A client gave Justin a Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote for his thirtieth birthday. It’s big and covered with the brands trademark logo. When I saw it for the first time I blurted out “what in gay hell” before I could help myself. Being a consumer that abhors logos, and one who shies away from being gay-bashed, I immediately feared for his safety. My mind raced with visuals of Justin being jumped at the Piggly Wiggly-just for carrying a giant purse.
“I don’t care what anybody says!” He replied, “I think it’s fabulous.” And off he went, Neverfull in the crook of his elbow.
In the months that followed, there were odd glances and awkward stares, but no acts of violence. In fact, if anyone said anything, it was praise for the prized tote finished off with wistful glances. Shockingly, I began to covet the usefulness of his tote. Having been a fan of messenger bags for over a decade, I decided I could make the jump to a giant tote. And so, on a random Saturday afternoon, I found a Cynthia Rowley in a similar style to Justin’s Louis-a steal at $900 less- and set out to join him as one of two purse toting queers in Jackson.
Now, it’s been years since I’ve experienced an anti-gay slur tossed by a redneck or random asshole, and that usually only happens when we step outside the progressive bubble that is Fondren. But recently, right in the middle of my forward-thinking neighborhood, homophobia noticed Justin’s giant tote and decided to speak up.
As I pulled into a parking place and switched off the Watusi Wagon I noticed a group of teenage boys standing in front of us. Usually I pay little attention to kids, but a knot grew in my gut that I hadn’t felt for some time. “Here we go.” I thought to myself.
As we made to cross the street, one of the boys blurted out “faggots.” In that moment I might as well have been walking the halls of my small Delta academy. The embarrassment, shame and self-loathing sprung from my stomach, taking over my heart and mind, and left me with a desperate need to disappear. Justin, spun quickly, gave them the middle-finger and simply said “fuck you.” I, still wanting to vanish, kept walking.
What should have been a pleasant evening at Babalu with friends was transformed into one of those uncomfortable lunch breaks in the cafeteria back in junior high. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to think about what just happened. I didn’t want to feel like that chubby kid I’d left back in the Delta. But there I was.
“We were just called faggots by some teenage boys.” I said. I let it out like a confession. My friends were appalled, I was red-faced and soul sick. One of my friends slipped quietly from his seat and disappeared across the street. He, a gay man in his fifties that could pass for any of my father’s Delta friends, found the gang of pimply teens and gave them a tongue lashing that sent them scrambling for their mother’s mini-vans. Still, in spite of that, Justin and I went home licking our wounds. Of all places, right in the middle of our beloved Fondren. And who’s kids were they anyway?
That same weekend, in Texas, a gay man was attacked by his neighbor, beaten unconscious in a hate-filled rage. I suppose I should be grateful I got off easy, but I’m not. Ignorance and intolerance is all around. And, as we wait for a decision from our Supreme Court on marriage equality, I wonder if there isn’t something our legislators, City Council and Board of Education can do to prevent discrimination and hate crimes in our state.
That kid I left in the Delta, the one that wanted to crawl under the table in the cafeteria-and at Babalu- is not alone. LGBT youth are belittled and harassed every day, and some don’t believe “it gets better.” What can we as a society do for them? Or, perhaps the better question is; What should we do for them? We are our brother’s keeper.