men, masculinities and gender politics

Authors

Just a few days ago, I was attacked

 “You fuckin faggot! You fuckin faggot!”

I was standing with my bicycle on the corner of Rainier and Martin Luther King Jr. blvd., waiting for an open spot in traffic. Usually, I ride on the other side of the street, exchanging words with the Nation of Islam guys selling bean pies, papers and incense. Today I decided to try something new.

“You fuckin faggot!” these guys yelled menacingly from their car as they pelted me with a baseball and some eggs. The attack was so sudden and over so fast that by the time I figured out what happened, they were gone.

I dissociated when I was hit. I could feel the stinging sensations of being struck both physically and verbally, but didn’t move, blink or say anything — I might as well have been a statue. Afterward, I continued doing exactly as I was doing before the attack and didn’t acknowledge what had happened. This isn’t the first time I’ve been queer bashed.

I rode for three blocks, before I felt my wounds and noticed the sticky trail of raw egg on my back. I felt really embarrassed — actually, totally humiliated.

I rode the rest of the way home and took a shower; washed my clothes and called a friend for support. Now I was starting to process. My mind raced back and forth between admitting that I had been assaulted and dealing with my feelings, to nursing my own internalized homophobia by rationalizing my assailants behavior and giving myself no space to heal.

Coincidentally, I’m reading a book written by Eliana Gil called “Outgrowing the pain: A book for and about adults abused as children.” It’s a great book that talks about many aspects of healing from abuse, and although its focus is on adults who were abused as children, the proposed methods of healing from traumatic incidents are universal.

Gil says, “It’s very important for you to understand that all types of abuse are important on an individual basis. The crucial aspect of the abuse is not what occurred, but what impact it had on you, how you explained it to yourself and others and how it affected your life.”

This advice has been crucial for me right now because I’ve been spending a lot of thinking being attacked. What could I have done differently? What are the larger political and social contexts of queer bashing in general and this incident in particular? Who’s to blame? What are the causes, uses and effects of violence? I spent so much time thinking about what happened that I kept getting ungrounded and stopped paying attention to how it all felt.

I’m spending a lot of time right now trying to figure out how this assault affected me — trying to figure out how I’m explaining it to myself. When I got hit I acted like stone. I didn’t want those guys to see the whirlwind of emotions raging inside me. In the safety of my home I could feel my anger rise. It brought me back to a time when I was younger and being abused. All of the past assaults on my selfhood rose up in me and I felt a culmination of everything that ever took power over me. I remembered teachers holding me down and cutting my hair for being to feminine; white people using anti-Arab racism against me; people who had power in my life being emotionally abusive; being physically assaulted over and over in my youth.

Over the next couple days I raced a mental Indy 500. From calculated complex analysis to fear, sadness and anger, I became a contradiction. I wanted to take care of myself and be a martyr at the same time.

I kept telling myself that I was glad it happened to me instead of anyone else because I had a good political analysis of power and oppression. I kept telling myself to stop rationalizing, minimizing and denying the powerful impact this experience had on me.

Fortunately, my attackers could not take my power because it is in my emotions — I was now expressing that. I was feeling a peak in my anger and a depth in my despair. For the next couple days I was connected to the ways in which the world seems unsafe. I was connected to the pain of being assaulted. I was healing.

As a boy I was taught to hold still and concentrate when being assailed. I was taught that the less power you give to others, the less they can take from you. I wasn’t taught, however, that power over others isn’t the only kind of power. And I wasn’t taught healthy ways to deal with the pain of the world.

If I were John Wayne or Superman, I could have won again. I could have pulled out my gun or super strength and used it to show that I have power over my attackers — in all situations.

As a mere man dealing with this experience, I held still while under attack. I didn’t validate my assailants by confirmation that what they were doing had any affect on me. I acted strongly from the lessons of my childhood. What was different this time, however, was what I did afterwards.

I let the experience sink into me and let my feelings come out. I didn’t follow my childhood lessons of squelching the pain. I didn’t pretend to be John Wayne or Superman. I didn’t try to come across as a winner and I worked hard at not using my socialization to try and one up my attackers.

This queer bashing incident has been a humbling and growth-filled experience for me. As a man involved with anti-sexist activism for 6 years now, I was able to challenge myself to be grounded. I used the skills I have learned from feminism to create a safe and healing space for myself; and to connect with myself holisticly.

I was learning to be real. I was learning to heal.

[Reprinted with permission from On the road to healing: A booklet for men against sexism, issue #1. Contact: PO box 84171, Seattle WA 98124, USA. http://www.pscap.org]