by: Jonah M. Lefholtz
Since coming out as femme, things have been different. The changes have mostly been positive, and have contributed to my well-being. But something scary happened a few weeks ago: I got gay bashed.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been read as visibly queer by straight people. I hadn’t realized what a privilege “passing” is. The last 7 years, give or take a few instances when I was off testosterone or had a haircut that gave away the tininess of my head, I have passed as a straight guy. I thought that’s what I wanted, though now I want to be seen as a big ol’ queer, so I’ve “let myself out” a bit. I’ve let my flame fly, if you will. The changes have been both subtle and not so subtle. My gestures are more flamboyant than they have been ever. My body language has changed too, and I’m talking about the subconscious kind, the sort of things you don’t notice you are projecting to the world. It must be the way I stand, maybe with one hip slightly higher than the other. Maybe I’m throwin’ some sauce without knowing it… whatever it is that I’m doing, though, it’s been noticed. Even just walking down the street, guys check me out now. Or, guys call me a faggot.
I was unlocking my sassy yellow bicycle outside the Dominick’s chain grocery store just north of Thorndale on Broadway. It had been a really hot day that day, so I wasn’t binding, and I was wearing a decidedly thin t-shirt (an old red Old Town School of Folk Music t-shirt, if you must know). I was bending over, and while my chest isn’t that big, it’s on the large size of the gynecomastia (that’s what I tell myself I have to make the fact that surgery is probably never going to happen) range. I was struggling, probably effeminately, with the crappy U-Lock that I don’t know why I still use, even though I have a better U-Lock that doesn’t frustrate me or make me look gay.
As I went inside the store to purchase some bachelor food, I noticed these dudes hanging around outside the store. I mentally made note of them and felt more aware of my surroundings, wondering if I should just go to the store closer to my house, but then chastised myself for my typical mistrust of tough looking, straight looking, cisgendered looking, males. They aren’t all bad and scary people that could hurt me if they found that I own a vagina, I told myself. And it’s true, but I should have trusted my usually spot-on instincts. I should always trust them, but it’s in my nature to question everything, especially myself and my own motives.
When I came out of the store, I put my super gay helmet on – it’s a kid’s helmet from Target: bright blue with a yellow inside and bright pink and purple straps – and started unlocking my bike from the rack. That’s when the dude came up behind me. I felt his presence before he said anything. It was big and he blocked the hot wind and his energy alarmed me. I stood up and backed away from him (towards the street) as I assessed the situation. “Nice tits, faggot!” he sneered at me. Now, when I get threatened, my brain stops working and my inner Chihuahua comes out, making me forget that I am only 5’5” and 125 pounds on a good day. Everything that happens is my automatic response to physical confrontation: my chest puffs out (this time unfortunately displaying my unbound chest instead of making me look tough), my muscles go taut, and I felt my fingers clamp around my U-Lock firmly, preparing to use it as a weapon if I needed to.
“What did you just say to me?” I asked him, not so nicely. “I said you had a nice rack, faggot,” he retorted as his huge body loomed over mine. He was a big guy, and he was moving closer to me. I calculated how fast I would have to swing at him and disengage my bike from the rack, if he came any closer to me. A vision of me laying on the ground getting pummeled by this dude flashed through my mind. I recalculated my move. I grabbed my bike and gracefully mounted, hopped the curb and told him to go fuck himself as soon as I was out of arms-length. As I pedaled fervently, I am pretty sure I heard someone from the group of guys call me a faggot again. I shook the whole way home and rambled about the incident to my roommate when I got home. I felt like punching things. I was so scared.
People scare me. They really do. I am the most mistrustful over-trusting person you will ever meet. I’m terribly idealistic, I want everybody to be Good. My peace of mind is severely disturbed when people are so blatantly Bad. I have a lot of compassion, and I think of people as products of their lives, so when people do shitty things, I don’t blame them, always. I try to love my brothers and sister and give people the benefit of the doubt. Hey, we’re all a little fucked up, you know? But what this man felt towards me was hate. For no reason. And he wanted to take it out on me. Little, gentle, nice me, with the kind eyes and endearing tics.
After the incident, I was talking to a friend (or, if I’m being honest, I posted it on Facebook and had a conversation in the comments of my post) who lives a block away from where I was nearly assaulted, and she described a group of guys that sounded like they were the same group the scary guy was hanging out with. Except this group of guys had knives and tried to stab and rob a guy in front of her. My palms started sweating when I let my thoughts wander to the dark picture of what could have happened if I had engaged in a physical fight this that guy.
I’m glad that I’m being read as visibly queer again. I feel less like a person from another planet when people can see me. But with that comfort comes a little bit more paranoia, and a little more anxiety, and the need to be more alert than I had to be when I was read as a straight male. And I feel a little more at home after shedding that shade of male privilege that I was sort of enjoying but sort of feeling weird about. And I think I’ll trust my instincts more often.
Jonah M. Lefholtz is a student and care-taker in Chicago, IL. He recently came out as a femme male and his life is better for it! He likes spending time with his family and friends, has two cats, and appreciates complexity.