*TRIGGER WARNING: mild homophobic abuse*
Something unusual happened to me last week. I had travelled into the town centre for an appointment, and then discovered that it had been cancelled. I was just sitting on a bench contemplating having to go straight home again, when I noticed a man slumped on the bench adjacent to the one I was sitting on.
I was just wondering whether it would be safe to approach him to see if he was all right (the problem with being a small, disabled woman on my own) when a man appeared and gently shook his shoulder: “Are you all right, mate?” The unconscious man whimpered a little, clenching and unclenching his fists. The man who had approached him looked at me. I took the initiative: “Shall I call an ambulance?” He nodded.
The upshot of all this was that, instead of going straight home, I ended up sitting with this poor gentleman waiting for an ambulance to arrive. At first, he was only whimpering, but after about ten minutes he started trying to sit up, despite my protestations, and eventually he did sit up and opened his eyes. It turned out he’d had an epileptic fit (in fact, he kept coming in and out of a fitting state for the whole time I was with him).
The point of this blog post is not to blow my own trumpet: look at me, the lovely woman who sat with a poorly man and waited for an ambulance. I actually did something rather stupid at one point, and this is what I am writing about.
As any of you who have read this blog before will know, I am very open about my sexuality and the fact that I am happily married to a woman. I tell everyone, coming out sometimes several times a day depending on what I’m doing.
Whilst I was sitting with this man (who I’ll call “P”), we naturally got into a conversation, although he was very confused, so it wasn’t a proper one. But, inevitably, he asked the question: “Do you have a boyfriend?” I could have just said “no”, but that’s not me. So, I said: “No, I don’t have a boyfriend. I’m married to another woman.” His response was quick as a flash: “Are you a f***ing poof?” with a sneer. My heart sank. Oh crap, I thought, have I just put myself in danger? He was very uncoordinated following his fit, but I reckoned he could still have punched me if he wanted to. What should I do/say next?
Then I remembered Rain Dove. Rain is a non-binary model and actress who I greatly admire and have followed on Instagram and Facebook for several years. They have a novel and extraordinary way of dealing with their trolls, of which they have many, and regularly post screenshots of their “chats” with their trolls on social media. I have been inspired by how, using straight talking and humour, they have often been able to diffuse horrible, abusive conversations, and sometimes change the troll into a follower. Their mantra is “Educate don’t hate”, which can have many meanings, but which to me means “stand up for yourself, be calm and see if you can change their mind about you”.
Here was an opportunity to put this into practice and see if I could make it work, albeit in a potentially dangerous situation. I looked P straight in the eyes and said, calmly: “Yes, I am. But that is not a nice way to refer to me.”
And then, something amazing happened. He started back a little, his eyes widened in surprise, and he said: “Oh, I’m sorry darlin’, I didn’t mean to upset you!” I breathed a sigh of relief. Incredibly, it had worked. By being calm and standing up for myself, I had diffused something which could have ended very badly. I am, of course, aware that it could have gone the other way, but I really hope it was my calm tone and clear and concise language which caused him to change his view, even if it was just about me. We ended up talking about how Dee and I met!
I’m not saying that this would work in every situation. I don’t believe P is a violent man, and I think the most likely thing to have happened would have been a tirade of homophobic abuse ending with him telling me to “f*** off” (something he was doing to anyone else who approached us anyway). But I’m really glad that I stood up for myself and the life I live.
If I had backtracked or capitulated it would have been completely understandable, given that I was a small, disabled woman on my own and pretty defenseless. But it would also have felt like I am ashamed of who I am and who I love. It would have felt like I’d given in to the haters and been what one lesbian friend once called “an instrument of my own oppression”.
It’s about time wider society accepted that we are here, we’re Queer, and we’re not going away.
[Disclaimer: If you are an LGBT+ person and you are ever in a situation like this, or worse, please think about your personal safety first. I was in a crowded high street in the middle of the day. Read the situation carefully and please don’t put yourself in danger.]