Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Sudden awareness

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | August 06, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, The Movement
Tags: bashing, Charles Socarides, Georgetown, Georgetown University, jocks, mothers, solidarity, straight people

I'm thinking about the last time I was in DC, my mother and I went to this Chinese restaurant in Georgetown that I guess must have said online that it had lots of vegan or vegetarian specialties or something and it was downstairs and kind of glamorous in that renovated-in-the-'70s but untouched since then sort of way. I ordered big plates of steamed vegetables because I was worried about restaurant oil ruining my digestion for days like it often does.

Afterwards, we were standing outside and my mother acted all nervous about the guys coming out of this bar a few doors down, actually she was nervous beforehand too -- she didn't want me to get out of the car right away. Just your standard drunk white jocks that are all over Georgetown, I wasn't really sure what my mother was nervous about. She said I don't like the way they look; she didn't want me to walk down the street alone, and I realized actually she was worried about me I said listen I deal with this all the time.

She insisted on waiting for me to get a cab I thought it was kind of funny, I mean at 61 it was a bit late for her to have some sudden awareness about structural homophobia, especially considering that when I came out to her 15 years before she wanted me to see a therapist so I could change things, she knew just the one who would be the best choice, Charles Socarides the specialist in conversion therapy with the gay son, she didn't know about that son though.

Then, when I got bashed just blocks from this restaurant, 1993 I was making out with my boyfriend, no wait he wasn't my boyfriend yet we'd just met but this was one of the things that would make us closer. I mean when he took care of me. Two jocks came up said what are you doing I said kissing and went back to it. Then something into my eyes just pain directly into my eyes right outside the 24-hour restaurant where I used to go in high school, inside throwing water into my eyes that's where I saw the red I thought paint, they said take this outside. Cabs wouldn't stop but finally we got to the Georgetown University Hospital where they pumped saline directly into my eyes they said it was lucky I came soon otherwise I might have lost my vision.

Anyway, the next day after all that, the next day my mother said I wish you wouldn't be so overt.

It's funny the things people notice when they walk around with me and the attention I get, I mean I'm used to it -- positive and negative I'm still good at engaging, sometimes people I'm with notice things that don't even phase me or things I barely register or I notice things they don't notice but anyway sometimes it's confusing. Maybe that's what was happening with my mother, I actually didn't make the connection with the bashing just blocks away until now and I wonder if that's what she was thinking.

The irony is that there's a way in which an older person passing as straight, walking with a younger person flamingly queer, can actually make the queer person safer from bashers who don't want to thwart convention so brazenly. Kill the queer, sure, but her mother? I'm thinking about this right now, not because I felt in danger on that night in Georgetown, and certainly not because my mother made me feel safer, since that's something she's refused to do over and over. It only served her to get all panicky all the sudden, worried about my safety from drunk white jocks in Georgetown or black people along 14th Street it was only some way to shift attention away from her own violence, starting shortly after my birth and continuing into the present. I'm worried about you really means: help me to feel better about myself. Help me.

But to take this away from my mother for a moment, I'm wondering about this strategy of older straight people walking with queers to make us safer, not as a coincidence but as a conscious effort of intergenerational support. Of course this goes beyond walking to actually engaging to stop homophobic attacks, an engagement from straight people that I've never witnessed. And yet in some ways it would be so easy for them, barely even a risk in some places. Like my mother walking me to the corner, I mean not in this case when I didn't even request it, when it was just silly and self-centered, but what if she was just a random person walking down the street and someone said faggot I'm going to kill you and she turned and said: that's my son! I know it's not quite the image of homos bash back or even gay safety patrols, yet nonetheless I wonder about the possibilities of this type of solidarity.


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Wonderful idea, Mattilda. While I realize that older Christians are always shown as your typical Evangelical Christian, I tend to hope that there are more Good Samaritans. Intervention by an elder claiming kinship would almost inevitably make an attacker pause for a moment. I don't know that it would go much past that though - and unfortunately there's a good chance of the intervener being hurt.

I wonder -- I think homophobic attacks often thrive because there's this assumed complicity among all (straight) people involved and not involved, and I think many bashers would have no problem beating up the queers but random grandparents? Who knows...

It is strange how people react to mixes of types.