August 12, 2006

Yesterday at 4:00 in the afternoon the downtown 1 train was very crowded when I got on at 110th Street. To grab onto a handrail I would have had to contort myself into positions I usually assume only with my clothes off, so I chose instead to hope that my leg stabilizer muscles would be strong enough to keep me upright. For the most part they were, but at one particular jolt of the train I stumbled into the man next to me. I apologized and stood upright again. The train jolted again and I fell against him again; I apologized again, and then I heard the words “faggot boy” crisply through the air and looked up to see that it was the man’s friend who had spoken and that he was staring at me. Ordinarily I let boorishness pass unremarked, but this was really too much. “What?” I said, wrinkling my brow incredulously.

“You didn’t hear what I said?” His accent was West Indian.

“No, I heard what you said,” I replied; “I’m just shocked that you said it.” I mean, surely he couldn’t go around calling everybody in the New York City subway system who jostled his friend during rush hour a faggot, could he?

“Don’t worry,” he smiled grimly. “Where I come from we kill you.”

I looked away and, for good measure, grabbed onto the handrail despite the twisting I had to do to accomplish this; though my leg stabilizer muscles are in fine shape, I did not wish to run any risk of jostling the man’s friend again. When we reached the express stop at 96th Street and they moved to exit, however, I couldn’t resist making my verbal assailant as uncomfortable as he’d made me, so as he got off I reached out and stroked his arm.

This may not have been the smartest thing I have ever done.

Because as the doors shut they got back on the train and cornered me.

“Did you touch me?” the man demanded.

Uh-oh, I thought. “Yes,” I said.

“Why did you touch me?”

“Because what you–”

“Why the fuck did you touch me?”

This pissed me off. “Do you want me to answer your question or not?”

“That’s it. You are ended.” He did not just say that, I thought. He nodded to his friend, who opened a small bag and rifled through the tools inside it until he pulled out . . .

. . . a screwdriver.

A large screwdriver. It had an orange handle.

I felt a peculiar lurch in my chest that traveled up to my throat. They’re going to beat me up and stab me, I thought, crowded carful of passengers notwithstanding. I suspected they wouldn’t kill me, not with all these people around, but I still didn’t want to be assaulted, and I also worried about losing my computer and the two weeks’ worth of un-backed-up writing.

“Why’d you touch me?” he asked again.

“Because what you said really offended me and I wanted to annoy you.” Somehow this struck him as incredibly funny and he started laughing, which was in a way more frightening than the screwdriver. By now there was a clearing around us of a good five feet in any direction, no small accomplishment on a New York City subway car. But nobody wanted to be in the middle of this. There were four local stops until I was supposed to transfer to the A. If I got off and they tried to follow me I might lose them or they might beat me up and stab me; if I stayed on the presence of the other passengers might restrain them or they might beat me up and stab me.

“I like women,” he said. “I don’t like men. You understand that? I like women. Whatever you want, you ain’t getting it from me.”

“Oh, I’m not interested in you,” I said, my voice dripping with scorn. I almost started the sentence, “Oh, honey,” but luckily I thought better of it in time.

“Well, now I am very interested in you.” He turned to address the other riders, all of whom had seen confrontations like this before and will see confrontations like this again and really just wanted this one to stop so they could get where they were going. He said something I couldn’t make out and pointed several times to his wedding ring. “Can you believe it?” he said then. “I wasn’t bothering him at all, and he touched me.”

He was clearly committed to his course of action, so silence would have gained me nothing. “You weren’t bothering me?” I said. “You said that where you come from you kill me. That bothered me.”

A woman standing nearby with a twelve-year-old child tried to help. “It’s not worth it,” she said to the man.

“He touched me!” he said to her, and turned to me. “You believe in God?”

“Yes,” I said, though really I still haven’t decided and mostly I lean the other way.

“Then you better pray to Him.” I said nothing. “If your God is up there,” he said, pointing up at the roof of the car, “then you look up there. If He’s down there, look down there. Don’t look at me.” Fuck you, I thought, and stared him in the face.

The train was slowing down; I looked out the window to see that we were pulling into the stop before my transfer stop. I moved toward the door, which actually brought me closer to the henchman with the screwdriver, and the man who was now very interested in me followed me. A very brave bystander stepped in between the two of us and said to the man, “Hey, listen, I want to ask you a question.” I didn’t hear what his question was but the answer involved ranting about the destruction of the family and how a couple years ago people like me couldn’t even show our faces. The good Samaritan kept the conversation going, continuing to distract my attacker’s attention from me.

