“It’s OK,” I said out loud.
“It’s not OK,” I said to myself.
It’s not okay. And it never will be.
Today, as I sit in a café and slowly imbibe a watered down version of caffeinated americana, I can’t help but think how ubiquitous but unpredictable violence is. We live in a violent world; the genocidal violence enacted across the ocean may not resonate very much with an American cozily seated in his/her Lazy Boy, but the gunshots fired in our very own backyards are a disturbing reminder that news reports on TV are both very real and local.
I’ve found myself quick to dismiss violence and abuse as something that could never enter my life. That my lived experiences could not be encapsulated by such laden terminology. “Violence” was something enacted by blows from the fist, but not the stones that chipped away at one’s frail stature little by little. It wasn’t till I grew up and realized that my boyhood days were so marred by the violence of social darwinism, where I was the very base, omega part of the totem pole. And it took months of therapy to unpack conversations that solidly counted as abuse, even sexual abuse. The contumely of the playground was hurled so cavalierly such that it was only hours later that, while I stared at my plastered ceilings with bloodshot eyes, I recognized that my anxiety and malaise were linked to being treated like anything other than human.
But that was then. This is now. And I’m supposed to be stronger, more confident, and endowed with the intellectual capacity to halt wrongdoers in their footsteps.
Yesterday, I was invited to Tampa’s attempt at fun, a large block party entitled “Gasparilla.” “Pirate” boats sail into the harbor. Stands are erected for spectatorship. Floridians rush the streets decked out in their trashiest best, donning bandanas, eye patches, and other pirate paraphernalia. Really, it’s just an excuse for overgrown white people to remember their heydays as a frat boy back at the state college, a memory well hidden by their middle-aged corpulence. Red cups litter the street and beads are flung from poorly assembled floats. Men, of course, find it becoming to reveal their pasty white chests to the world. Yes, that anchor tattoo on your left pec, and that inverted “om” on your lower back were really sound choices. Sounds like a wonderful time, no?
I’m new to town, and despite my American nationality, incredibly new to American gay culture. Though I haven’t a timid bone in my body, I was raised to be quite reserved in some public fora, and the über sexualized space of middle class gaydom catches me off guard each and every time.
Grindr is an app that breaks down the awkwardness of gay-to-gay interaction. I am able to see a glimmer of a personality, and a pithy 140 character introductory passage where people can state their meat and potatoes modus operandi. I’ve used this app to meet romantic interests, as well as make friends. Most of the time, I find myself blocking people who find it sensible to send me a lewd picture of their manhood, but sometimes you meet a friendly face who would rather engage in verbal communication rather than solicit obnoxious orality. After communicating with some guys, I find them friendly enough to upgrade the relationship to the SMS level. That’s how it works for me.
When I woke up to the sounds of blasting music and the screams of people drunk by 10 AM, I decided that maybe I ought not venture outside of the house for Gasparilla, even as an anthropological experiment. But when my friends chided me for staying at home during Tampa’s claim to fame event, I decided to not be so isolationist and donned my sunglasses and left the house.
I fought my way through crowds for two hours and finally arrived at the party. The house was owned by some gay doctors and, I am told, everyone knew everyone. I’ve been told this about gay culture time and time again: small town America means that marginal communities become very tight. In Ann Arbor, many gay men liked to boast that they knew every lesbian in town. It was an interesting bit of information. As the newcomer, I meet a member of society who is well entrenched within the local culture and can supposedly introduce me to other “important” members of society. It is another way of relegating yourself in a power relationship where you must trepidatiously seek entry through the wisdom of an older, experienced member. (Insert penis joke here). In any event, I arrived at the party and saw that most people wore the heavy faces of several hours of heavy drinking. Booze sodden expressions, 3 PM drunks. Classy!
I met a friend from Grindr in the flesh, and he proved to be a very nice guy. I unfortunately can’t say the same about everyone else that was around him. When he offered to procure my drink, I followed him and stood awkwardly, observing my surroundings. Taking it all in. I was the only non-white guy there.
You can always feel when you’re being stared at. My skin crawls. This must be the evil-eye or “nazar” my parents taught me about. I turned around and saw that a gaggle of people were leering in my direction. Giggling. Once my eyes acknowledged their presence offering placid “salutations!” in the face of a “you don’t belong here,” one of group’s members approached me and quizzically asked me, “are you gay or straight?” I was baffled by the question at a gay party. But also bemused by the doubt towards what had always already been an pre answered question: people would typically ask that question to taunt me, as if they had figured out the answer to a question I refused to a confront.
I haphazardly replied, “I am gay.” The women in the group chortled, and the men approached me. One began to stroke my beard. Another’s hands crept down my back. Though I may appreciate attention, I certainly maintain very stringent rules and regulations on tactility, viz., “don’t touch me.” But in this space, I was so caught off guard. I was a novelty in a white space. My brown skin led them to believe I was a foreigner.
In retrospect, it was their sheer numbers which compelled me to reply to an otherwise obnoxious and obtrusive question. And it was my shock which allowed them to touch my fetishized skin for as long as they did. When I came to from my trance and remembered my intransigent ways, they had already stopped touching, and began to hit on me. I was offered a drink, but I callously rejected them with a “HE’S getting me a drink already, so no.” Cock blocked.
Suddenly, when the textbook definition of a “hot mess” stumbled on the scene, things went all sour.
TO BE CONTINUED…