By: Louie A. Ortíz-Fonseca
“Caminando, mirando una estrella.Walking, looking at a star
Caminando, oyendo una voz. Walking, listening to a voice
Caminando, siguiendo la huella, Walking, following a footstep
Caminando, que otro camino. Walking the path]that someone else walked
Caminando, buscando a la vida. Walking, searching for life
Caminando, buscando al amor. Walking, looking for love
Caminando, curando la herida, Walking, healing the wound
Caminando, que deja el dolor! Walking, to leave the pain behind”
– Rubén Blades
I still get nervous walking down streets alone. Or when I walk into a barbershop. Or while I am just fucking walking and minding my business. There is a part of me that still telling me to hold my breath and brace my spirit for the sound of the word “faggot.” Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be spoken. People can say it with their eyes. This is why I still hold my breath whenever I am walking.
I saw you and your friends as we crossed the street. My friends and I were coming from the opening rally of the Philly Trans* March. We were feeling inspired. We were also feeling angry that yet another black trans* woman had been murdered, this time in our city. We were walking with that weighing heavy on our minds and hearts.
You and your four friends glanced at us; all of you, black and brown, reminding me of my 13-year-old son. I could see the curiosity in your eyes. I could see the smirk creeping across your face as you noticed that one of us had on skinny jeans and two of us holding hands. I could feel the jokes formulating in your minds, sense the giggles about to burst from your lips. I saw it and I looked away hoping you would make a different decision.
As my friends and I chatted about the best way to meet up with the Trans* March, one of you shouted “Ewww you’re gay!” I am not sure whose lips spewed those words but I know exactly where the hell they landed. My first instinct was to go off but instead, I said aloud “Black and Brown lives matter. Right now, even in this moment.”
As we continued walking, we heard a voice shout “Which one of you is the guy?” Implying that one of us was less than a man because of who you assumed we were. We heard you laugh that laugh that communicated “Ha! Faggot!”
We kept walking. We nervously laughed it off. I was burning on the inside. I was trying to manage my anger. I was doing a great a job too – until you approached us, from behind, on your bikes. I was blind with rage and I let ya’ll know, loud and clear: “I dare y’all to say that shit to my face. I will smack your ass off of that damn bike. I dare you!”
Y’all looked taken aback, as if you were taught that harassing men like us was okay, maybe even the “normal” thing to do. But clearly you missed the lesson on our refusal to stay silent.
You surrounded us on your bikes. I was too enraged to even notice that we stumbled into a wedding party of white folks posing for photos. I approached y’all and shouted “Why would you wanna make someone feel bad on purpose? Why would you want to do that?”
You stood silent as if you were just now realizing that your words actually had power—the power to make grown-ups feels like shit. All of your faces reminded me of my son. All of your faces reminded me I was a father. The space fell silent. I stood still, quietly re-evaluating my approach. I knew then that a bridge was going to be built, however painful, and this bridge was going to get us BOTH across what felt like an endless divide.
“Keep it down. Can’t you see they are trying to take wedding photos? And why are you trying to make them [the teens] feel bad?”
You and your friends heard this uninformed, self-entitled scolding dished out from a white passerby as a permission slip. You felt, as the silence broke, suddenly empowered to call us faggots as you got back on your bikes and road away. The white woman kept shouting as she walked away, cheering you and your friends on.
You may not have noticed that an entire wedding party of white people was not only laughing at ALL OF US but also filming and snapchatting the scene as we stood there, utterly horrified and dehumanized. It was clear that the white woman who cheered you on would have rather seen us called faggots than see black and brown people try to heal and build community. You may not have noticed that the wedding party of white people literally laughing at our expense – at the expense of a group of black and brown folks. These are the very same white folks who, any other day, would have clutched their purses and phones if y’all had approached them on the street.
I walked away returning to the march feeling a tremendous loss, of not only my temper and composure, but a loss of a piece of my humanity. Truly, a loss of connection, both as an elder and father.
My screaming and shouting will never be the motivation you and your friends need to make a different decision. My shouting will only teach you all not to get caught teasing people. That was not the lesson I wanted to share that day. I wanted to say “You hurt me. You embarrassed me. Your words hold all the weight in the world because you are the world.” I wanted to remind you that all those who were laughing at us will laugh at you soon. That really, we are not so different, and that we are united in a greater struggle. That this petty hatred will tear us apart. That it is in these very moments, when toxic messages of socialized hate show up within our own “families”, we must remember love.
I wanted to take back every word. I wanted to replace every “I would smack the hell out of you” to “I will love you harder because that is what we MUST all do.” I wanted to tell you that my heart was broken and you had the power and opportunity to provide healing. But white supremacy and homophobia prevented that.
I want you to know that you and I tried. I know you did because y’all stopped riding your bikes and gave me the floor to speak. I wish our few moments together were different. But we don’t always get second chances. We don’t get to undo trauma. We simply get to process and move on – if we are lucky.
Yesterday, as my son and I walked around in the supermarket, I told him this story. His immediate response was “I wish I were there because…” I stopped him and said “Baby, you were. Those kids were young teens, just like you. They were beautiful just like you. They were all coming into an understanding of their power just like you.” He looked puzzled for a few moments and then said, “Maybe no one told them that teasing people is wrong. Maybe they forgot that ALL black lives matter, even you and your friends.” Then, he took my hand in his, and we walked.