticks and Stones

I apologize for being MIA. It’s been an intense, busy, emotional week. One of highs and lows, and it’s taken me this long to figure out what I wanted to say about it. Let me start with the low. I’ll follow up with the high later in the week, I promise. But for now, I need to post this.

Last Tuesday at work we had one of our regular industry networking events held at a venue we use about three or four times a year. We organize the event; provide exhibit tables for vendors, guest speakers, a buffet, etc. While the venue usually does an excellent job for us, there is one particular employee there, a manager, whose uncooperative, surly manner is always a test of our patience. Last week he was in rare form. He initiated several rude exchanges during set up. Nothing new really. But then, in front of my colleagues, some vendors and the catering staff, he dropped a bomb. Quite loudly and with the intent to embarrass me, this man called me "a queen.”

I was dumbstruck for a few agonizing seconds. Then I tried to fire back with threats of having him fired. I pointed out how many people were witness to his remark, but truly nothing I could think of could match his words. I felt helpless in the face of such ugly and blatant homophobia. I called his supervisor immediately and informed him of what happened. I could barely dial the phone I was shaking with such rage. There was still a lot of set up to be done for the event, but I could concentrate on nothing but the ugly word that polluted the air. The humiliation was unspeakable. With one word I was reduced to the lowest, basest, dehumanizing definition possible.

The guy was sent home on the spot and his boss apologized profusely for the altercation. He also explained that try as he might, this man’s job is “protected” and not much could be done to have him fired. He encouraged me to go over the management of the venue directly to the owner of the building. We’ve been following up at work with letters and some form of recourse, but honestly, the situation feels helpless.

What struck me afterward was how powerful and paralyzing the situation was. Usually, homophobia is just a feeling we gay people have. We can sense the eye-rolling and whispers behind our back, but often this homophobia go unvoiced. So we learn to develop a thick skin and look the other way. But this--this blatant, aggressive hatred is something else entirely. One word, and suddenly no matter how competent, accomplished, professional, smart, funny, or butch you think you are, it all goes away when someone’s ugliest thought is voiced. Intellectually I understand I shouldn’t give this man that kind of power. But it smacks of childhood taunts, of pain buried so deep and of shame I’ve been conditioned to feel. I couldn’t even tell my family about it and was too ashamed to post anything about it here though I could think of nothing else for days.

The reason I decided to post about this is to actively reject the shame. This shame is not mine. Giving in it to it allows the bigotry and hatred to win. I felt I had to expose the situation lest we forget how this ugliness still pervades our society—even in New York—and ruins lives every day. Truly, I have nothing to be ashamed. Nothing. The shame here lies with someone else.

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25 Comments:

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

Unbelievable. No one's job should be so protected; and, believe me, his can't possibly be. Don't give in and don't give up until he is removed. You don't need to use that venue anyway, do you? Neither do your friends or business acquaintances. Your money is as green as the next guy's. Let them know it.

 
At 3:37 PM, Blogger Muzak Box said...

As a long time lurker I had to come out of hiding and say...well, I don't really know what I want to say.

I'm sorry. What an asshole that guy is. Don't give up on having him removed or see what you can do to remove yourselves and as many of their other clients as you can.

 
At 7:28 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I totally would have mentioned that my mother was still alive and that he should remember his station in life and treat me as the princess that I am... or something like that.

I have a pretty acidic tongue - but it is the comments I hear that hurt me the most that will strike me dumb at times. That's when I get angry and have to leave the room.

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger Dave said...

So sorry to hear about this. I think we can all relate to the feeling of being dumbstruck in this situation. I am openly gay and proud in my personal and professional lives, and rarely encounter any negativity, so when it does happen, I'm usually take so off-guard that I don't know how to respond. It sounds like you handled it well, under the circumstances - just be persistent in your complaints and trying to take action.

And you're right to vent about this, and disown the shame. Here's a link to a great clip from Ellen, talking about homophobia and the recent high school hate crime in California:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcMEL3_YsVI

 
At 10:18 PM, Blogger TCho said...

Wow. I'm really sorry to hear about this.

I hope he gets fired anyway.

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger LSL said...

Michael, I keep reading this over and over. I'm just really sorry. I hate thinking of you taking this guy's problems on as your own, although I've done it many times myself. Thank you so much for writing about it - I felt empowered to overcome my own shame issues just reading your brave, brave post.

In other news, I'm totally up for a letter-writing campaign if it will help!

 
At 10:46 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Michael, I'm so sorry. I completely understand what you mean about one stupid word being able to undo all the ego-building you've done for years, and bringing back a flood of horrible earlier-life memories. That sting will never, never go away.

Hug to you, my friend.

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger Joey P said...

His behavior says more about him than it does about you. Homophobes are usually major closet cases!

Ignorance isn't bliss when it comes to this moron.

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger judy said...

