And when that float comes by, people will cheer. It’s a very popular organization. People like popular things.
I do not feel particularly popular this year.
He’s a very active member of a very active organization that has always mustered a float, going back to the days before every company with a slack-jawed intern’s ability to Photoshop a rainbow onto promotional materials had a float. I assume he will be up the night before putting some sort of tissue paper rainbows on the float because of course rainbows.*
*No one will be able to figure out it’s a float of gays without the agreed-upon signifier. People love agreed-upon signifiers as they are scalable all the way from billboards down keychains down to Pride-themed quarks…“Take this fun quiz to find out if you’re a Top Quark or a Bottom Quark. Then alter your fundamental quantum architecture to show them ‘Love is Love.’”
But I digress. Let me. Let. Me. Digressing is the only way to keep him out of my head now that I’ve confronted him.
He is everywhere.
The actual incident took place over two years ago, but I had compartmentalized it away. I was busy walling off this particular anchorite even as I was calculating how much friction* was needed on my part to get this the hell over with.
*There has to be a happy medium friction. Not too enthusiastic. That would get it over with, but you need to demonstrate to him that you really, really wish had not chosen this current path that is fucking up your life even as it happens. Not enthusiastic enough, and it may never end.
When you’ve been reduced to mere provider of friction, you’re free to leave your body and wander your mind. You look for an empty chamber in which you can brick up all the emotions attached to whatever hell your body’s going thru. It’s called dissociating. It’s neither fun nor not-fun; that’s the point of it.
So, I walled off what he did; we remained friends; I met new people thru him. I actually had people to stand next to in gay bars. That’s pretty good for me as I am wondrously horrible at small talk. But, I have not been intimate with ANYONE in Ohio since. I am increasingly scared to be alone with people. I let other relationships, ones without sexual assaults wither. I wasn’t worth it.
The physical pain from being scared and clenched all the time sucked, too.
And the panic attacks. Don’t forget the panic attacks.
I had to confront. I had to let him know what he did to me. After getting triggered by particularly lame pass at a May 4th BBQ from a dude in a sad, confusing hat, I spent the next three weeks consumed with the notion that he thought everything was okay. I yelled at a lot of things and and a lot of people.
So, I wrote him a succinct note. Short declarative sentences. The biggest word was “compartmentalize.” I never used “sorry.” And, if you’ve ever spent five minutes with me, you know that’s a big fucking deal.
So, that’s that. Right? I mean, they released the Mueller Report, and the next day we got a functioning democracy back again, right? And my succinct note actually took longer to come into the world.
Everything is now great!
When you stop compartmentalizing something, the shit-covered anchorite you got in there runs amok. It smears the walls and tries the locks on other cells. Some of those open, and those shit-covered anchorites get to rampage, too.
His stupid face is everywhere, even in places it’s not. Week before last, I thought if I went to DC to twirl thru some museums, I could escape him. Lose myself in the loose structure of sightseeing. And, at times, it worked. It’s hard to be think of anything but the Hope Diamond when you’re looking at the Hope Diamond. I saw the moment when two 70 year old women discovered that LL Cool J stands for Ladies Love Cool James.
*Then they both tittered, blushed a little, and seemed to get lost in the giant hands Kehinde Wiley had given him (or he actually has; in that case… Damn!). Of course, this was all done in hushed tones, because Mr. Cool James was hanging in the same room as Amy Sherald’s rapidly iconic Michelle Obama. Michelle and LL were brooking no nonsense.
But those moments were fleeting. I couldn’t escape WHY I had driven three hundred miles thru the mountains. I didn’t want to go to DC; I wanted out of Columbus. I did not want to see him, did not want to think of him. So, of course, that’s all I did. I was miserable. I had panic attacks each time I tried to go out at night.
And now this weekend…
They will be parading him thru the streets of Columbus like some golden calf of non-consent. Over half a million folks —the biggest Pride in the Midwest (and West Virginia) —will cheer and smile when the float goes by, and he will smile back. In that moment, his smile and the crowd’s smiles will all be the same to me. I won’t be able to discern whether they mean happiness or threat. The worst shit comes with a smile.
I cannot forget that smile. It’s a smile that in an instant went from a sign of camaraderie and affinity to one of menace and uncertainty. He never stopped smiling, like steamrolling over my withholding of consent was just a fun game. I wasn’t attacked at knifepoint in a dark alley by some right-wing closet-case unfortunate —it happened on a pleasant afternoon, for the most part in my kitchen. After a bit of pleasant chit-chat.
And now I’m supposed to go out and make small talk? I rather stroll thru the parking lot of a dead mall in a dying suburb with glowing fifty-dollar bills stapled to my naked supple man-flesh. At least then I could reasonable be prepared for what happens.
Small talk is now a primary assault vector as far as I’m concerned.
I am overwhelmed by this new variable. I know in my logical brain, when I slow things down, that a smile and some banter are still just as innocuous as they always were. But are they? Were they ever?
What am I supposed to do when the float comes by?
I could stand up on a trash can, point, and go all Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasions of the Body Snatchers.
The crowd will hush, turn to me, and I will clear my throat. My voice will not waver or go into that octave that only the astronauts can hear. In my best police procedural prosecutorial tone, I will calmly, forcefully lay out why they shouldn’t fucking be smiling at him.
They will stop smiling. Someone will suggest harming the guy, teaching him a lesson. No, I will say, let this be a teaching moment, but for everyone. I will make a sweeping hand gesture. I will urge them to examine their own actions.
How have they contributed to an LGBT community that in many, many ways valorizes toxic power bullshit?*
*For examples of toxic power bullshit, look at the flyers to your next club “night.”
How often have they laughed off assault as just something that happens? Just something you’re asking for by walking into a bar?
Have they ignored someone’s NO, treated it as the starting point of a zero-sum game?
Everyone will be quiet for a moment. A few will weep, but then smiles all around. Folks will hug (only if they want to), happy the air has cleared. The parade will continue, just a little more chill and respectful. They will make me King Gay.
OR… I will fly up like the pissed-off chupacabra I am, and I will rip out his carotid artery with my teeth or beak or whatever chupacabras have. Then I will shake it around like a chew toy, howl, and dive into the Scioto. Everyone will know my righteous anger.
BUT… I will shrink. My anger and shame and confusion and loneliness will register with no one. The “community” that Pride supposedly offers is not for me this year. I cannot compete with tissue paper rainbows and FUN. I will disappear into a Mobius of blaming myself while knowing that I did nothing wrong. And he will be on a float. I can’t square that. I shouldn’t have to.
Wait, you say… You’re always going on about how you hate “corporate Pride.” And you hate crowds. Like you’re going anywhere near 500,000 people all milling about and bumping into each other. So, you’re not even planning on going… What gives? Why are you buying trouble?
Because, I want to be able to avoid the Pride parade on my own terms. I don’t want to have to avoid it because I’m scared to see his stupid, stupid face. Or remember his stupid, stupid bad touch.
I want to avoid it because I don’t like it. Now, if I don’t go, it’s a personal defeat, not me being too cool for school. I don’t have much. So, if you take away my ironic detachment, you’ve really hobbled me as an individual.
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend. I know I’m not supposed to hide. He’s certainly not going to. He’s popular; people want to see him. I’ve spent over two years shrinking away out of shame; no one will miss me. Pride is for winners.
Geez, I can’t let that be my new narrative. It can’t be dictated by a guy who thought I was a person until he didn’t want me to be one anymore.
But what am I supposed to do? Go, mill about, and hope that I “understand” peoples’ smiles?
I’m really stuck.