“You guys look like faggots,” I heard someone say in the general direction of where I was standing with a friend. Not a standard greeting, to say the least.
This comment confused me. Surely it must be a joke – a bad joke. But I’m not in danger. After all, this is Montreal, a progressive city where I feel safe and confident that people aren’t attacked based on their sexual orientation.
I looked up to see who was trying to get my attention. Standing before us is a tall, sturdily-built man, wearing clothes the same way a pile of laundry would. Flanking him were three other men, a few years older than my friend and I, with smirks reminiscent of junior-high bullies.
It seemed it was not a joke, or at least not one my friend and I were allowed to laugh at. These four men were quite serious. They had identified us as gay, and they were not okay with that.
I felt uneasy, but confident nothing would happen. In addition to being in Montreal, we also happened to be on St. Laurent just above Prince-Arthur, at 3:10 a.m. on a Friday night – a time when there could not be more people around.
I opted to respond to the comment with an exaggerated roll of my eyes, not something antagonistic but still ambiguously defiant. Hopefully they’d ease off. Hopefully they’d leave us alone.
“Hey, man, don’t suck my dick, okay? I’m not gay,” one of the men said. Feeling genuinely offended that this guy would reduce my existence to oral sex – like, as if that’s all I do with my spare time – I responded, “No thanks, I don’t want it.” Which, ironically, was not what they wanted to hear.
I could feel the tension rising. The four men surrounded me. “How about I kick you in the shins?” they asked me.
How does one answer a threat like this? “Uh, no thanks?” “Maybe tomorrow?” I decided on a healthy “Fuck off.”
And with that came the first punch – straight to the nose. I barely had time to realize what was happening when a second strike hit the side of my temple. Several more punches followed, all while I kept shouting a steady pulse of “fuck off”s and “get the fuck away from me”s.
I could not believe what was happening. Not this. Not here. I knew striking back would make the situation much worse, as they outnumbered me four to one. So I put my faith in the citizens of this city. If I could not rely on the decency of these vagrants, at least I would expect a good Samaritan to intervene. Luckily, this was the case, and although she was not as burly as I would have liked, a young woman came to my defence and with persistance persuaded the assailants to leave me alone.
I was thankful this person came by, and I turned to her, if only to find comfort in a pair of sympathetic eyes. She looked at me, and in a pathetic act of consolation, motioned in the direction of the assailants and said, “Don’t worry, those guys are just faggots.”
Total shock. If I wasn’t upset already at the attack, the girl’s response floored me. Are you for real? My saviour was a fraud, just as hurtful as my attackers.
I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed more fights than have fought myself. In fact, the last person to punch me in the face was my best friend, in the grade nine, after we disagreed on the distribution of some candies. I can safely say, however, that getting punched in the face totally sucks. On top of this, getting punched in the face by people you don’t know, for reasons you do not understand, has to be one of the most infuriating experiences ever.
It took me a long time to compose myself. I was furious. I refused police intervention, medical attention, and even consolation from friends. I thought I was fine. I thought I could just shake it off. In hindsight, I wish I had realized that, yes, that’s blood coming out of your nose. Yes, that’s a piece of your tooth you just spat out. No, you are not okay.
I won’t go into the details of what happened afterward, but suffice it to say, I was able to find my way home with the invaluable help of caring friends.
Two weeks later, the event still affects me. I’m left with the aftershock, a buzzing, uncontrollable, psychological tremor. It’s as if someone has infiltrated my mind, cracked the code to my ego, and fiddled with all the knobs, wires, and switches. I have yet to feel the same comfort I once did walking down the street at night; my heart pounds uncontrollably and my neck is pulled and twisted by an invisible string, constantly scanning the street behind me for any possible danger. Sleep has become a luxury. I’ve spent many early morning hours replaying the event in my head, considering different outcomes, each time triggering a stress response.
It’s incredibly painful to know that some people carry around these views and act on them in despicable ways. I feel betrayed – betrayed by a city I once thought was progressive. One in which I thought I, and everyone else, was free to pursue whatever makes us happy as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. Furthermore, it happened in a place I’ve been countless times. A place where I should not, by any means, feel threatened.
Since then, I’ve asked myself if I should start taking precautionary measures to avoid these types of altercations. Should I not wear tight pants? Should I not outwardly identify as a gay male? Should I avoid streets populated by belligerent assholes? Should I submit to the external pressures pushed on me by these hooligans? The answer to these questions has come surprisingly easily.
Fuck those guys. Fuck their views on life. Fuck the way they express themselves. I do not have a problem. I am not at fault. I will continue to eat my pizza and wear the tightest pants I fucking want.