The train pulled into 59th Street. The doors opened and I bolted. “Carlos!” shouted the man to his friend as I fled, and they followed me, but I am a very fast runner even when I do not fear for my life, and the crowded station presented them with a lot of obstacles. By the time I got downstairs I was pretty sure I had lost them; nevertheless I kept a very careful eye on my surroundings until my train pulled in, at which point I got on it, sat down, and shook violently all the way home. Then, at her suggestion, I called the Anti-Violence Project and made a report that would have been more coherent if I hadn’t burst into tears halfway through it. Then I called the police, but apparently I have to go in to a police station to make a report, which I won’t be able to do until Monday.

It’s unlikely that the good Samaritan who may have saved my life reads this blog, but if he does, I want him to know that I will be grateful to him forever.

I wish I had had the wherewithal to find a defiant gesture more considered than stroking the guy’s arm, that I had stood up for myself in a way that didn’t confirm these two men’s prejudices but made them think about them instead. But it’s been hours and I still can’t think what such a gesture would have been, so I’m not beating myself up about it too badly.

Reading over this post I am astounded to see that my half of the dialogue sounds so incisive and cool and collected, because in the moment I felt none of those things.

Nevertheless, unwise a move as it was, refusing to be bullied still felt pretty fucking fabulous.

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61 Responses to Yesterday at 4

  1. matt says:

    Fucking hell, Joel! What a ghastly experience. Huge amounts of sympathy and hugs.

  2. Signalite says:

    Ah. I see now why you were up at 4:35 in the morning. Much love, sir.

  3. Groomzilla says:

    Holy shit. You’re kind of my hero for standing up to them – – the arm stroke was inspired but, of course, ill-advised, because you know they always get back on the train or you come to a red light or the elevator doors re-open – – but still, it brings me back to every instance where I have just stood there and kept my mouth shut and hated myself for being too scared to speak up. So, orange screwdriver or not, you’ve won my admiration.

    Last night we went to Talladega Nights, and there are several scenes involving man-on-man kissing, and literally half the audience would groan and shout “Eww!” every time. And this was on the Upper West Side. Sometimes it’s easy living in NYC to feel like we, happily, don’t live in the real world and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s easy to remember we still do.

  4. raph says:

    good for you that you stood up to those men. many of us would not have had the courage to do so.

    however, that was pretty close there. whether you believe in God or not, someone was watching over you.

  5. kerry says:

    Good Lord! My brave little soldier. Yes, how horrible and ghastly – but, goddammit, good for you for standing up for yourself!

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. But, I’m also very proud of you for doing what you did. (And thankful to Mr. Samaritan as well for offering you a window of escape.)

    xoxo

  6. will says:

    What the fuck is going ON in New York? Jase had trouble just the other day, too. I’m glad to hear you’re OK, sweetie.

  7. Kristin says:

    That is every kind of wrong there is. I am really sorry that happened to you, and at the same time I am proud and awed that you were able to stand up for yourself.

  8. Jesus – I wouldn’t have known what to do! I don’t think I would have pushed it so far as to touch him. I thought New Yorkers were more open to gayness? I’m just a beginning knitter – I can’t knit well, but I can perl good. I’m making a small case for my iPod now. The other ones I have sewn by hand or my sewing machine. You be good, and safe!

  9. rhys says:

    Wow! I haven’t personally been involved in that kind of conflict for a long time. And the last time I started it . You did the right thing standing up for yourself, but I always remind myself that I cannot undo a lifetime of ignorance in a train ride (or other brief temporal measurement).

  10. Paul says:

    FUCKING HELL!! Terrible thing to have happened but I’m really proud of you for standing up for yourself!

    Paul

  11. Jeffrey says:

    People like him are the reason I want to own a gun. And if that’s what he thinks, then that fucking son of a bitch should go back to whatever piece of shit land he came from. We don’t need his kind here. He deserves to die. I hope he messes with the wrong fag and gets his face blown off.

  12. birdfarm says:

    Yikes, sweetie, that sounds horrible. Like just about every other commenter, I am impressed as hell that you stood up for yourself and so so so glad that no physical violence ensued. I’m also glad you reported it.

    Nothing is changing in New York, for those of you that asked that; New York is an incredibly diverse place, and that diversity include assholes who hate gay people.

    Although… I used to think that big cities are always mean, and have since discovered a number of big cities that are not mean at all. (e.g., Istanbul: pop. 17 million, apparently all of whom are extremely polite, gentle, and even generous and kind–at least in public to strangers).

    I don’t know why New York is so mean. I got mean when I lived there. But it definitely isn’t anything new.

