photo by Kylie
If you’ve been queer and living in New York for a year or more, you’ve probably heard someone say that NYC is just like Gay Disneyland. I think what people are trying to convey with that statement is this: New York sometimes feels like a place where LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) folks get to be ourselves without feeling afraid.
To an extent, it’s true. This jam-packed cosmopolis can seem far more accepting of us than other places. It’s hard to describe the euphoria of marching in the massive NYC Pride parade that takes over the city for one day each June. People walk around loving whomever they love, being whoever they are. You can’t help but smile, giggle, and dance a little when you see so many people feeling so free. (The copious amounts of glitter, feathers, and hairspray don’t hurt, either.)
But New York isn’t always a safe place to be. I remember that when my wife and I get yelled at by random people on the street. (We’re very lucky to live in a state where we’re legally married, which means that we benefit from a host of protections that queer couples elsewhere do not.) We’re emotionally sensitive people, and it hurts every time. We try not to let it, but those comments always put a damper on our day, whether they’re petty and laughable or violent and scary.
During the last couple of months, there’s been a huge upswing in violence against queer folks here. The recent violence seems to have been mostly directed at men who are perceived as gay or effeminate. Most of the New Yorkers I know have been shocked, outraged, and shaken by the spate of violence. Because this is our safe haven. And if we’re not safe here, then where are we safe?
. . .
I remember going to Disneyland as a kid with my choir. I’d been to Disneyland before, but this was the first time I stepped behind its walls, into the places that most park visitors never see.
It turns out that Disneyland is like an enormous, living movie set. You exit the park area, and you’re suddenly backstage. The people who play pristine fictional characters all day become real, live, flawed humans. Humans who remove their synthetic wigs, eat their lunches, and smoke their cigarettes.
As a twelve-year-old who grew up surrounded by anti-smoking rhetoric, that was the most jarring image for me: the smoking. I had learned that smoking was a bad thing to do. Seeing the people who played these immaculate fantasy characters, sitting on overturned crates and smoking cigarettes? That meant that all was not as I thought it was in the world.
It meant these actors were human, and all humans do things that are bad for themselves sometimes. All of us take off the costume, or some part of it, at some point in the day. Siblings fight. Parents get cranky. Kids scrape their knees, get lost, get kidnapped. Even in Disneyland.
. . .
And in New York, even though it can sometimes feel like this is the one, special place where people get to love who they love and be who they are without fear, it isn’t. Which stinks. There isn’t any one place in the world where anyone can be completely, totally safe. Because this is life. Life is imperfect, and painful as well as joyful, and as much as we wish it weren’t the case, people sometimes hurt each other.
In case you’re starting to think otherwise, I’m actually not a cynic. I’m nothing if not hopeful for the future of humanity. I’m sharing this because I used to be convinced that there was a utopia where I (and you, and everyone else) wouldn’t be vulnerable to discrimination. And so I was always looking for it. The minute something negative happened wherever I was, my mind would shoot off to imagining another time or place, one where my wife and I would finally be able to walk around holding hands without feeling afraid.
That tendency to flee robbed me of the chance to see the deep, deep goodness that surrounded us at the same time. Even while there were people getting hurt for being who they were, there were (many more) people being wholeheartedly accepted, queerness and all.
There were people making easeful transitions between gender identities, with the full support of their communities. There were parents in small Midwestern towns, accepting their gay kids not despite their sexuality, but because of it. There were grownups raising their kids as whatever gender felt best for them, and proactively advocating on their behalf.
None of this meant that these places were necessarily more goodness-filled than anywhere else. The world was and is profoundly multifaceted. There is kindness and meanness, compassion and hatred, and it’s everywhere.
Nobody’s safe. Not even in Disneyland. And in a way that doesn’t quite make sense to me, I feel safer knowing that than mistakenly believing a utopia exists. It feels like a whole lot less pressure this way. I don’t have to find the holy grail of accepting, progressive cities in which to live. I just have to do my best to love myself, and have compassion for those who don’t yet know how to love, wherever I am.
|Kylie Bellard is an uber-compassionate empowerment coach and photographer who teaches people to like themselves and care for themselves. You can read her weekly musings on self-esteem, compassion, and doing nothing at www.effervescence.me.|