Guest Blogger

The Perils of Pink

Filed By Guest Blogger | June 30, 2010 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-gay harassment, gay bashing, homophobic behavior, park attendants, perils of pink, pink shorts

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Joe Saunders is Equality Florida's State Field Director. He lives in Orlando with Donald his partner of five years.

joe_saunders.jpgThis weekend was supposed to be fun. After a long two weeks at work, and an especially draining weekend working the Stonewall Street Festival in Ft. Lauderdale, I was ready to let go of the day-to-day stress and unplug. When a friend suggested we spend Sunday at a water park on International Drive I was excited. It was the perfect opportunity to pull out my newest purchase - a pair of pink surf shorts (circa 1970) cut to about mid-thigh and, in my opinion, fabulous.

We weren't at the park for more than twenty minutes before I noticed the stares. Having previously worn the suit to mostly gay spaces or with large groups at my side, I hadn't thought of it as particularly flashy or obscene. True, it was pink and short for boys trunks but it didn't come close to the risqué suits I've seen on South Florida's beaches or in Key West. Residents of Central Florida apparently disagreed.

In every line of every ride there were whispers. Men stared with sneers and girls pointed with snickers. Out of frustration, I muttered out loud, "What's the big deal? It's a bathing suit!" A good friend Becca replied succinctly, "You're wearing bright pink shorts. And you're a dude."

Later in the afternoon, while waiting in a packed line, my group had hit its stare-threshold. A group of girls directly behind us, Budweisers in hand, wondered out loud why a grown man would wear pink shorts. Becca traded words and my partner Donald traded stares until we resolved to ignore them and wait for our turn in line. The group, now joined by their boyfriends and a second round of beers, only got louder. My one moment of respite came when, to pass the time, our new colleagues began challenging one of their drunker friends to attempt a front flip. Barefoot. On concrete. The wobbly man tried, failed and managed to land on his face without breaking any bones or cracking his skull. He spent the rest of his time in line bleeding from a cracked nose and laughing with his friends about his "fail".

As we neared the front of the line the boys, like moths to a flame, zeroed in again on my offensive trunks. We communicated with slide attendants that we were feeling intimidated by this group and asked that we be allowed to go up first in order to put some distance between us and them. I guess this was just provoking enough. The group's ringleader looked straight at me, pointed his finger and screamed, "I'm going to kick your ass faggot!" before lunging forward in an attempt to jump the rope separating him from the stairs. His girlfriends held him back while he yelled more epithets at my group and me.

Park attendee's had the forethought to hold the line longer than usual, letting our would-be attackers up as we rode down the slide. They did not think, however, to remove them from the park. Dead set on correcting this error in judgment we hurried down the slide, scoped out the landing for our would-be attackers and rushed to the park's administrative office. Security for the park was quick to act and, thanks to some courageous hunting by Becca, found the drunken group near the center of the park.

As a species, we're programmed to have a number of psychological and physical reactions to the act of being threatened. Heart rates increase, eyes dilate and your body prepares for quick and decisive action. For some, like Becca and Donald, the experience connects you to the fight or flight instincts that kept our ancestors from going the way of the dinosaur. For others, like myself, we experience a dissonance between the physical manifestations of our fear and our higher consciousness's inability to except the circumstances we've been given. People don't really get attacked because they're wearing pink shorts. Do they?

If I had any lingering questions about our would-be attackers intentions, they were summarily answered when security approached our new "friends". A physical altercation escalated and one of their group, the one whose face was still bleeding from the ill-informed gymnastics, was physically removed, against his will, from the park.

It was a quiet ride back home. The group I was with began to process the experience in different ways. Shannon and her fiancé Justin congratulated us on getting our money back and forcing Security to walk us to our car (the group was reportedly lingering in the parking lot). Donald recalled the time he was jumped as a child by a group much like this one. I was the most quiet.

