To the Boy Who Cried “Faggot”

By Will Thames

unnamed (5).jpg

Dear Sir,

I do not know you. I don’t pretend to understand your story, your mind, or your life. I’d call us strangers- but even that feels too personal.  A stranger is someone with whom you can strike up a conversation. Someone you pass on the street without fearing. A potential friend.

What shall I call you, Sir? How can I describe the person with whom I’ve shared an exchange so powerfully intimate and terrifying? Those emotions do not mix well- I know that much. Like water and oil. What you are to me, Sir, and what you will always be, is a reddened face sticking out of a passenger window contorted with hatred and glee in equal measure.

I’m grateful you were passing and only capable of the word.

“Well at least I knew he wouldn’t beat me,” I thought to myself watching your car peel away. What a consolation. At least I wasn’t beaten today- what a win!

You came into my life in the middle of a good day. I was listening to Kate Bush, wearing my favorite denim button-down, and a pair of mid-thigh shorts. I suspect it was the shorts that gave me away.

I don’t know or care why you screamed at me. Maybe you were chasing a feeling of righteous indignation. Maybe it was purely malicious. Maybe you were showing off for your buddies. Maybe you were bored. Any of these reasons make a certain sense to me. That said, I don’t expect to ever “get” you on this issue. Any sense I can riddle out of what you did will glitter like fool’s gold in my hands.  

In truth, I feel sad for you. I  imagine that once I was out of sight, you rolled the window back up and returned to sitting in silence with your friends. Just a hunch. In my experience, the kind of person who screams “FAGGOT!” at a stranger isn’t particularly gifted in holding a conversation. Maybe you screamed at me to break the silence. Could it have been as inconsequential as that to you? I’ll never know.

Make no mistake- you do not get my pity. I’ll keep my forgiveness too and absolve you of nothing. BUT.

But I am sorry for you. I’d be willing to bet, somewhere along the line, something malformed inside you. Something got twisted out of place and something in your left stopped you from treating the wound properly. Maybe you never even got to seeing it as a wound. Maybe you screamed at me to break a different kind of silence. Could I have been a release for you? I’ll never know. If it was release you were looking for, I hope you never get it. At least, not like this.

From what little I saw of your face, I’m guessing you’re somewhere around 18 or 20. A young man, like me. That confuses me most of all.  

In truth, I’m glad it was me. I like myself well enough to not be broken by an ugly word. I worry, however, about the other people you’ve screamed at. The other queer kids you’ve picked out of the crowd for being too on the margins. Surely, at least one of them was wounded by you. Someone only just learning who they are, shy yet resiliently stepping out with their too short shorts or too feminine/too masculine strut. You may have scared someone back inside themselves just as they were reaching for that closet door.

But we’re not here to talk about your body count. I want to talk about you. You came and went so fast I never got the chance to level with you. Young man to young man. Here’s what I might have said given a proper chance to retort.

I hope you grow out of it. I hope your ideals are challenged within an inch of their lives.

I hope you change for the better.

If you’re lucky, your friends reprimanded you the second you got done telling me what I am. Young people do stupid things sometimes. That’s understandable enough. If your friends said nothing or, worse still, laughed along with you, it might be time to switch social circles. Friends like that won’t challenge you in the way you dearly need to be challenged.

What intrigues me most is that we have more in common than you will ever know. Homophobia is not foreign to me. I’ve been there, done that. Though not in the same context as you. Before coming out and a good while afterwards, I looked on the people dressed like I was that day with the same disdain you did. The difference between us is that I didn’t see abominations or oddities. I saw myself. And it scared me. I’d shake my head disapprovingly, telling myself I’d never be “one of those.” I would pass for straight or die trying. Ultimately, the differences in our hatred doesn’t matter. Internalized or shouted from a passenger window, hate is hate is hate is hate. Shame is shame is shame is shame.

Thankfully, I outgrew that line of thinking. It took considerable time and self-reflection but when I could finally call my behavior for the internalized shame it was, I was free.

Wherever you are right now, I suspect you feel trapped too. Just as I did. Maybe it’s your home life, maybe it’s the media you consume, maybe it’s just an unshakable fear of what you can’t understand that wakes with you and follows you to bed like a vengeful shadow. I get it, dude. It’s a terrible place to live.

A part of me wants you punished. Dragged through the streets by your ankles, shamed publicly, and left in the stocks to rot. I’m not proud of the part of me that wants you to suffer. Your suffering wouldn’t make me feel better, and ultimately, wouldn’t do a lick of good for you in the long run.

Another part of me wishes you’d stopped so I could say something charmingly disarming. “Well spotted!” I might have cried back. “Good eye!” or “Who told?” If only I could have looked you in the eye. That is my greatest disappointment.

I don’t need to prove anything to you. Or validate myself to you. I had a hard enough time with myself. But I do think that if you’d looked a moment longer, you’d have seen the person. Not the cute shorts.

On the off-chance that you somehow find this letter, here’s a list of movies, books, and people you should look into. You won’t like them at first glance but stick with it. You just might learn something.

Oscar Wilde

“Pink Flamingos”

Alan Ginsberg

Alan Turing (you can thank him for what we now call the “internet”)

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Marsha P. Johnson

“The Birdcage” - original movie or musical adaptation. Both are lovely.  

Noel Coward

“Paris is Burning”- get your life, bro.

Audre Lourde

Freddie Mercury- try head-banging to “Bohemian Rhapsody” NOW. Checkmate.

Believe Me by Eddie Izzard

John Amaechi- NBA players can be queer?? Whaaaaat?

Laverne Cox

“Tongues Untied”

Alison Bechdel

“How to Survive a Plague”- in case you suspect we haven’t suffered.  

Ellen Degeneres- it is scientifically impossible to dislike the woman.

Angelina Jolie

Lynn Conway

Billie Joe Armstrong

David Bowie

Harvey Milk- there was a man who was used to hearing “FAGGOT” screamed at him and smiled right back.  

I could go on. I REALLY could. But that should be enough to start. Read their words, memorize their faces, and listen. You don’t have to like them. But you should at least know who they are. A simple Google search will give you thousands of  names should you require further reading. If you’d like a list of straight ally’s too, hit me up. I don’t presume to speak for the entirety of LGBTQIA+-kind. But hopefully this list is a jumping-off point.

So I’ll leave you with this, stranger. May you be well, may you know peace, may you get some therapy, and may you look back on our brief meeting and hang your head. May you be free of shame, but may you learn the error of your ways, and be thankful to have left the anger behind.

Sincerely,

Cute-shorts guy