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There's nothing like being called a dyke on a Saturday night to make the rest of your week really pale in comparison.
This weekend, my friend El and I ventured out to LGBTQ night at the local minor league hockey game. The SF Bulls are in their first season and aren't great, but the game had been sponsored by anti-homophobia nonprofit You Can Play and there's little I like more than watching dudes slam other dudes into plexiglass walls in the spirit of sportsmanship and equality. All in all, I was anticipating quite the pleasant Saturday evening.
Which, for the most part, it was. I kind of get the feeling that a lot of the die-hard Bulls fans hadn't exactly been informed it was LGBTQ night, but they all seemed to take it in stride. Rowdy the bull mascot ran around intermittently waving a rainbow flag, a drag queen did an ice skating routine to Ke$ha during the second intermission, and the pre-show "pump-up" video appeared to be primarily composed of Homoerotic Team Bonding Clips of my youth. And then came the Kiss Cam.
Frankly, I think the Kiss Cam tradition is weird and kind of gross, since it often just picks a dude and a lady sitting next to each other and peer pressures them into kissing each other. As the video camera roamed the arena, we realized that it wasn't stopping on a single non-straight couple.
"What the fuck?" El said, indignant. "What happened to LGBTQ night?"
"We must fix this," I said. "Here, I will help."
I leaned over my armrest to flop my entire upper body against El's torso like a golden retriever after a long run. It was not cute. "WE LOOK LIKE A COUPLE, YES?" I shouted into her shoulder.
"Wow, yes, such a couple," she said, laughing, which is of course when the Kiss Cam finally decided to alight on us.
We smooched chastely for the video, like bros do, and then high-fived each other and the people around us. We were both giggling hysterically, we'd briefly taken the Kiss Cam back on behalf of queers, and I felt the pleased rush that comes from acting a little ridiculous in public. No big deal.
Except that when I hopped up during intermission to get a soda, I kept noticing people staring at me. It was mostly dudes and they were mostly smiling, but in the former quasi-anonymity of the arena it still felt a little ominous. Finally, a youngish guy stopped me. "Hey, you were on the Jumbotron!" he said, grinning. "Super cute."
"Aw, thanks!" I said, thinking it was a fluke.
A minute or so later, a different guy nodded at my "Gay? Fine by me." shirt.
"Girl, you're fine by me," he said. I looked down, confused, then mouthed, "Gay?" at him, drawing aside part of my fleece to make sure he got the message. He just stood there, his smile slowly widening. OK, getting weirder.
When I finally got my soda and turned to go back to my seat, another guy got in my way. He was older, kind of, and seemed pretty drunk.
"Hey, girl," he said, getting up in my face. "Give me a kiss."
I stepped back, trying to duck around him. "No, thanks," I said.
"Ugh, dyke," he spat. "Where's your girlfriend now?"
"Um, elsewhere?" I said stupidly, thinking of my date on vacation in Amsterdam and not El, whom he clearly meant.
"So give me a kiss instead," he suggested again, louder this time, stepping closer. I flinched, he laughed, and I turned tail and half-ran back to our seats.
All in all, this wasn't actually a big deal. We'd been in a public place, surrounded by security and staff that seemed pretty gay-friendly even if the audience wasn't necessarily, and even half-drunk on a smuggled-in screwdriver I probably could've shoved past him if I needed to.
Logically, I knew all this. Emotionally, though, I was freaked the fuck out. And so was everyone else I told about it.
"But you're in San Francisco," they kept saying. "Like. I could see that happening somewhere else, but not in San Francisco."
They were right. Not about San Francisco being some sort of hand-wavey utopia-land of acceptance, because it's not. They were right about how physically sickening it felt to have the safe environment I'd found for myself -- or thought I had -- invaded so easily by casual, bigoted aggression.
As I've gotten older, I've started making mountains out of molehills when it comes to queer acceptance, and Saturday night was the same way. I like hockey, and I really like You Can Play, and for one tiny second I'd tricked myself into thinking that some Harvey Milk trivia at intermission and burly millionaires recording a Youtube video about gay athlete acceptance meant that I could give my friend a kiss on the mouth in public without being punished for it.
I know I'm being kind of dramatic and that I'm lucky to live in a place where this is the scary exception rather than the rule. When that dude harassed me, though, I still felt almost irrationally betrayed, because he'd violated my belief that all LGBTQ-themed spaces are safe spaces.
The worst part is, though, that it's not like I learned anything. I'll just go to the next Pride Rally wearing rainbow suspenders, or slip a hand in my date's pocket because I see a pink triangle sign in a restaurant window, or wear a "Gay? Fine by me" shirt out in public in San Francisco because I have to believe that these small happinesses are harbingers of better things to come.
I've been thinking about this a lot this week with the Supreme Court's hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA happening. A lot of what I hear from fellow queers is optimistic: that they can't take marriage equality away from us, that it's gotta happen eventually, that this will be our year (if not the next, or the next).
This is almost certainly a result of living in a very queer-friendly area, and it's likely very different from the discussions that are happening in other places around the country. I'm not saying this kind of optimism should preclude taking actual action where it's appropriate or that it's the most helpful method of reasoning for everyone. Some people, after all, do best emotionally when they're constantly expecting the world to come crashing down around their ears.
For me, though, it's better to be optimistic and subsequently disappointed than to never have hope at all. Because I'm pretty sure that when I start being too afraid or too sad to hope, that's when the assholes have won.
We talk about self-care a lot in San Francisco, here among the hippies. These days, my self-care means subscribing to an untruth: that a little spark of solidarity is enough to keep me and my friends safe, to grant us rights, to make what we do when we love each other largely unremarkable.
Even though I know they're probably impossible, these are the narratives I find myself clinging to. Without them, I think I would just lie down and never get up again.
Kate is on Twitter: @katchatters