So this small, relatively insignificant thing happened to me about a week ago. I’ve told a couple of people so far, people who share my beliefs and opinions and values, etc., mostly because I like talking to people about small, relatively insignificant things that happen to me. I wanted to get it off my chest and off my mind, vent about it so that it wouldn’t bug me anymore, but it’s stuck with me for some reason.
This thing happened at the start of my day, while I was on my way to work, and it just put me in a really rank mood. I thought about it over and over again, how I could have responded differently or how I was choosing to feel about it. It made me think about why things like this still happen on a regular day-to-day basis, often only in passing, like it’s nothing. I thought about what would have happened if I had been someone else, or if I had had a different system of beliefs. I guess this is kind of me still thinking about that stuff, and not really knowing what to do with it.
So, one morning, I was on the subway heading to Yorkdale for work. I was reading An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, and was probably enjoying one of his anecdotal footnotes like this one:
and was probably listening to like Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” or “Cherry Wine” or something. Needless to say, most of my senses were preoccupied, and I did not look like someone who wanted to be bothered. I’m sure that I looked decidedly like someone who wanted to be left the eff alone. Nonetheless, a grizzled-looking older man came up and sat kind of kiddy-corner to me. If you know the Toronto subway trains at all, I was sitting in one of two front-facing seats, and he sat in the closest of three inward-facing seats, so that his leg was brushing my bare knees.
He was holding that day’s Metro in his hands, opened it to a particular page, and started gesturing at me. I glanced up at him through my eyelashes, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he was gesticulating more to the general public rather than just me. Nope. All I could hear was “Take me to Church/ I worship like a dog/ At the shralalalaaaa” so I only saw his lips moving and couldn’t tell what he was saying, but he didn’t look too happy. Part of me wanted to just ignore him, but the other part of me went Okay Old Man, I’ll play your weird little game.
I removed my headphones and asked “Sorry, what?” like I should apologize for having not heard what he said to me on account of actually not asking for him to speak to me in the first place. He gestured at me, and then at the paper, to an article that I couldn’t see the title of. What I gathered, though, was that a particular social figure had just gotten married to his long-time boyfriend. The man stabbed at the associated photo with his finger and started saying “sick. Just sick.” To which I responded by going, “?!?!?!?!?!” and blankly staring at him in confusion. He waved the paper in my face and said, louder, “it’s sick! Sick!”
I got up from my seat, shoved the paper away, and walked to the other end of the train, fuming. I hadn’t said a word to him. I hadn’t asked why he thought the same-sex marriage was sick, or told him that I didn’t agree with him. Nothing. And I wish I had done something. I was so shocked by his blatant disregard for a) my personal space b) my own personal beliefs and c) his general straight-up ignorance to even formulate sounds or reactions of my own.
It was such a small incident, and I wasn’t even being personally attacked based on my own sexuality or orientation, but I still couldn’t believe this man’s nerve. If the tables were turned, and I had affronted the old man with exclamations of “heterosexual marriage is sick!!!” I’m sure that the people sitting around us on the subway would have actually looked up from their iPhones and Kindles and told me to stop being such a delinquent and to not offend people with my unpopular opinions.
And I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But I did not ask for this man to intrude on my personal bubble and force his ignorance on me, and I wish I had said something in response to him. Not to get a rise out of him or start an outright conflict, but because I just want to understand his blindness to other people’s beliefs. I wish that I had gotten an explanation, so that I could have defended the couple in the photo and the LGBT community with an understanding of where his homophobia was coming from. I don’t wish to have put him in his place, but I do wish I could have made him aware of how offensive his actions were, and explained to him that it’s 2015 goddamn it.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but that one simple word the man said has been on my mind for over a week now, and I’m just not sure how to get rid of it. I just know that I now have a wealthy bank of come-backs and responses for the next time I witness outright ignorance and hatred, so that I can be a more active ally for people that I care about and a community that I support and will defend with everything that I have.