Ada and I had an uncomfortable Lyft ride this summer. We were headed home well after midnight, weary from a long series of flights. A middle-aged white man picked us up at the baggage claim, and he and Ada exchanged the usual post-airport pleasantries. (I usually sit back and let her do the talking.)
Halfway home, things started to turn. Our driver railed about his girlfriend. She spent too much time on Facebook and not enough with him, but no, our suggestion that maybe she ride along in his Lyft and scroll from the front seat would never fly. He disliked her altogether. Loudly and smugly, he declared his disdain for our tight-knit and diversifying city. It quickly became apparent that this man wasn’t interested in masking his misogyny or xenophobia.
Without so much as a glance, Ada and I synced to the same mindset. We were not safe.
The drive passed slowly. A few blocks from home, he asked, “So, what are you two, like roommates?”
A quick affirmative.
Some white lies to bolster our roommate charade.
. . .
As I wound down from the journey and tried to clear my head before sleep, I realized this wouldn’t be the last time Ada and I hid in plain sight, and I felt ashamed. Our driver would never have assumed we were roommates if we were a heterosexual couple. How can two women who boldly live their queer identity in virtually every sphere of life shrink in the backseat of a cab?
But after sleep, a shower, coffee, and breakfast, I was able to dismantle that shame. What we did wasn’t shameful. It was smart.
The truth is, we are living in a time where queer folks are more accepted and more celebrated. And the other truth is that we are often still in danger.
A Right to Fear
Writing for them., Beverly Tillery gives a stark summary of anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination in the United States in 2017, including:
- an average of one LBGTQ murder victim per week,
- 27 murders of transgender and gender nonconforming people – the highest on record – with the vast majority of victims being people of color, and
- 129 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in states across the nation.
Tillery also cites a Media Matters report finding that anti-LGBTQ violence garnered less than 40 minutes of television coverage across all news channels in 2017. We are also being beaten, murdered, and trodden upon by systems like governments and healthcare
A Right to Self-Preservation
We have a right to be accepted and celebrated. And we also have a right to be afraid and to be smart. We have a right to share our identity, and we have a right to hold it close to our chests.
Our hope is that soon, all places will be safe spaces. But we’re not quite there yet. And while we’re not, we need to practice self-preservation. Without us, who will build the future?
A straight friend of ours recently shared that she hadn’t realized how LGBTQ folks live constant “coming out” moments. We may be out to our families, friends, and coworkers, but then comes along a DMV clerk, landlord, or ride-share driver that sounds our internal alarm or is outright hostile toward us.
In moments like those, we have a right to protect ourselves by selectively disclosing our vulnerabilities.
But even more so, we have a right to live in a world where sexual and gender identities are no longer vulnerabilities. We’re not in that merry kin-dom yet, but we will be.
Until then, queer kin, be gentle with yourselves. In spaces where your authentic selves are unwelcome, you owe no one the fullness of who you are. Trust your instincts because you are precious.