My cerebral dissonance continued through the night. First, I questioned my perceptions. Had I really seen the man lunge forward or were my eyes playing tricks on me? Had I imagined a simple yell into real danger? The park Security's encounter told me that this was unlikely. This group was capable of violence and willing to use it on forces more intimidating than me. I questioned the circumstances that made the day escalate. Should Becca have known better than to pick a fight with the girls in line? Did Becca and Donald provoke a stronger reaction by participating in the stare wars or muttering under their breaths? I still believe that standing up for your self is important and couldn't make that argument reasonable. Finally, I questioned myself. Should I have known better than to wear such a "gay" bathing suit to such a mainstream space? Here...I've gotten stuck.

Donald's asked me not to wear the suit again unless we're going to an overtly gay place. Every fiber of my activist being tells me to deny this request. To tell him that I am who I am. Then I remember the man's face as he pointed, yelled, and rushed that rope. I remember how quickly I looked around for a tool or object to defend myself with or for a quick exit off the tall winding staircase.

As I write this, I realize that my dissonance has evolved. No longer is it a disconnected emotional experience that puts my biological instincts in conflict with my ideas about which spaces are safe. It's now become a disconnect between what I want the world I live in to be and what it is. Do I really live in a world where a color and an inch or two of fabric are so challenging to the idea's of "masculine" or "normal" as to invoke violence? Must my safety supercede justice or authenticity?

A good friend reminds me that many in the LGBT community don't have the luxury of these questions. I have the privilege of folding my hot pink shorts up, placing them on the top shelf of my closet and coming back to my conundrum on my next beach day. For many in our community their difference is not so easily stowed away.

Already I can feel the fear from this weekend settling and dulling. Today will become tomorrow and this week will become next. I'll return to my electoral obsessions and my fundraising plans - swapping the details of this weekend with a collection of images and emotional memories. Eventually it'll grow into the anger and frustration that drives me as an activist. It'll sit in a place I rarely let myself visit and remind me of why we have to change the world. Maybe someday it'll even be funny. Until then I'll stow it away, like those shorts in my closet, and focus on what I know.

I know that I love who I am and I celebrate those who risk well being to be authentic. I know that there were people in that line that thought what was happening was wrong and wanted to say something, even if they didn't. I know that Donald and Becca acted with intelligence and courage when I couldn't and I know they would do it again.

I know that when things are wrong the only thing you can do is fight like hell to fix them. I know that's what I'll do. I know someday I'm going to put those pink shorts back on...even if it's not at a water park.


Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


friday jones | June 30, 2010 8:14 PM

Yes, some of us have pink shorts than can't be easily folded up and put away, and the ones who can put their pink shorts away often tell those of us who can't how embarrassing we are to them and how we are ruining "their" cause. I can tell you several stories that had similar scary physical intimidation, and in my case the perpetrators were members of the classical "Gay & Lesbian Community."

Don't lose your shorts over it.

They were assholes. Drunk assholes. The world is changing fast enough that I wouldn't have been surprised if other straight people came to your defense. People are beginning to understand - especially young people. Your shorts have contributed to an "education" for some who witnessed the event. Useful shorts. Keep them.

I completely relate to this. I often feel unsafe, particularly around men I don't know in social situations. God forbid one of them feels an attraction and later finds out I'm trans. I think about this every day. I say be safe and leave the pink shorts. It's not your job to educate the many drunken hooligans of the world with your blood.

Just a slight nuance, Jillian. Of course it's not anyone's job to "educate the many drunken hooligans of the world," but it is helpful to have the courage to be "out." But, caution is advised. Joe was with friends, in a public place and it was probably relatively "safe."

I admit your situation is a bigger challenge and difficult for me to completely understand, but sometimes we have to ask if we refrain from doing what we really want or being who we really are because of the "consequences," instead of dealing with those consequences. I am not making a suggestion, I am acknowledging the difficulty. I just think we have a better chance of fulfillment or even happiness when we have the courage to be ourselves. I know it's tough and even risky, but it is "action in the presence of fear" that really defines us.

janice josephine carney | July 1, 2010 11:42 AM

I have said it many times,It is all about gender exression. Most transgender people can not just fold there "Pink bathingsuit" and hide there trueselves in a closet.

SammySeattle | July 1, 2010 1:39 PM

Your story calls to mind experiences I had with my ex-boyfriend. My friends would say they couldn't believe I was with him because he's "so gay". They quickly shut up when I would say, "And that's why I love him." I still do and always will love him for his bravery in being a little fem boy even when it's inconvenient. There is nothing wrong with him, the only thing wrong are people's perceptions and reactions.

