Again, it’s been a while since my last piece in this Coming Out series. I mentioned prior that it keeps getting harder to write as it keeps getting closer to home; the things I discover in my memory are tied to feelings I currently carry, like a kink in the neck I wake up with one day and can’t rid myself of. They are frustrating, and they consume a lot of energy that I think could be better used.
It’s not just that though, it’s especially hard while watching the hostile takeover of our society by a far-right minority while a good portion of America complains about the price of gas. I find it hard to focus on my own first-world problem of not understanding my place in the world when the fascist coward who attempted a violent coup to overthrow the country upon which I depend, is currently in fact trying to do it again, openly. In fact just the other day the rogue Supreme Court which the aforementioned fascist and his foolhardy enablers so strategically bullied into its current dangerous shape, for the first time in history they used their seemingly unanswerable powers to strip constitutionally granted rights from Americans. We should all be so very wary right now.
During my life I’ve seen the positions on the left in America basically stay the same, the left argues for basic human rights. The right, however has grown increasingly radical and extreme. They argue for little, but against so much. Hate of what they don’t understand seems to be their only platform, and increasingly, violence or the threat of is an acceptable means of concluding debate.
Something that used to unite most of America is a good underdog story, the Bad News Bears comes to mind. A ragtag David versus Goliath story is one that almost all of America could get behind, and stand together and cheer for, even if only briefly before walking to the car in the lot after the show, or the game, or the whatever it was where we just saw the Underdog take on the Behemoth, and through teamwork usually, somehow the Underdog overcomes and everyone sees how the diversity of the team is what turned out to be most valuable component of the victory. Walking back through the parking lot you catch eyes with strangers and maybe chat about the game, or movie, or whatever and then everyone drives off to wherever they came from, maybe with a moment or two from the lot lodged forever inside somewhere.
But we can’t really do that anymore. A good portion of the country handed the car keys to the first fascist autocrat to come along promising to take them to some better time that never existed. A fascist who so beautifully weaponized the mask, that thin, flimsy little hero who could protect America so well from a global threat, but instead became a tool to drive Americans apart. That fascist convinced the part of America driving around with bumperstickers proclaiming Freedom isn’t Free that wearing a mask in public was a sacrifice too far. That fascist’s agenda drove us all apart, and at a time when the rights of queer people were becoming recognized and normalized, he created an environment where we can’t possibly all unite behind one of the best underdog stories of all time, the struggle of queer folk.
That fascist has given license to a lot of hate and violence, and much of it is targeted at the LGBTQ+ community. Remember, for context, on the left where a good portion of the LGBTQ+ community sits (going out on a limb and speaking for others there, I know) they want what is constitutionally and morally granted to them, simply the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to govern their own bodies and destinies. On the right however, they want those things only for certain classes of people whom they get to select. As the rogue Supreme Court has recently and succinctly proven. But I digress.
It’s hard to continue writing about what it’s like to have grown up bisexual when it was largely terrifying and the current state of the world makes it seem like the arc of justice isn’t actually bending in the proper direction. A good portion of growing up in the closet is walking the line between paranoia and calm, because I regularly felt as if I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I tried to act super calm, like everyone else, when in reality I’m checking every person in the room’s body language, locations of exits, my own vulnerabilities, all because I’m queer or afraid I might appear that way, and though I think it’s hidden from view, I’m not sure. Regardless, everywhere I go I’m ready for violence because there’s a good portion of the population that reacts with quick violence to queer people. Or for many reasons besides that too. But as a queer person it feels sometimes as though I’m a magnet attracting such violence, and I develop a slipperiness as part of learning to live and pass as straight, I think.
This line between being ever alert to violence, while simultaneously relaxed and fitting in, it’s like having your finger always on the trigger, always ready to defend yourself. This is part of what it feels like to grow up bisexual. And what leads to what I had originally planned to write about in this portion of my Coming Out series.
I was assaulted on a bus a couple years ago. It was shortly before Christmas 2019. I was riding the 3 home from work. I’d first catch the 124 in Georgetown and ride it to 3rd & James at the edge of Pioneer Square where everyday I’d run around the corner to hopefully catch a standing-room-only 3, if I was lucky, right where it started its slow slog up James, sometimes so full in the cold winter that the electric motor struggled to power us all the way up the hill to 9th. James is that steep, and the bus was that full. There are two stops on that hill in between 3rd and 9th, and two traffic lights. If the bus had to stop at any of these obstacles to our momentum, the mass of passengers would be rocked into the folks in front of them as the bus came to a saggy, cushy stop; and then they’d rock back into the folks behind them as the bus took off again under as much torque as the electric motor behind us all could muster against the steep grade of James up First Hill. Those of us standing in the aisle, hanging from the rail above by one hand, we would swing together at these stops and starts, close enough to smell each other’s hair products, cologne, or body odor. At a stop, a path of passengers would first need to be cleared between the exit and the passenger(s) attempting to depart. As many passengers as were between them and the door would need to first exit, or squeeze aside to make a path of egress. Commuters like myself; moms and kids with bags and packages from shopping; out of towners with bags and packages from traveling; red-eyed and wrung-out people with bags and packages representing all they owned; and usually a few people on crutches or in a wheelchair heading up the hill to Harborview with varying ailments of varying sorts both visible and not, would all shuffle around during these exchanges in sometimes awkward positions. It’s close quarters on the 3 in winter.