  13. Aidan says:

    My dear man, you have made me cry. But let me say without hesitation that where I come from, we LOVE people like you.

  14. stevie says:

    wish i was there to stand (with as much bravado as i could muster) next to you.

    could have been much worse thou… i mean he could have had a staple gun or snap ring puller or ::gasp:: fuel pressure guage in his bag.

    serious thou… hope u can shake it off.

    smooch

    -stevie

    http://chaos.typepad.com

  15. Rocqui says:

    I weep for humanity as long as there are assholes like this among us. I’m glad to hear you got away safely, and I sincerely hope you do file that police report. Whatever happens, don’t let this scare you into not standing up for yourself in the future.

  16. John says:

    I don’t know that I would have taken the risk that you took with this volatile asshole, but I totally respect you for drawing a line in the sand as far as what you were willing to tolerate and then having the balls to fight. Hope you find a way to release some of that excess testosterone this weekend, baby!

  17. Judith in NYC says:

    Joel,I am so outraged! I just watched Brokeback Mountain last night and the Jack death scene kept flashing in my mind while trying to finish your post. I am glad you escaped without physical injury and I too hope that asshole meets a violent death or at least some serious bodily injury!!

    PS I take back the old man thing (you know I was joking). You are a beautiful young man and I wish you are always safe and happy.

  18. Kieran says:

    Joel,

    I’m sickened by this post–and grateful that you are able to tell the story. I am so glad that you did not suffer bodily injury. I am so sad that the world is populated by such hateful people.

    Thank you for reminding us all that we need to watch out for one another.

    K.

  19. Lauren says:

    Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God.

  20. philip says:

    hey ..I am a 24 year old gay guy from India and I am an avid follower of your blog . I sort of get this delicious albeit vicarious pleasure from reading about a social life ,that is impossible down here.I just wanted you to know that I think you showed a lot of courage standing up for yourself.In a world where prejudice runs rife with ignorance we need more people like you …Take care.

  21. Cliff says:

    Holy cow.. I can’t believe this happened.. What can I say, you’ve got The Balls man.. So proud of you and damn glad you’re all right. But be careful next time yeah, it’s just not worth it risking your life for asswipes like them..

  22. Chris says:

    *hugs joel* u can borrow my teddy bear if you want. he’s good for stuff like this.

  23. Logan says:

    Hold on, he said “you are ended”?

    That itself is kind of faggy.

  24. Uncle Zoloft says:

    Some advice from you dear old Uncle. When I lived in NYC I always tried to carry a couple of things in my bag: A telephone taken from a phone booth, sans cord, and a tool of some sort usually scissors or a hammer; I was designing and building alot of sets at the time.

    The telephone would be used in cases where I felt unease on the A train going home from work around 11pm. If uneasy I would pull the phone out and start to have a screaming argument with someone and try to repeat every phrase I’d heard muttered by a homeless person that day.

    The hammer was priceless. I used it only once. On the #1 going home very late, making the mistake of sitting in the last car, when some gumba, his girlfriend and posse got on and sat next to me. Gumba asks if I’m a fag because of the bag I carrying, huge leather thing with a flap, I stare ahead. He continues taunting. I see I’m 2 stops from Fulton Street. His girlfriend asks him to stop the shit. He continues. Between the final stop and Fulton I open the flap of my “fag bag” and show him and his girlfriend the hammer which I grasp. He shuts up. She tells him he’s a moron. I cover the hammer with the flap, still holding the hammer as I got off at Fulton Street.

    Joel take some karate lessons. Carry your knitting needles. They will back you up after you’ve eviscerated your opponent with your wit.

    To all my gay nephews and nieces the rhetoric against us for the past few years has caused some folk senseless hatred of us. Where most of them make mistake is they think we’re weak. I applaud Joel for his stand. We must confront the bullies in the school yard ~ even if it means suddenly blowing out their kneecap with one unexpected swift kick (been there done that, quite enjoyable.)

    I’m not generally in favor of violence, but times have changed. People are very pent up with anger and looking for targets. It’s time to learn how to protect ourselves.

  25. Chris says:

    Thank you for calling AVP about this. Not only do they offer support for people who have been the targets of hate crimes, but the documentation they do is used to compile hate crime stats. Which may seem futile, but it helps everyone understand that gay-bashing and harassment are still a huge problem in NYC and helps with funding for prevention programs and so on.

    I’m just so glad you’re okay, sweetie.

