Late Monday evening, actor Jussie Smollett was walking down a Chicago street when he was approached by two masked men. The men caught Smollett’s attention by calling Smollett racial and homophobic slurs. They then proceeded to beat Smollett, tie a rope around Smollett’s neck and pour a chemical substance over him. Before fleeing the scene, the men proclaimed, “This is MAGA country.”
The news of Smollett’s attack broke Tuesday morning, quickly circulating the internet until it landed on my Twitter feed in the early afternoon.
I was balancing a copy of Freud’s infamous sexuality essays in my lap while precariously holding a cup of coffee in my left hand and phone in my right. I saw the tweets and read the horrific details, my heart breaking with each word. As my hands trembled, coffee spilled out of my cup and onto my lap, staining my pants, burning my legs and ruining my copy of Freud.
While cleaning up the mess, I noticed the book was opened to a passage discussing homosexuality. I then remembered why I had stopped reading and checked Twitter in the first place. In this passage, Freud characterizes homosexuality as an “inversion.”
Reminded of this blatant homophobia, I became irate. My pants were ruined, my coffee wasted and the exact homophobia Freud’s writing expressed was presently endangering queer people of color’s lives.
So I shoved Freud into my backpack, never to be seen again. I tucked my AirPods deep into my ears, shutting out the madness of the outside world, and turned on my “Glitter and Be Gay” playlist. In the midst of the second song on the playlist — the underrated “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears — the music stopped and I heard a familiar chime. I looked down at my phone and saw someone had texted me.
I unlocked my phone and saw the text came from a guy I was supposed to go on a date with that evening. I had forgotten all about it and given the day’s events, I wasn’t in the mood. There was no time for cute, fruity cocktails and flirty small talk! Homophobia must be ended and the patriarchy dismantled!
I closed the texting conversation and resumed listening to music. But it didn’t sound the same. I knew it wasn’t right to ignore the date. I knew I couldn’t live my life in fear, letting homophobes win.
But I also knew the fact I could even consider going on a date was a tremendous privilege — one I take for granted far too often. I realized my indecision about the date was largely rooted in my guilt about being a white gay man. I knew deep down what happened to Smollett would never happen to me. The attack was motivated by both Smollett’s sexuality and race. No matter how hard I tried, I’d never completely understand.
I don’t really know how to make sense of a world where people do unimaginable things. I don’t know where such violence and hatred comes from. I don’t know what the right way to respond to something like this is, or if there even is one.
I spent my Tuesday night going on a date while Smollett spent the night in a hospital bed. It’s not lost on me how unfair that is. Driving home, I wished I could just blink my eyes and Smollett would’ve never been attacked and the whole world would be fixed. I rolled my eyes at such a silly thought.
But then it hit me: I couldn’t blink because my eyes were already closed. Earlier that day when I threw the Freud book deep down into my backpack, I had shut my eyes and rejected to see the world as it was.
I realized it was time to confront the truth, no matter how painful it was. When I got home, I pulled out my now coffee-stained copy of Freud’s essays. I sat down, opened the book, and smelled the aroma of burnt coffee fill the room. I took a deep breath and turned the page.
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