For some perspective, allow me a brief history lesson. I grew up in the South Bronx during the mid 80s and early 90s. My mindset and experiences were forged on the streets during that very turbulent era. Those experiences, for better or worse, made me into the man that I am today. Now, let me tell you a story about how they said you are a faggot, and how I just smiled and walked away.
A few days ago, I was taking my wife’s Pomeranian, Calbee, to get groomed. Calbee is not a very friendly dog, and she does not walk well on a leash. As such I put her in the bag that was provided to me: a small, pink shoulder carry bag.
As I took the walk to the groomers, with Calbee in her pink bag, a few gentlemen pulled up beside me in a vehicle and proceeded to scream homosexual slurs at me. The specific words they said were “Look at that f*cking f*ggot!”
My immediate reaction was to go on the offensive, and I glared towards the gentlemen. At the same time, it occurred to me that these are the type of people who might hurt individuals like my gay friends. Yeah, I wanted to kick their asses! I considered setting Calbee down and going over and giving them the nice whooping that they deserved. However, cooler heads prevailed and I realized that I was not defined by what these idiots said. Furthermore, I considered my friends who are gay, and how they are really great people, so why would it offend me that they chose to call me homosexual slurs? It is a compliment considering how awesome most of my gay friends are. I chose not to respond physically unless they assaulted me for being gay.
Perhaps my reaction is because in the neighborhoods where I grew up, this term was used to remove your manhood. It was one of the most “offensive” things that you could say about a man who grew up in the streets. I know people who ended up prison because someone called them a biznatch, or a f*g. I know it may not make sense to some of you folks, but if you come from where I come from, it might. We had to survive in those streets, and when tested, you had to meet the challenge.
My instincts for self-preservation kicked in; back in those days you had to meet this type of aggression with equal or greater aggression, otherwise they would smell the weakness and devour you alive. This would then set your status to that of a permanent victim, and you didn’t want that. This happened to me many times, and because of these experiences, I am the person that I am today.
I considered my options: there I was, 38 years old, carrying a four-pound dog in a pink handbag, and I was worried about some young punks offending my masculinity? The streets made me this way. Being humiliated in the streets is one of the greatest fears that a man who comes from that environment could ever have! Respect was one of the few things we had when growing up poor and in the streets! You had to fight for it, otherwise you would be condemned to a life of abuse.
Yet, I’m not in that life anymore, am I?
I nodded my head at the young punks, smiled, and I continued walking towards the groomers. I knew that there was far too much at stake to let some fools provoke me into such a negative, lose-lose situation over some foolishness. Who cares if they called me a f*cking f*ggot? Why should that bother me? I’m a heterosexual male, and I’m very comfortable with my sexuality. I have many gay friends, and family members, and they are all wonderful people. Why would I allow these punks to “offend” me with such words? Words only have power if we give it to them. So I walked away.
This is a message that I try to pass on to the youth today who may be in a similar situation to which I was back then. I try to teach them that aggressive reactions to such situations are all about ego, and pride- and even old guys like me have to be reminded of it on occasion.
I cannot speak for individuals who grew up under better circumstances, nor the female experience. However, for us young men who grew up in what is colloquially called “The Ghetto,” being seen as weak is one of the greatest fears that we have. Walking with Calbee to the groomers showed me, that though I have come a long way in how I deal with the world, I still have plenty of room for growth in my development.
Did I handle this properly? What would you have done under similar circumstances?