There are some days where my optimism for the world's potential is blindsided by the coarseness of stubborn ignorance.
I’m new to Oakland, and for that reason I’m usually quiet. I spend most of my time observing the good and bad about my surroundings. I make notes about things that I haven’t seen since my childhood, and things I’ve never seen before. I am reminded why I was so pressed to get to Andover, and why when I got there I still wasn’t settled and couldn’t wait to leave.
I am overwhelmed by my self-awareness/consciousness and and I’m frustrated that I’m still learning how and when to pick my battles, be it about race, sexuality, class or something else. Being in Oakland, I have less to worry about when it comes to my blackness – by and large Oakland is a black place, a brown place and a poor place. San Francisco is a whole different ballgame, and when I finally get up the nerve and the energy to go across the bridge to San Francisco and I am once again in the minority. But in Oakland, I am constantly aware of my woman-ness and how it conflicts with the masculine exterior I adorn and what that implicitly means to most – that I’m a Lesbian. I am shocked though, when even amongst black people, I sometimes pass as being a boy. In L.A, it usually only happened around other races, and I attributed to the fact that masculinity is racialized, and is oft associated with blackness. But I am learning this isn’t always the case.
I don’t know if I passed while I was on the bus yesterday coming home – freshly cut fro, button up, tie, slacks and square toed shoes. I sit proud on the bus – I’m not too proud to take public transportation, even if it can be unreliable at times, and I enjoy being around black people more often – even if the young kids on the bus make me embarrassed for their parents. But I can’t quite understand how it came to be that these young black women felt it appropriate to be openly and loudly homophobic, while sitting next to me unless they THOUGHT I was a boy. Most times I listen and take mental notes when people come out of pocket. I prefer not to provoke the situation, lest I risk my safety and get into an argument that I still am not confident in having with people whose minds are made up about what my sexual orientation IS and means in their lives.
But I went out on a limb yesterday – perhaps because I’d just gotten another job offer, perhaps because I had already sat quiet listening to homophobia rear its ugly head at the barbershop and partly in the hope that I could reach these little girls. The interaction wasn’t stellar, to say the least and while I didn’t expect to change their minds I did impress upon them the problem with speaking your thoughts, loudly and in mixed company – you’re subject to challenge. I also made it a point to shut down the biblical BS about how “They’re (We’re) going to hell” and “It’s in the Bible.” I told one of them that her judgement made her just as much a candidate for hells gates as the gay people she was talking badly about. And I even blew their minds when I told them that I knew Lesbian pastors and ministers.
But what kinda jarred me, beyond the comments, was when I noticed that the loudest and most antagonistic of the bunch employed and arguing tactic that I use, but was never quite able to understand. She looked straight ahead rather than look at me when she spoke. She raised her voice to talk over me, still never looking at my face. I learned to do that when I had hard conversations about sexuality with my mother (or rather sat through lectures). I do that when I have hard conversations with my partner and I’ve done that with my friends. It’s a sign, to me, of intimidation – I hate confrontation and I rather not acknowledge my participation in it (even when I am) than take it on full steam ahead.
I don’t know that I made a difference in their mindsets. I am glad that I at least aggravated their train of thought long enough that the conversation simmered a bit, got quieter and in effect came to a pause. And as pissed of as I was when I got off of the bus, and frustrated with the Mis-Education I generalized that our youth were getting, shorty taught me something about myself. And to her lil’ homophobic self, I’m thankful for that.