(WARNING: I tried to take the adult language out of this post, but it just didn’t have same effect. Sorry. Back to happy stuff tomorrow.)
So the weirdest thing happened to me the other day. We had some friends in town for the weekend and they wanted to go see the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, which we were happy to visit again, and on the way home we did a bit of a car shuffle. My wife wanted to ride with her friend, and both of my children wanted to ride with my wife, because she is so much cooler than I am. This filled up their car, and suddenly the husband half of the visiting pair had nowhere to sit in his own car. No problem! He can ride with me! I have the convertible, the top is down, it is a beautiful day, and honestly, doesn’t that sound better than a ride with a bunch of angry children who did not receive teddy bears? Of couse it does. What could go wrong?
I led the two-car parade out of the factory parking lot and onto the road heading north, the car full of my family behind me. I was chatting with my friend about life and other important matters when it happened. A man driving a large pick-up truck that was towing some sort of something else behind it pulled up alongside of my car and started shouting at us. “Fuck you, you fuckin’ queers!” he screamed, as I turned my head quickly to try to see who he might be talking about. As there didn’t seem to be anyone else around, and he was glaring intently in my direction, I came to the startling conclusion that he was talking to me.
Now, I don’t want to promote any sort of stereotype by saying this, but this gentleman did not have all of his teeth. He looked like he had been ridden hard and hung up wet, if you know what I mean. His hair was scraggly, his face sunworn, and as to his age I could only only guess somewhere between 35 and 60. But it was the hatred in his eyes that was the most frightening part. Not knowing quite how to respond to his shouting, I smiled and waved my hand at him in a friendly manner, while stepping on the gas.
This was not the correct response I guess, because he gunned his engine as well and pulled up alongside of us again. “You fuckin’ faggots!” he screamed, his head out the window and his eyes once again not on the road. I hope his passenger was steering for him. No matter how hard I tried to vary my speed, he kept after us, shouting and cursing the whole time. He looked like he wanted to kill us. This was unsettling for a number of reasons.
First of all, I do not want to be killed, so there’s that. An on another note, really? You see two men in a car together and your first thought is that they are lovers? I mean, for Pete’s sake, I was wearing a buttondown Spider-Man shirt! What gay man would ever be caught dead wearing that? Wouldn’t it make more sense to assume that we were two nerd friends who could not get girlfriends on our way to see “Iron Man 3” or something? That would be where my mind would have gone. But no. Apparently two men cannot ride in a car together without being in love. I’ve been called homosexual in a derogatory way for many things in my life, chiefly singing opera and being in the drama club, but never for driving a car. (Side note: Iron Man 3 was awesome!)
Initially I wanted to be able to sit this man down and explain to him that my wife and children and my friend’s wife were all in the car behind us, and that he had made a terrible mistake. We were not gay after all! Ha ha! What a hilarious misunderstanding! But then I realized the absurdity of this thought. The issue was not whether I was gay or straight. The issue was the hatred of this man who would drive like a maniac with his head out of the window screaming threats and curses at the top of his lungs, simply because I appeared, in his mind, to be someone who might be gay. If I was or I wasn’t, this person seemed intent on harrassment, and I’m sure he has done it to others and will do it again. The hate is the problem. And the hate is terrifying.
I can’t tell you the relief that I felt as he pulled off onto the highway a few blocks from my house. Nobody was going to follow me home and kill me after all. My driving companion and I joked about it, and how strange it was that we encountered something like this in Vermont, of all places. And wasn’t it ironic that the angry fellow had had a man as his passenger as well? So maybe it was the convertible that did it. If we had been in a dirty pick-up truck we would have been fine. And isn’t the whole thing funny?
No. No, it’s not. I have friends who are gay. I have friends who are black. I have friends who are handicapped. I have friends who are different. Is this how they are treated? Have they all feared for their lives at some point, simply for being who they were created to be? I don’t think it’s funny at all.