(Note to readers: I abandoned my earlier plans to post this entry about my experience in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Since then, I’ve plucked up my courage.)
It wasn’t until I passed the big black truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot that Rev. Jeff Hood’s sermon hit me like a sand bag.
There was a bumper sticker on the rear window of the truck. It was a loud shade of pink, and it was giving me an order.
Don’t call 911.
To the left of the words was the animated barrel of a gun. The gun the sticker said I should use instead of calling law enforcement.
Rev. Hood, the pastor of the Church at Mabel Peabody’s in Denton, Texas, convicted the small congregation of mostly queer men and women with a sermon about Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria as they sat near the fabled well. He shared the condemnations of George Zimmerman, the Florida man acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. He didn’t have to look far for the acidic response to the verdict; He read them 10 to a second on social media sites. Hood didn’t spare his congregation the vulgarities and obscenities peppering the Facebook status updates and the tweets that surely tested Twitter’s considerable bandwidth.
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, holds up a card with a photo of her son as she speaks at the National Urban League’s annual conference, Friday, July 26, 2013, in Philadelphia. Fulton told the National Urban League gathering to use her story, tragedy and broken heart to stop the same thing from happening to another child. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Rev. Hood recounted the reaction to a tragedy that raged with racial conjecture and fury. And Hood asked us to consider what we’d have done if Zimmerman was the Samaritan at the well while we lingered there.
“What would you have to give George Zimmerman?” he asked.
Would we have “living water” for this man? How would we face a man who’s been drawn as a monster by so many? After all, Zimmerman earned some of those claws all by himself. He killed an unarmed boy whose biggest sin might have been daring to leave the sidewalk.
Hood asked this of people who are no strangers to threats of violence – implicit and direct. Queer folks who live openly and honestly as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender leave their homes every day knowing that they are a target.
I’ve had just one terrifying experience. My girlfriend and I walked to our car from a Dallas gay bar. As we walked, not touching, a sports utility vehicle pulled up next to us. A passenger window opened a crack and a young man’s voice called out.
“Hey you!” the voice yelled. “You f–king dykes! I’m going to kill you, you f–king dykes!
I’m gonna rape you and kill you!”
Even as the vehicle sped off, the sound of men’s laughter bending as it went, I felt a cold finger of terror on my back. This is how I’m going to die. My father is going to have to identify my body. The thought rose in a split second. We got in my car and drove back to Denton. My girlfriend and I didn’t talk about it.
Rev. Hood was asking me what I might do in the presence of Zimmerman. What would I do should I come face-to-face with Public Enemy #1?
And I was stumped.
In this file image from video, George Zimmerman smiles after a not guilty verdict was handed down in his trial at the Seminole County Courthouse, Sunday, July 14, 2013, in Sanford, Fla.
Then Hood asked us if maybe we’ve designed a world in which violence isn’t just likely, but inevitable, through our choices. What about the movies we watch? What about the music we listen to? What about the words we use? (“F–k you, motherf–ker! F—k George Zimmerman! Those were the words a lot of us published on social media sites after George Zimmerman was acquitted.)
Time for the truth. These days, most of the films I watch are exceptionally violent. I’m a horror film buff, and had just stopped watching The Human Centipede a few days earlier on account of its weak ploy to shock the audience with — how do I put this — scatological doom. That’s rare for me.
I’ve watched The Poughkeepsie Tapes twice, a movie so gratuitous in its depiction of torture and violence that my stomach churned. I watched every second of Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer only to be angry that a director would subject anyone to the pornographic glee captured in scenes of human butchery and rape. I crave the chills of true crime, and I’m not sure why. I’ve gobbled up media about the worst serial killers to roam the earth. I love to be scared. And I love for heroes — especially heroines — to kill the villains. The violence is always cathartic. In fact, I’m convinced that the reason I seek out horror movies is because the villain’s bloody end is the justice I crave.
As for music, I return to hip-hop again and again, with its metaphorical lyrics about “murdering” rappers in the booth. Lyrics that declare the narrator as a hero for using women as mere tissues to mop up after the rapper’s gleeful masturbation. Sometimes, I can’t stomach the demeaning depiction of women in the form (Yeezus is particularly gross), but I still listen. I know I’ve made a terrible bargain, but I just love those beats.