By the way, you rock those shorts!

Paige Listerud | July 1, 2010 2:26 PM

I've learned a few things about potentially violent groups. Do your best to ignore them and walk by strongly with your head held high. If you are accosted, put on your "game face" and look the asshole who accosted you dead in the eyes. Do NOT show fear. Sadly, you are dealing with animals and your vulnerability is an invitation to further violence.

Assess to the very best of your ability who is the ringleader of the group. Any further harassment, like "I'm gonna kick your faggot ass!" counter with a bellow of your own. Something like--"I've been waiting to rip the balls off a breeder! Come on, asshole, let's see what a teeny dick you got!" Practice at home if you have to. Learn how to deliver a deep, full-throated animal yell.

Packs of men, especially drunken men, are like wolves. They follow the ringleader. Take out the ringleader and the pack will leave you alone. So continue to lock eyes with the ringleader and continue to verbally harangue, insult, and debase him with all your might. Come up with the most humiliating, most biting, most degrading things to call him. Slice him to ribbons with your words--they are usually too stupid to issue an adequate rejoinder.

Call him a closet fag--studies have shown that they usually are. Tell him this in loud and certain terms in front of his group. Plant the seed of doubt in the group of men about their supposedly macho leader. TELL THEM THEIR LEADER IS A CLOSET FAG WHO NEEDS TO BEAT UP PROUD GAYS IN ORDER TO PROVE HIS MANHOOD. When all they can do is call you "faggot" over and over, then you know that you have won. They haven't got anything more to say because they are stupid, fucking breeders AND THEIR LEADER IS A FUCKING CLOSET CASE!

At a certain point, the ringleader will back down and say something in front of his group like, "It's not worth my while to kick your faggoty ass." Rejoin with, "Why don't you kick your own faggoty ass or have your own boys kick your faggoty ass, CLOSET FAGGOT." Continue to lock eyes and let him walk away.

I am a woman who is 5'3" and I know no other self-defense skills than these. I have never taken a full-scale self-defense course. So far, I have diffused quite a few bad situations with these tactics. I don't like using them--my mother raised me to be a lady and I really don't like getting all bitchy and animalistic. But, until security gets there, you have to stand your ground.

Always go into an altercation with a total commitment to defend yourself and use every means necessary. Be ready to be a crazy motherfucker if things proceed to physical violence--but I have found, usually, that if you can look crazy and say the most degrading things to your opponent LOUDLY so that his pack can hear every word you say, it will usually keep the monsters away. Of course, be sharp and always assess the situation with your very best judgement.

If a self-defense course would help you to feel and act more with more strength, then by all means, take it. Don't allow the bullies of this world to have the upper hand anymore. You have a right to go the beach and enjoy yourself. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO WEAR YOUR PINK SHORTS AND LOOK FABU! Sometimes you think a place is safe enough, but then the assholes who think they run the world show up. It's not your fault they are there. Just put them in their place and move on only to suit yourself.

I'm sorry this happened to you. My heart goes out to you and I wish these kinds of things never happened to anyone. But when they do, son, and there is no alternative, put your war game on and turn into Crazy Killer Faggot.

Paige Listerud | July 1, 2010 2:30 PM

I've learned a few things about potentially violent groups. Do your best to ignore them and walk by strongly with your head held high. If you are accosted, put on your "game face" and look the asshole who accosted you dead in the eyes. Do NOT show fear. Sadly, you are dealing with animals and your vulnerability is an invitation to further violence.

Assess to the very best of your ability who is the ringleader of the group. Any further harassment, like "I'm gonna kick your faggot ass!" counter with a bellow of your own. Something like--"I've been waiting to rip the balls off a breeder! Come on, asshole, let's see what a teeny dick you got!" Practice at home if you have to. Learn how to deliver a deep, full-throated animal yell.

Packs of men, especially drunken men, are like wolves. They follow the ringleader. Take out the ringleader and the pack will leave you alone. So continue to lock eyes with the ringleader and continue to verbally harangue, insult, and debase him with all your might. Come up with the most humiliating, most biting, most degrading things to call him. Slice him to ribbons with your words--they are usually too stupid to issue an adequate rejoinder.

