"Nice scarf, faggot."
He yelled it from his car as he drove by me.
I was walking to my car after a rehearsal at a local church in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, when I felt the car behind me and heard what he said.
Then, he took off.
Whenever something like this happens, my first response is always--"Thank God he didn't get out of the car and assault me."
My second response is usually anger. Anger may not even be the right word. "Fury" may be more appropriate.
I looked down the road and saw that he was stopped at a light, and there was another light at the next street. I know downtown well enough to know that those lights go red often and stay that way for awhile. I realized that the driver probably didn't know that I was so close to my car when he decided to shout at me from his.
Without thinking, I jumped into my car, put the key in ignition, and pulled out of the spot.
A minute later, I was right behind the other car.
I wasn't sure what I was going to. I wasn't stupid enough to think about rearending him or doing anything else that would cause a physical altercation. I just wanted there to be a consequence for what he had done.
Something about throwing a nasty word like that out a car window just seems like the ultimate form of cowardice to me, because it's an action without a repercussion.
Even with the guy's license plate number, what could I do? What he had done would be considered bad behavior, but it wasn't illegal.
Yet if there's anything we learned last year, it's that words can have lethal results. Think about all the suicides committed by young gay men and women because of things people said. What if I wasn't a well-adjusted gay man? What if I was in in the closet or on the edge? What if the word thrown at me from that passing car was enough to push me over?
I followed the driver onto the west side of town. He slowed down, pulled into a space, and he and his friend walked into a nearby bar.
I parked my car a few spots down from his, and walked up to his vehicle. I had my keys in my hand, and I fully intended to key his car.
The funny thing is, I wasn't angry at that point. Knowing that I could create a consequence for this person was enough to calm me down. When I thought he was going to get away with it, I was livid. Once I realized I had some power in this situation, I immediately felt better.
It made me think of people who have been put in even worse positions than I have. People who have actually been assaulted or robbed. If I felt this mad over a word, imagine what it feels like to have someone put their hands on you.
I stared at the car, considered my options:
Do I want to stoop to his level?
Is not stooping to his level the same thing as letting him get away with it?
Would it actually teach him anything?
Would he even know that the gay kid he probably thinks of as a little weakling was responsible for such a harsh action?
I stood there...and stood there...looking at the keys in my hand...and his nice shiny paint job.
After a few minutes, I went home.
Did I do anything in those few minutes?
Maybe, maybe not.
But I will say this: I'm confident that just by not being the sort of guy who would throw a nasty word out a window and thereby take no claim to it, I went home the bigger man.