|While in Southern California visiting her âDancer,â columnist Pollo Del Mar attended a âBest Buttâ contest hosted by RuPaulâs Drag Race star Ongina at the popular Los Angeles-area MJâs Bar in Silver Lake. PHOTO BY ROLLING-BLACKOUTS.COM
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
Parked beside the historic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, Dancer and I were leaning against my little silver convertible last Sunday, saying our good-byes after a four-day visit. With the car packed and ready to hit the highway for San Francisco, he had slipped out during the evening production of In the Heights to give me a good-bye kiss.
It all seemed rather romantic to me. One kiss turned into two, then three, maybe more. As I pulled him toward me for another, his head suddenly jerked to attention, staring past me. âDid you hear that?â Dancer asked in disbelief, âHe just called us faggots!â
âWho?â I asked, scanning the area for our abuser. To be honest, I had been too caught up in my own thoughts to hear anything, so I was anxious to see exactly who had interrupted such a beautiful moment.
At first, there was nobody in sight. Then Dancer motioned toward a Latino family â a mother, father, baby daughter and young son â standing in the parking lot across the street. Though the parents seemed to be trying to hurry away, the boy (maybe eight-years-old, definitely no more than ten) was rather rooted in place, his attention transfixed on us.
âThat kid,â Dancer explained, âHe just said, âLook at those gay faggots.ââ
The very first time anyone called me a âfaggotâ was my father, and I wasnât even as old as that boy in Los Angeles. Why the experience had such impact on me, Iâm not 100-percent sure, but I remember certain elements of it like it was yesterday.
It was 1980. My family lived in a modest apartment complex in Houston, TX. My sister Tracey and I shared a trundle bed, similar to bunk beds, except the lower mattress pulls out to be nearly side-by-side with the upper. I was in second grade at the time.
The Empire Strikes Back â like Star Wars before it â was my favorite movie. I had nearly all the toys, including the 12-inch tall Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca action figures. More than anything, though, I wanted Princess Leia. While the doll came with the signature âcinnamon bunsâ on her head, those could be easily removed to brush her hair.
In my young mind, Princess Leia seemed an acceptably âmaleâ counterpart to the Barbies I so resented my Tomboy sister for not wanting. Apparently, my father disagreed.
âHeâd better not turn out to be a fucking faggot!â I heard him hiss at my mother one evening in the hallway from the other side of my bedroom door. Though Iâm sure neither thought I could hear their exchange, I did.
Of course, I had no idea what a âfaggotâ was, but from the tone of his voice, even a seven-year-old could tell it wasnât good. I also remember the sinking feeling in my stomach knowing that, though I didnât understand what he meant, I was somehow sure thatâs exactly what I wasâŠand that my dad already hated me for it. (The thought that my father didnât like me for something I felt like I had no control over, I believe, is what made the experience so traumatic and, thusly, memorable.)
Needless to say, that was the first but far from the last time I heard the word. Like most every queer man I know, kids throughout grade school and into high school used it as they teased me about being gay. Even in adulthood, before coming out at 22 and taking some power back around the terminology, the word was lobbied against me as a weapon.
Now, some 30 years after being called a âfaggotâ for the first time, I found myself on the receiving end of that ignorance againâŠfrom the seemingly least likely of sources!
My gut instinct was, admittedly, to fight fire with fire. Sharp, witty â some might go so far as to say âbitingâ â remarks are never in short supply with me. They come quickly and easily, in fact, often even when I would prefer they not. (Growing up as a gay youth, they were an excellent defense mechanism!)
I wanted to respond with commentary about how even gays are under less scrutiny than that particular family might be in Arizona. (As a song from In the Heights points out, âIn that state, racism has gone from latent to blatant!â) In a slightly different situation, I might very well have done exactly that or worse.
However, there was no way I possibly justify responding to an ignorant comment with my own hateful message, especially when it was directed at a child. That little boy doesnât understand the gravity of what he is saying any more than I realized what my father was implying about me all those years ago.
Likewise, just as I knew being a âfaggotâ was something âbadâ only by the tone of my dadâs voice, that kidâs judgments are learned as well. Itâs safe to guess he picked those terms and ideas up from his parents, who stood in frozen cowardice as their son regurgitated the hate theyâd taught him.
Though I wish I have come up with the perfect, witty retort, instead I stood returning their stare in a state I so seldom find myself â utter speechlessness! With that family gawking as they drove past in their mini-van, I pulled Dancer to me for that kiss Iâd planned before we were so rudely interrupted, deciding instead to allow my actions to speak for me.
Besides, with first-hand experience to show just how damaging it is to actually hear the wrong message from someone at such a tender age, I felt it better to stay silent anyway. Without knowing the appropriate response in such a situation, one thing was clear.
That kid didnât need me to scar him with my words. He quite obviously receives enough of that at home.
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