“I don’t think you’re gonna want to see this,” my boyfriend said. He handed me his phone. I looked and saw a picture we had taken earlier that day. I could see us kissing in the photo, you know, as most couples do. However, for us, these actions can sometimes have different consequences.
Okay, wow, cute, I thought to myself as I admired our fearlessness. Fearless in kissing one another in front of strangers. Fearless in never straying from our unapologetic selves, no matter what. Though it may not seem very courageous, these acts prove different for us. When two proud, gay men kiss in public, they risk upsetting others around them.
Earlier that day, we had attended a campus-wide end of the year block party—one that practically every student goes to. Students flooded the streets by the hundreds, with two goals in mind: drinking and having a good time. My friends from home came to visit and met my boyfriend for the first time. Nothing short of spectacular, our day flew by.
Every year, I look forward to this event. However, looking back at it today, I tell this year’s story a little differently. This special day spent with some of my best friends turned into one with a stark awakening, reminding me that not everyone supports my unique way of life. It will replay differently in my mind because of that one picture.
The photo that will haunt me forever.
My admiration turned dark as I noticed two women in the background of the picture. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Standing behind my boyfriend and I, they stared at us with vile, disgusted looks on their faces. Their sickened faces looked as if they had seen a rotting corpse or someone committing a crime. The hate was so evident that I could feel it pulling at my being, weakening my every move. I didn’t even know someone could make a face like that, let alone direct it at me.
Why did they make those faces, I wondered. Then the answer jumped out at me: Two men kissed in front of them. I did what dozens of couples had done that day. However, by expressing affection to someone of the same gender, I disgusted them.
Ladies, in 2019, we need to grow up.
Your hate rubs off on others, and it looks awful on you. Vulnerable people suffer their whole lives because of hate like yours. People choose self-harm over happiness and remain closeted their entire life because of people like you.
My blood boiled the longer I stared at their hateful eyes. I felt hurt. I felt upset. I felt misunderstood. I even felt embarrassed, though I knew I shouldn’t have. Tears formed in my eyes as I looked up to my boyfriend. “This is the face people make when they see us in public. This face right here,” I said. We sighed together.
I’m usually pretty good at lettings things like this go. I’ve learned to ignore the looks of disapproval, the disrespectful mocking and the comments from strangers on the street. But these women didn’t know they hurt me. I wanted them to know. I wanted them to see their disgusting, hateful faces. Perhaps by seeing their reaction, they would feel the same sense of shame unwillingly forced upon people like me.
I am no stranger to the face of hate. I grew up in a small, conservative town in Wisconsin. Most people looked the same, acted the same and thought the same. The most daring of all flourished in their individuality, and I envied them. Growing up, I hid my identity from others. The fear of disapproval outweighed my quest for happiness.
I found that people accept others for themselves in college. Well, I should say most people. In college, I feel safest to be unabashedly myself—love who I want to love, wear what I want to wear, become who I’m destined to become.
People like these women make me question whether or not to keep trying. I battle to remain sane every day. Some days are better than others, but I battle nonetheless. Hate like this causes dark thoughts and self-criticism. I even question my worth and relationships. I wish they understood the impact of their words. My boyfriend wiped the tear from my cheek.
“I’m sorry people suck. At least we have each other,” he said. His words comforted me like a blanket in this cold world. I thought about those women for the next two weeks. I found myself going back and looking at their faces. Maybe because it reassured me that I am a good person despite their hate. Their faces made them bad people, people I refuse to associate with.
These women had absolutely no idea that they stomped around my brain. I shared the photo on a private account, open only to my closest friends. There, I found so much support from allies. My friends encouraged me to expose their hate on my public account, but I feared the backlash. As much as I wanted people to know their face of hate, I worried about how it would affect their lives.
I even took to Photoshop and doodled on their faces, completing their nasty look with drawn-on devil horns and pitchforks. I wanted to post it. But it felt wrong stooping to their level. I still haven’t exposed the women. I don’t think I ever will. Exposing them would create bigger issues.
When it comes to hate, I try and act like the bigger person even when I don’t want to. And believe me, I did not want to at this moment. But everyone lives a different life. And in mine, I’ve learned that fighting fire with fire never ends well.
I do what most in my community do, and continue to take life one day at a time. I strive to outrun hate. But I know I won’t always run fast enough. I fear encountering someone who doesn’t appreciate my life. And I fear some interactions with strangers. Most of all, I fear disapproval. But now I know for a fact that I do not fear these women. Because one day, they will fear themselves.
Today I feel limitless, undefined by any box or label and free to live, love and express myself. I’m proud of the process, the struggle and the fight. And most importantly, I’m grateful for the beauty that comes from a painful history.