Call him a closet fag--national studies have shown that THEY USUALLY ARE. Tell him this in loud and certain terms in front of his group. Plant the seed of doubt in the group of men about their supposedly macho leader. TELL THEM THEIR LEADER IS A CLOSET FAG WHO NEEDS TO BEAT UP PROUD GAYS IN ORDER TO PROVE HIS MANHOOD. When all they can do is call you "faggot" over and over, then you know that you have won. They haven't got anything more to say because they are stupid, fucking breeders AND THEIR LEADER IS A FUCKING CLOSET CASE!

At a certain point, the ringleader will back down and say something in front of his group like, "It's not worth my while to kick your faggoty ass." Rejoin with, "Why don't you kick your own faggoty ass or have your own boys kick your faggoty ass, CLOSET FAGGOT." Continue to lock eyes and let him walk away.

I am a woman who is 5'3" and I know no other self-defense skills than these. I have never taken a full-scale self-defense course. So far, I have diffused quite a few bad situations with these tactics. I don't like using them--my mother raised me to be a lady and I really don't like getting all bitchy and animalistic. But, until security gets there, you have to stand your ground.

Always go into an altercation with a total commitment to defend yourself and use every means necessary. Be ready to be a crazy motherfucker if things proceed to physical violence--but I have found, usually, that if you can look crazy and say the most degrading things to your opponent LOUDLY so that his pack can hear every word you say, it will usually keep the monsters away. Of course, be sharp and always assess the situation with your very best judgement.

If a self-defense course would help you to feel and act more with more strength, then by all means, take it. Don't allow the bullies of this world to have the upper hand anymore. You have a right to go the beach and enjoy yourself. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO WEAR YOUR PINK SHORTS AND LOOK FABU! Sometimes you think a place is safe enough, but then the assholes who think they run the world show up. It's not your fault they are there. Just put them in their place and move on only to suit yourself.

I'm sorry this happened to you. My heart goes out to you and I wish these kinds of things never happened to anyone. But when they do, son, and there is no alternative, put your war game on and turn into Crazy Killer Faggot.

dharmapupil | July 2, 2010 7:23 AM

Hi, Paige,
I think that may work for a woman, who most breeders will not see as a direct threat to their physical hegemony but as a potential mate ~shudder~. But if you are a guy -roughly the same size as the antagonist- you become a threat to his position against whom he may 'justifiably' defend himself with violence. Sadly, violence is a 'go-to' for guys more than we guys may like to think. (I think it's a genetic defect from the "Y" chromosome)
That said, if I'm ever in such a sitch, I'd LOVE to have you get my back!

Andrew....the bigger difference to violence between Joe and his friends is alot different than Jillian had mentioned that she fears and I share her fears also. Many Transwomen experience much more heinous and severe violence and alot of it at the hands of men. Need I throw out a few names Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata and in the case of a Transman Brandon Teena that all face heinous deaths. A lot of men will try to use the defense that they were deceived or tricked. Thats why it is not extremely easy for Trans individuals to have meaningful relationships. Because of these type of situations

I agree. I didn't mean to imply that Jillian's (or any Trans) situation is easier. In fact, I don't think they are even comparable to Joe's pink shorts. I simply responded to her advice that Joe "lose the shorts."

I've never quite understood why men's swimwear gets bigger and longer and women's have become pretty much just three strategic napkins. What do these guys think they're hiding? :-)

SammySeattle | July 1, 2010 8:36 PM

They're hiding their insecurities, and not very well.

Joe, thank you for sharing. I hope that you continue to rock your pink swim trunks. I also hope that you and your friends continue to process this situation and come to terms with it, learn from it, and use it to fuel your fire.

I'm so fed up with our culture that not only encourages judgment of complete strangers, but expects it. There isn't much "mind[ing] your own business" anymore, it seems. Or maybe it's been that way all along and I just am now seeing it. Those people didn't even know your first name, and yet felt entitled to make comments and judge you as a person for the color of your swim trunks? It's fucked up.