There’s this stereotype that if you are gay, the answer to all your problems is skipping off to a big city where you can live an open and free life in an accepting environment. The sentiment isn’t always worded this blatantly, but it’s out there. Usually, when people find out I’m a lesbian they say something like, “Oh, well, at least you live in New York City.”It’s true, being gay in New York is certainly better than being gay (or bi) in the small town in Upstate New York where I’m from. There was only one guy in my entire high school who was out, and when he told his parents they refused to speak to him and shipped him off to therapy, ASAP. I knew a few girls who whispered quietly that they were into chicks, but when I tried to approach them they went scampering back into the closet. Surprised? Don’t be. In an environment where “gay” was used as a negative adjective and “f**got” was as common a swear word as any, being gay was social suicide, at best, and dangerous, at worst.
But New York and, I would bet, other major cities have their fair share of prejudice, too. The difference? Fewer people acknowledge or talk about hating on homosexuals because that’s less acceptable in major metropolises. But in some ways, the silence makes things worse. Since no one will acknowledge the problem, I don’t see it going away anytime soon. Part of the problem stems from the fact that New York is so darn public. When I walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand or kiss her before she gets on the subway, a gazillion people see. Many times, passersby have reactions that make me feel hurt, embarrassed, awkward or just plain pissed.
The most common ones are of the disgustingly sexual nature. Men who see my girlfriend and me together usually feel the need to invite us to have a threesome, explicitly describe our sex life or rant about how hot we are. Once I was kissing my girlfriend goodnight on a street corner when I heard a series of whoops and screams. Turning around, I saw a large group of men assembled several feet away, staring blatantly and saying things like, “Yeeeeeah girls!!!” Angrily, I asked them if they were going to continue. Their answer was, “Hell yeah!” Our goodnight kiss ruined, I sulked away down the street. Their screams of ecstasy followed me for the entire block.
Perhaps even worse is the look of disapproval or utter disgust I get occasionally—usually from elderly women. Some people see me and my girlfriend and have no problem wrinkling their nose and curling their upper lip like an angry dog while staring directly at my face, as if my sexuality was a personal affront to their dignity and well-being. I usually try to laugh it off, but inside I’m reeling from being looked at like something that just crawled out of a sewer.
I’m not asking you to whip out a violin and play me a sad song. I’m simply pointing out that moving to a big city didn’t make being gay all puppies and flowers and, until we start pointing this out, nothing is going to change. Prejudiced people are everywhere, and guess what — that includes major cities with large gay populations.