  26. amanda says:

    I’m so sorry that happened to you and that it took someone as long as it did to stand up for you–especially after you so powerfully stood up for yourself. I agree with Uncle Zoloft. Karate classes are a great workout and knowing that you can defend yourself is invaluable… even for the situations where you don’t have to defend yourself. I’m a white belt myself because sometimes knowing how to punch is better for one’s health than a V-step, over the top, now up and lunge! (and yes, I do those too.)

  27. Jess says:

    I’m glad you weren’t hurt. I think I’ll just second what Jeffrey said already, including keeping my guns and hoping some other person with a gun takes care of that animal (or that the animal goes back to where he came from). Goddamn bigot!

  28. Anais says:

    Just leaving a hug. From a random stranger on the internet.

  29. Schorsch says:

    A couple of times I have witnessed similar things, thankfully only once with me in the middle of it.

    Every time, once I was in a safe place, I thought about all the things I could have done or should have done, but did not do. Knowing that you do not necessarily have the statue to physically scare people makes it even more impressive that you did stand up to your opponents.

    The cool does not necessarily come from within, and you don’t have to feel it. But, to me you are a hero now (even though I don’t know how much that counts).

    After I escaped my close encounter I was entertaining the idea of learning karate or some other martial art – but a friend of mine rightfully reminded me: “What do you do when, after you have made your moves, the only thing your opponent thinks of is to show you what a black belt is for?”

    Good to know you’re fine. I just hope it won’t take you too long before you can ride the subway again without thinking of this event.

    Big Hug!

    Georg

  30. Hanuman says:

    I’m so glad that you’re alright. Belief in a Higher Power or not, that “Good Samaritan” earned his place in Heaven!

  31. Cara says:

    That’s terrifying. I’m so sorry you went through that. I hope you’re OK.

  32. Rob7534 says:

    I feel awful for you Joel. I don’t know what I would have done in your place, I tend to be shy and timid most of the time anyway. But I can’t believe that you were in a crowded subway and no one around you did anything!

    That pisses me off almost as much as those two fuckwads who threated you, and caused so much distress with their fucked-up worldview!

    Those fuckers!

  33. Paul says:

    I am just glad that you are safe and sound. What would we do without “our” Joel? Looks like someone was watching out for you that day. Whether it be a higher power or whatever we should all just be thankful.

  34. Andrew says:

    Jeee-zus. Standing up to that was brave and transcendent. It was also… well. I feel ashamed of myself, a little, to think “what a dumb thing to do,” because it also makes you my hero. I’m just glad you’re not dead.

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  36. Kevin says:

    OMFG! I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as I read this, due to (1) fears about how it would end, and (2) fears for myself because this was a reminder that such stuff can and does still happen, even in NYC. It’s easy to forget this and go about with a false feeling of safety; to forget how much evil shit is in people’s hearts.

    I’m SO glad that you came out of this encounter intact. And – the horror of it all notwithstanding – I’m glad for you and for us all that defied the assholes. It’s a shitty position to have to choose between standing up for yourself/risking bodily harm, and remaining silent/risking slow murder of the soul.

  37. Carrie says:

    Hi Joel, I’m just an anonymous reader from the other side of the country. I just wanted to tell you how much I admire the fact that you stood up for yourself like you did. No, it might not have been the smartest thing for your physical being, but taking care of yourself does wonders for the soul. I’m glad you’re safe!

    I also want to thank you for blogging about this issue because I think it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that things are different. I live in Long Beach, CA where we have our very own Gayborhood and no one looks twice when a gay couple is walking down the street holding hands. I am thankful that none of my friends have had an experience like this (at least not since leaving high school) but I think we all need to remember that it’s still out there and happening with all too much frequency.

  38. tmohk says:

    Did you have a camera-phone on you? that, and some mace might be a reasonable precaution.

    Pretty mace:

    link to luxist.com

    camera phones are quite effective in deterring this sort of anti-social behavior. Perhaps starting a site where the pictures of various people who engage in such should be started. much like the one where women took pictures of subway flashers. just make sure the picture is sent to an offsite location promptly to prevent the destruction of the picture.

  39. David says:

    Holy fucking shit.

    You know, I often fantasize about being verbally attacked or physically threatened for being gay and imagine how I would bravely respond. I’m having second thoughts about that now. You are a hero. My respect and admiration for you has quintupled. So glad you are OK.

  40. bob says:

    I’m glad you’re okay. Be careful out there … or move here to civilisation (unless of course the police mistake you for a terrorist). x

  41. sauce says:

    Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of support.

    Even though it was ill-advised, I’m glad you pissed him off… and delighted you got away with it.

  42. GaryS says:

    Hot packed train, hot cute butt,

    Hot head het. Next time,

    kick him in the nuts,

    Hard!

