You do it to yourself

posted 06 August 2004

You do, and that's what really hurts

Do I bring it on myself?

Tonight, Moz and I were coming home from Popstarz. We left a bit early, and the bus stop for the first of two night buses home was unusually crowded. Also unusually, there was a contingent of non-gay guys at the bus stop: four of them, wearing hoodies in 30 degree heat and shades in the night time and huge fake glass earrings. While waiting for the bus they were making loud boasts about somebody they were going to beat up for some unmentioned wrong. I thought: this is not going to be good. I was right.

Because the bus was late, the stop got even more crowded until there were more than a bus-load of people waiting to get on. As per my usual habit, I headed straight for the top deck of the bus -- I like to see where I'm going at night -- and looked for 2 empty seats, but the deck was almost entirely full already, so there were only singles. Our four friends -- call them the Hoodie Monsters -- had all taken a double-seat each and were leaning legs over their second seats to prevent people sitting next to them. Since all the seats behind me had now rapidly been taken, Moz and I attempted to take these seats. Moz had no trouble sitting down, but my Hoodie Monster, call him Grey, refused to move his leg, even after I politely asked him to. Annoyed, I took a final seat a few seats away further down. I was now even more worried: at some point, somebody was going to try to take Grey's second seat, and we were right next to the trouble.

The Hoodie Monsters now started to make "unkind" comments about gay people. I was unimpressed but kept quiet. Then three people I recognized from Popstarz got to the back of the bus where we were. One, amazingly, managed to sit next to grey -- possibly because he was a bit Goth, and London instincts not to fuck with Goths are strong, even amongst Hoodie Monsters. The second, a girl, politely asked her HM -- call him Shades -- to move his legs. He flatly refused, but having none of it, she sat on his legs. This continued for a minute until Moz's HM -- call him Red, and clearly the leader -- heckled Shades into moving his legs, which he did with extremely bad grace. This left the third Popstarzee standing.

At this point, the two people next to me -- I was sitting on the five-seater at the back of the bus -- decided they smelled trouble, and offered their seats to the two Popstarzees. They accepted, leaving only the Goth isolated at the front next to the clearly hostile Grey, and Goth had to talk across Shades in order to speak to his friends -- Shades, meanwhile, kept interrupting their conversation with rude comments.

Tired of this, and annoyed in the extreme by their hostility, I offered to switch seats with Goth -- this would let him sit next to his friends, and would sit me next to Moz, but also sit me in Grey's seat, which he had already refused me once. He gladly accepted, and Grey was initially too surprised to object as I greeted him with a calculatedly confrontational "Hello, darling". Like I say, I was really annoyed. I thought it was restrained of me not to be shouting at them for being arseholes.

Grey then got some heckling from the other Hoodie Monsters for having me sitting next to him. He was really unhappy about this, and actually kicked me out of my seat: literally turning in his chair and hammering at me physically until I fell off the bench. Flabbergasted, I yelled "what the FUCK?!" I asked him to move his leg -- not very politely -- and he refused. I threatened to sit on his leg, and he threatened violence if I did. At this stage, thankfully, Red intervened. He yelled at Shades for earlier not giving his seat up for a woman even though she asked nicely, and judged that Shades had forfeited his seat. Shades grudingly accepted this, and I set next to Shades, still fuming at Grey. The Popstarzees thanked me for my help, however.

The situation remained like this until we got to Tottenham Court Road, our stop, where we would have to get out and walk to the length of Charing Cross Road to our second night bus at Trafalgar Square. This turned out to be the Hoodie Monsters' stop as well. Seeing that we were getting off, however, Red declared that they would stay on for another stop, sealing his status as the sensible one in the group. Moz and I got to the steps of the bus. And then, still angry, I did something very silly. I shouted to the back of the bus "You think you're so cool with your hoodies in mid summer and your shades in the middle of the night".

Not a good idea, huh? Yeah. I wasn't even drunk. I'm crazy.

Enraged, Grey followed me off the bus, trailed by the rest of the HM's, Red entreating him to ignore me. I walked quickly ahead, round the corner and down Charing Cross Road to the entrance to Mean Fiddler, a gay-friendly nightclub, where I stood next to the entrance, conspicuously close to the security guards. I didn't want my ass kicked, and the HM's -- who were following -- I was hoping would walk on by. They did initially, but then doubled back and sidled next to me. Grey asked, in a hostile voice, what I'd said. The exchange went as follows:

Me: I didn't say anything
Grey: I heard you, what did you say?
Me: Okay, I did say something, but I'm sorry. I was pissed off.
Grey: Why were you pissed off?
Me: Because you didn't let me sit where I wanted to.
Grey: I told you you couldn't sit there.
Me: Who gave you the right to say I couldn't sit there?
Grey: I did. I gave myself the right.
Me: Well, I'm sorry, but you don't have that right.
At this point Red -- I wish I could shake his hand, now -- physically dragged Grey away, saying I had apologized and that was enough. Grey was not mollified, but eventually they went away.

The whole incident left me shocked and extremely angry. In the combined total of two years that I have lived in London, nothing remotely along those lines has occured before. And physical violence over a bus seat just because he didn't want a queer sitting next to him for ten minutes! How ridiculous!

So, you tell me: did I bring it on myself?

I respond very badly to physical violence. I absolutely detest being squeezed or even pushed. To be physically ejected from my seat for any reason would have enraged me, and I was already annoyed over all the homophobic comments they had been making about myself, Moz and the three other Popstarzees the entire time. And yes, shouting at them was an incredibly poorly advised move. But they clearly started it by being dicks about letting homos have bus seats (I'm sure Rosa Parks would find rich irony in blacks refusing to give up their seats for an oppressed minority group). I clearly brought the post-bus confrontation on myself.

But what about the initial situation? Should I have stood in the aisle, got off the bus, not offered to switch seats, tuned out the comments? I'm sure a lot of people might say so. But I don't see why I should allow a bunch of jerks to push me around and insult me and my friends just because they don't approve of who I am. I can think of few greater injustices.

A single incident in two years highlights what a rarity such behaviour is in London -- I am not exactly the most straight-acting, conservative dresser to be found. But it enrages me that it happened at all. What could I have done better? Should I have stood up for my rights more, punched him or kicked back? Should I report the kicking as a homophobic assault (It's a fairly clear-cut case, and the bus has CCTV cameras, something the HM's really should have borne in mind). Was it serious enough to justify doing that? Perhaps I should have just used the threat of reporting the crime, and the CCTV cameras, to back myself up when demanding a seat: that's certainly what I'll remember to do next time, should it ever happen again.

Recently a people on my gay geek site have been proclaiming Gay Pride as irrelevant. Until this sort of shit stops happening to anyone, ever, I will have to disagree. I will overcompensate for my sexuality until nobody cares any more that I do. My right to be myself shall not be infringed by some fucktard throwback with an inferiority complex looking for someone weaker to push around to compensate for his friends bossing him around all the time. To be really dreadfully trite, I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.

(And Grey Hoodie, you can totally bite me.)

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