And my words? I routinely exaggerate my anger.
“Nothing wrong with that guy a sledgehammer to the face wouldn’t solve,” I’ve said. “God, I wanna punch her in the neck. Or the ovaries,” I’ve said with a roll of my eyes.
And the day before that sermon? The day the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case was announced? I’d been hurrying to the office to print out some paperwork. That’s when I saw a small group of people marching through the heart of downtown Denton. Many of them had what looked like semiautomatic rifles over their shoulders. They carried a white flag with what looked like an M-4 rifle on it, the words “come and take it” underneath the rifle. They stopped at the door of the newsroom in a casual scrum. I couldn’t see if someone was knocking, hoping to get some ink on their protest. I peered at them from my car, resolved not to draw attention to myself. This is my day off, dammit, I thought. But really, I was afraid to grab my notebook and ask a group of people — two of them pushing a baby stroller — why they were carrying rifles. Irrational? Maybe. But I know what it feels like to have a stranger threaten to rape and kill you. Heck, I’m a walking reminder of the so-called Gay Agenda.
“There’s no way I’m going to try to disarm you guys,” I thought.
Then, there I was in the parking lot of a huge shopping center with a cartoon gun pointing at my head. I didn’t know whether to be mad at Rev. Hood or myself. The marketplace gives me what I want: Spilled blood. Righteous and hunted women still standing as the credits roll. And an endless armory of virtual ammo. The media fill my Spotify playlists with those posing, chin-jerking anthems that delude me into thinking I’m a bad-ass amazon instead a fat lesbian jogging heavily down the streets.
I’ve never been the quiet one at the edge of the well.
I’ve never been the servant of God, waiting for uninspiring moments to show my love of the Divine by serving the children of God, even the ones who are tough to love. Especially those who are hard to love. Mostly I’m sitting around giving people the stink eye. Where is the smiting when you need it, right?
And now this preacher with slight shoulders and a longish beard wants me to think about what I’d give to George Zimmerman? He knows what I have for this man. I have the sharp side of my tongue. I have a cold shoulder and a chip itching to be picked at. If it were for me to do, I’d give George Zimmerman something to be afraid of. I’d be the biggest “f–cking asshole” of the tribe that supposedly marauded around his neighborhood before he made an example of Trayvon.
George Zimmerman will probably get the stink eye for the rest of his life. Threats will be spat from car windows and the shadows when he’s just walking by, living his life. Not bothering anyone. He’ll feel the fear. He’ll crack his head against boundaries that, for most of us, are invisible.
The truth is that I don’t want Zimmerman to experience that. I don’t want Zimmerman to feel hunted, vulnerable and endangered in his own skin. I’ve felt that once. And there are other people who don’t have my white skin, don’t have my carefully applied makeup and don’t have my wardrobe (which complies with the culture’s expectation of “good” women). They’ve probably felt endangered in their own skin, vulnerable and exposed, many more times than my one bad night. And young black men? I figure they never get a break from feeling like they are a target.
I don’t want Zimmerman to spend the rest of his life carrying that mortal fear. I hope he can carry the ghost of Trayvon Martin with something like nobility. Something like grace. And now that Rev. Hood has called my silent, festering bigotries into the hard light of truth, I think that I have a responsibility to Trayvon’s memory and Zimmerman’s life.
Should I encounter Zimmerman at the well, I like to hope that I wouldn’t heap my pain onto his. But it doesn’t look so good for him, or anyone who is my enemy. I haven’t had much practice sharing the water of life. I’m too busy convincing myself that Samaritans can’t, in fact, be trusted. They pack heat, after all. They pull triggers. Me? I buy tickets to watch. Because catharsis is a higher priority than disarming Zimmerman and all his brethen with something gentler.
My catharsis is more important than the love of the Holy One.
So I’m here to ask for forgiveness. Because we’re all Trayvon Martin, and we’re all George Zimmerman. And if we martyr Travyon and condemn Zimmerman to a living hell?
If that’s our choice, we’re all in trouble.