    I applaud your courage and aplomb.

    Go get’em Tiger!

  43. Fiona says:

    Horrible. But I’m not surprised at how brave you were. You’ve always been like that. And since I’ve known you since you were 12, I can be quite sure. I’m so glad you aren’t hurt (physically) and that you reported this. Much love from Kentucky.

  44. kyriell says:

    hey fellow former proctor,

    i’m horrified that that happened to you, and very proud of you for not wilting in the face of adversity. i wish i could say that i’m shocked that this sort of shit is happening, even in the bigbadassapple, but i’m not. given the current political climate, it’s not really surprising. for most folks, lgbt lives are not worth the paper they’re written on, and so few people realize how easy a shift it is from hateful rhetoric used to garner votes to outright public violence. like others in this thread, i say pick up some mace and be prepared to use it. and definitely file a police report. for all we know, that guy is a frequent public homobigot and your tip might be the one that gets him caught. i’m glad you had the stones to stand up to him, and even more glad that you had the opportunity to bail before the situation escalated. take good care of yourself and don’t let this change your presentation of your fabulous red-headed self. i’m thinking about you.

    toodles

    kyriell

  45. Todd says:

    first time reader, longtime queer. Just wanted to say that mean people suck. Hopefully the bastard mouths off to the wrong person someday and learns that displaying ignorance and subscribing to stereotypes and bigotry will end up with him getting his ass kicked. I will be happy to provide that service the next time I am in NY, major kudos to you for not being silent.

  46. Melody says:

    Not saying anything new here, but I am so sorry that this happened to you. It fills me with dread for myself and all my loved ones. Keep standing up. The world has to change and grow and get better, doesn’t it? I’m going to keep standing up here in Indiana, too.

  47. Jake says:

    Holy shit! Good for you for standing your ground, but if I’d been there with you I would have totally fucked with those guys. I’m not afraid of a little physical confrontation with a bully, but it might have been more fun to horrify him even deeper into his own closet — telling him his wife probably won’t touch him now that he’s talked to a fag, he’s shamed his family for the same reason, etc. Or loudly accuse him of being gay for starting a sexually themed conversation with another man. Or we could have just made out in front of him.

    White. A blank page or canvas. So many possibilities.

  48. Aaron says:

    Sending you some love and protection. First, a hug. Second, if I was on that train Idda kicked a bitch in the back of the neck… or at least stood by you and looked all mad dog.

    Funny thing that. If I had been the target I would have crumbled at the first “faggot boy.” But if I had been on the train I would have totally jumped into protect you.

    hugs and mad dog.

  49. Aroob says:

    *grimly* Joel, I am from a country where they kill men, women, even boys and girls if they’re gay

    I highly respect you for what you did. No one should be treated that way, and you stood up for yourself.

    You are a hero.

  50. Jeff says:

    Joel, I’m glad you’re okay. And I’m glad that a couple of people on the train intervened. This story really angers me – I can’t believe that this kind of thing happens in New York.

  51. bitchphd says:

    Good for you, you defiant smartass.

    And shame on the people on the subway who didn’t stand up for you.

  52. kiran says:

    wow

    Thanks for posting this.

  53. Pete Ross says:

    As I personally have a thing for superheros…you are now up there with Superboy. Hugs from San Francisco.

    Pete

  54. Dafina Girl says:

    You are my hero.

  55. Lisa says:

    Dear Joel – Oh my God…. How horrible to have to deal with this- how amazing your actions. Be careful, but do not stop standing up for yourself. I also have a story about violence on the NYC subway. Mine was scary in another way – but I am so damn glad that you are OK. Thinking of you…

  56. Lavi Soloway says:

    WOW. Aren’t there cameras all over our subway systems that would make it easy for the police to at least have recorded your assailants as they left the train? You are a brave man and I echo the others in expressing my admiration.

  57. Betty says:

    I am so very sorry that this happened to you but think you are brave for standing up for yourself. ((HUGS))

  58. Coffeedog says:

    Holy shit! I applaud you for wanting to annoy them, they really deserved more than just being annoyed. Glad you are safe.

  59. Eric says:

    Its great that you stood up to them, but touching the man to annoy him was very stupid. It’s one thing to stand up for yourself and its another to antagonize. They could have definitely hurt you.

  60. Ian says:

    Joel – Fantatstic. You did what seemed right at the time. Homophobia and other prejudice is not to be tolerated. You are brave to stand up for your belief and your truth – we are equal and deserving of respect and common courtesy.

    Hoorah for you.

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