This was the environment on the afternoon I was assaulted riding home from work. We had just left the second bus stop at 8th & James, I had dropped into a single seat which opened next to me as the bus emptied and filled. There was only this last block of uphill, and then we would turn onto 9th and stop again at Harborview where enough people usually exited to lessen the tension aboard a degree or two. A man loudly grumbled somewhere near me. Something like Fuck this, fuck that he muttered, I couldn’t really hear or see him. Having sat, I was eye level to most passengers’ midsections. Fuck touching me, something, something, watch yourself, he continued. As people rocked back and forth I found the man, a very unremarkable looking man, staring in my direction. I turned to look behind me, to see if I could make out who he was focusing upon. No one seemed to be paying attention to him. The bus was making the hard right turn onto 8th, everyone aboard was leaning onto each other as we rolled around the corner. I looked back at the grumbling man, and he was staring at me. Right into my eyes. He was two strides away, toward the front of the bus. He said, Yeah, you. You know I’m talking to you. He lifted his hand and pointed at me. He was my size. Two or three passengers stood between us holding the bar above their heads, swinging through the turn. He pointed at me and said, You better keep your hands to yourself.
I reacted instinctually, instantly. Without a moment of hesitation, meeting his stare, and with as forceful a voice as I have I said, You better stop pointing your finger at me right fucking now. Then, all in one motion as if choreographed prior, the bus came to rest at it’s Harborview stop, everyone rocked forward, he raised his fist and came at me, I stood and moved into him, the doors opened and people made to exit, the man’s fist connected with the center of my chest, but since I was already right up on him, face-to-face, he had little force behind his punch, and then a very large man suddenly wrapped both arms around this guy, picked him up, and tossed him off the bus through the open double doors only a large stride away. In one step I went to the doors and stood over the man pointing at him, it felt as though I was watching all of this from a removed point above us all, I pointed at him as he stood up and I yelled, If I ever fucking see you again I’ll fucking kill you, you piece of fucking shit. The doors closed on me as I yelled you piece of fucking shit.
I sat along with everyone else now that there was a lot more room on the bus, though people still stood near the door as they do, and also I think people were giving me space. The large man who ended the whole thing sat near me. Are you ok? he asked. I re-entered my own body. I think so, I said. Some other passenger came over and tried to get me to recount the whole incident for him but I didn’t feel like it, and I told him so. A few others snuck glances at me. I don’t think the bus driver knew any of this had happened. I think I scared people, including myself. Or the incident did. No one said anything else for the rest of my ride.
I had a dozen or so stops to go before I would get off. The rest of that ride, the walk home, and the next hour or so I floated. I felt high as a kite. I felt like the clean, empty barrel of a gun. After a couple hours I began to feel where the guy had connected his fist to right about my solar plexus. It wasn’t the punch he’d intended. Since I’d been sitting he was aiming more for my head I’m sure, but my movement up and into him thwarted that. I felt pleased that I could defend myself. But I began to wonder what if? What if he’d had a weapon? What if I’d hurt him? Why was I so quick to threaten to kill him for fuck’s sake?
I know I walk around with a don’t fuck with me look on my face. I know other people, including my partner, who walk around looking for the opportunities to connect with people which spring up all around us as we make our way out and about, amongst all the people in the city. I, on the other hand, like many others, quite often don’t invite the same opportunities with my watchful, ready, skeptically scanning gaze. I grew up ready. I saw a lot of violence, and I don’t trust easily. As a guy who barely ever pushed a hundred fifty pounds, I learned that responding to bullies and violent threats is best done swiftly and with an exaggerated sense of violence and or threat. True bullies seem to only react to fear and violence. Giving it to them in a surprisingly quick and forceful manner gives someone like me room to get away or simply smother the threat. Unfortunately it also leaves someone who is distrustful and always with one finger on the trigger. Ready. Ready for what?
Being free of this feeling of watchful readiness, this finger on the trigger mentality, is what I imagine it must feel like to be a straight man.