A Call For Empathy

Let me tell you a story from pre-election time. 

I was at a Starbucks in LA sitting outside for late morning meeting. It was a pretty ordinary day otherwise and between sips I happened to glance up at a man facing me from his table about 15 feet away. I smiled at him, because that seemed polite, and continued on with what I was doing. Then I started to hear yelling. I tried not to pay attention since that Starbucks is known to have its occasional rowdy passerby, but then my hearing focused and I realized the yelling was directed at me from the man I happened to smile at. I tried to ignore it, as that's what I've been conditioned to do, but it got louder and more aggressive. I was hurled expletives about being a dyke, about my race (can't remember what I was called, thankfully or not), and then finally was told this person was going to rip my eyes out and murder me. This went on for a good twenty minutes until he got up to leave and walked right passed me. I honestly had a fear that I was going to be physically harmed as he walked by.  

What did I do? Nothing. And honestly, not because I was trying to make a statement about it. At first, yes, but as the threats became more aggressively violent, I was really just paralyzed with fear. I was surrounded by people and I felt extremely alone. I did a meeting while this was going on and believe me, it fucked me up later. And what about the people around me? They did nothing too. Perhaps because they chalked up this incident as just "another crazy person" and didn't think it was a big deal.  Perhaps because it didn't pertain to them, and like me, were trying to ignore it in hopes that it would stop. I was strong enough to not burst into tears while I was there, and in fact, I lasted until I got home before I sobbed. That was the most I could do in that moment. 

There are people right now who are afraid for their physical safety (myself included) and if you think they are overreacting, if you believe it's their responsibility to "speak up" and not yours too because it doesn't directly pertain to you, and you feel annoyed to see these posts on your timeline, I ask you to take a step back and examine why. Is it because your reality, in this moment, does not reflect the stories of those being harassed and assaulted? Do you think this isn't happening because it's not happening to you? Is it difficult to wrap your mind around it and it seems easier to just be annoyed than empathetic? Is it because you are a survivor at a different stage of your grief and processing? To the people who are on the verge of telling me off on social media, I send you off with kindness, and hope you ponder on this post for a moment before you do so. If you have space for others, I hope you can offer it to them (passively or intentionally) for their anger and grief. No one wants to feel unsafe right now, no one wants to feel angry, but many do. 

I cannot hide the color of my skin, and at this point in my life, I doubt I can hide the fact that I'm gay to anyone who has a pair of working eyes. I do not have the luxury of flying under the radar in most cases. This week has triggered the memory of this incident, but instead of being crippled  by fear, I have been actively pushing myself to reach out to as many people as I can. It is not an easy task and I know full well there are others who are struggling with more than I am.  I may not be physically strong enough to tackle the bigots who hurl words and objects at you, but I will not abandon you or pretend it isn't happening. I  will sit with you if having company makes you feel safer or I will leave with you if you wanna yell about it at the bar across the street over two shots of the strongest whiskey there.

I ask you all to do something. It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be small. But please, it is absolutely better than doing nothing.