Sticks and StonesI 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.