The only shame here belongs to the poor fool who got himself "sent home", or essentially dismissed from his job (at least for the day) because of his boarish behavior. Unfortunately, those who are insecure in their own abilities and competence find it necessary to belittle and attempt to demean those whose competence they fear. You did yourself proud, Michael, by refusing to allow this person to turn you into a victim of his ignorance and insecurity. We as a society can no longer tolerate this kind of abuse. The beginning of the end of this bullying behavior starts with people like you who are brave enough to stand up and say, "This is not going to be accepted or tolerated." Thank you for being that person.

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I am completely inspired by your strength. Frankly, I always have been. I have no idea how I would react in that moment. My immediate reaction is rage. But, I most likely would have let it roll off my shoulders. That, however, is not the correct response. You are correct to stand up and make a spectacle of this fool. He should feel the shame of his bigotry. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are simply living your life and this asshole has no business interfering with your existence. To allow him to transfer his feelings of hate and negativity to you is giving him way too much credit. You are going about it the right way in speaking up for yourself and attempting to get this man fired. But, do not allow him to bring you down in the cesspool that he calls home. We love you.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Lewis said...

I'm following a link over from Matterdays. Want to express my sadness for those around us who hate us. And for you, having to put up with it. My thoughts are with you today. And I'd drag his royal you know what throught the legal fire.

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Curtis said...

"Protected job"?!?

What really pisses me off about this and too many other situations like it is I wonder how protected his job would be if he used the N word or some other disparaging remark to a man of color?

I don't understand why some have to be so ugly to each other.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Diane said...

I am speechless -- and so so upset, angry...furious. As I was reading your post, I could feel the heat rising in myself, to the point that my hands were shaking a little. When I read how this brought up the childhood taunts for you, I realized it was doing that for me, too. It does make you feel powerless. But then, I know what some of the highs have been for you recently, and just as was the case in high school, I am reminded how talented, brave, and FIERCE you are, and know that they will never be able to take that away. Ultimately, this guy is a pathetic case. You are right to not back down on this and make sure he is fired. But at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, you win. You are incredibly well-loved, talented and have an amazing future ahead. And this is an asshole who never graduated from hurling insults on the playground. I feel sorry for him. My inner bully would still like the opportunity to kick his teeth in, but the adult in me ultimately just feels sorry for him.

Thanks for posting this. You are so brave to do so and as usual, I am incredibly proud of you. Like Peter said, we love you.

 
At 4:12 PM, Blogger Micah said...

Is there a number or an address (email or otherwise) we can send letters to?

This is bullshit.

 
At 5:50 PM, Blogger Andy Rosenberg said...

A posting like this shows that we need a better word than "blog"

Powerful, brave stuff....

 
At 8:06 PM, Blogger 9W said...

i'm so sorry to read this. it's hard to believe people can be so ignorant.

he may or may not be punished/fired - but one thing is for sure, karma exists and it will come back and bite him on the ass.

again, i'm so sorry this happened.

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger tankmontreal: the less you know, the more interesting I seem said...

I'm in a rage here, heart pumping and cheeks blazing. This is your story but it could've happened anywhere, anytime, to any of us. Glad you recounted it. Not all of us would be so courageous.

 
At 6:14 AM, Blogger Darth Gateau said...

It's my first visit here and it's sad that the content is so upsetting. I'm quite thick-skinned and resilient to many comments made, but now and again a comment such as you mention broadsides me.
It's legally a form of discrimination now in the UK and I can't wait for the day that a precedent is set for someone to lose their job over a comment like this....

 
At 2:03 PM, Blogger Steven said...

So sorry that you had to be the bearer of such bigotry. But you summed it up quite nicely in your closing paragraph: You have nothing to be ashamed of!!!

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger SubtleKnife said...

Ugh! What a sad and pathetic excuse for a man... My hands are shaking and I'm grinding my teeth. I am seething over this.

The only people who should be ashamed are the asshat himself and the people who are keeping him in that job.

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Palm Springs Savant said...

that stinks. Nobody deserves that kind of treatment. But don't let anybody tear you down like that! you are not a second class citizen, and neither am I, so stand up and be proud!

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Donnie said...

Michael, this was just horrible! You handled yourself honorably. *big hug*

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Todd HellsKitchen said...

You're on the right track!

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Chris said...

When I was in grammar school this girl called me a fag. I told the principal, who was standing nearby and she said, to the girl, "It takes one to know one." I was shocked.

Both the principal and girl turned out to be lesbians.

Moral of the story: next time, just laugh. Because he is struggling to find his identity and feel safe in his own skin. He is jealous of you because you are confident in who you are.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Growing up in the south I'm a three-for-one Baptist special (Jewish mum-Catholic dad-Gay me. That being said, I had a similar experiance, but had to turn it around by thanking the goon for informing me and that it definitly made life make sense. Sometimes ya just gotta fire back.

 

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