An Unspoken Force

Even as the world has changed, a fear of violence is still a constant in LGBT lives

by Sean Bugg
Published on August 26, 2010, 12:02am | Comments

Dropping a check in the mail this week was an unexpectedly stressful moment, not because it involved any major bill or purchase, but because it was a reservation for my upcoming 25th high school reunion.

Twenty-five years is a long time from my days of parachute pants, Camaros and Def Leppard T-shirts. Luckily, such a long time means that lots of things can change, especially the pants and the T-shirts. The Camaro thing, well, I'm from rural Kentucky so that's just in my blood.

What makes it a bit stressful isn't the implication of old age -- it's the uncertainty of returning to the scene of my past as a radically different person. True, no one is the same at 42 as they were at 17. But, like so many gays and lesbians who come out after leaving home, my high school persona was a meticulously maintained facade hiding the truth.

October will be the first time I've put myself back into a full group of my classmates as an openly gay guy. Although, this is no surprise to anyone back home in Kentucky -- it is a small town and gossip traveled far and fast even in pre-Internet days.

But the most unexpected stress came from my mother, who reacted to the news of my trip with that uniquely maternal tone of concern masquerading as coolness. It wasn't what she said, but what she didn't that spoke volumes -- silently but prominently lurking behind our conversation was her concern that something might happen.

Something, of course, meaning violence.

It's funny how that fear is so often the unspoken force in the backgrounds of our lives: Is this a safe place to go? Can we hold hands in this neighborhood? When someone yells ''faggot'' do we talk back or just keep walking?

I've been punched for being gay once -- I fought back. I've been called faggot countless times as I walked through the city -- I've kept walking. I consider myself pretty lucky, given that I have friends who've been brutally bashed, and I've published far too many stories about victims of vicious hate crimes.

It all makes me cautious -- even wary -- whenever I'm running around at night in a public area, even those places we often consider ''safe,'' because we know too well that for those looking to do harm, doing it in the neighborhoods we consider our own is a damage multiplier.

While it is disheartening to know that anti-gay violence continues even as acceptance of LGBT people has grown, it's also heartening to know that groups like GLOV continue to fight to help keep our community safe and to help us learn to be safer in our everyday lives.

Obviously, we can't let fear rule our every moment. We've achieved hard-fought gains in our society and we should never feel less than justified in enjoying them. But caution and wisdom aren't bad concepts to live by.

As for my mother's own concerns, I don't share them. I've spoken to many of my classmates in the past few years thanks to the reconnection machine that is Facebook, and I'm eager to see everyone face-to-face for the first time since 1985.

There's no reason for me to doubt that I can go home again.


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