By Makena Henriksen
My breath catches in my throat; all my muscles tense. My right eyebrow automatically snaps up. I bite down hard on the inside of my cheek, reopening what remained of last time’s struggle for emotional control. ‘Not again. Just one day can’t you leave me alone, or at least put a little variety into your insults? Ugh, just not right now.’ The small portions that are left of my abused nails bite into the tips of my chubby fingers as they press against my palms. I can feel my knuckles losing blood, paling. I hadn’t thought my involuntary journey down the hallway to class could be made worse.
‘Oh yeah? Why am I a dyke?’
What was supposed to sound annoyed but patient comes out too loud and a little shaky while I attempt in vain to control my temper. ‘I see, because I don’t dress to arouse ignorant teenage boys such as yourselves, because I’m not holding pom-poms in one hand and a bottle of perfume in the other, because my opinion of the current government differs from yours, because I even have an opinion, I must be sexually attracted to women, is that it?’ My mind rages but I wait for him to reply, my head tilted slightly back and to one side as if weighted down by the lifted eyebrow.
‘Uh, ’cause you dress like one.’
Disgusted, I try to control my breathing, narrowly preventing the blood vessels that are pounding in my head from rupturing. I can’t believe I am expending so much of my energy, focused on not hitting him. ‘He’s not worth it, come on, none of it’s worth it, none of this is worth anything, just walk away.’ Yeah right. I roll my eyes, but can’t dismiss it yet. Sigh. It’s the time-travel again. Suddenly I’m whisked back into the early 1900’s, and gone are all the years that were spent by Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and millions of others who participated in the fight for gender equality.
‘Tell me, just how does a dyke dress?’
My teeth move from my cheek to the left side of my lower lip. I pick at my thumb with my index finger; the two nails make clicking noises when they depart. Walking away, I shiver involuntarily. I glower the rest of the day, feeling like something is missing.
Memories of that and countless other confrontations now seem pale, colorless. Colorless, but far from emotionless. Filled with anger and frustration. Filled with wishing I could tear at the blinders that lay embedded inside their eyelids. The filters inserted at birth, fed and strengthened by years of prejudiced influences and unchallenged stereotypes. Note to parents: to quote Frank Zappa, ‘All your children are poor unfortunate victims of lies you believe.’ I ached to rip the blockage from their heads, to replace it with their independent minds. I wanted to show them how suffocating it is to be viewed as a word, an idea, instead of as a person.
I wished I could liberate them from the sticky veils of fear we’ve been forcefed from infancy. Unfortunately, my temper always got the better of me, and these frequent altercations always resulted in the trading of obscenities. I’d love to think that I am free from my own prejudices, but thanks to this sponsor and that, the media is continuously reinforcing them. ‘Nerd’, ‘geek’, ‘dyke’, ‘loser’, they all have their counterparts: ‘jock’, ‘prep’, ‘slut’, ‘priss’, etc. The constant flow of labels- brand name and stereotypical- is overwhelming. Mainstream media either depicts homosexuality as wrong, exploits it as something strange and funny, or avoids it all together. It’s becoming more and more common for gay slander to be used on television, which -sadly- can be defended as merely an accurate representation of today’s youth.
The words ‘dyke’, ‘fag’ and ‘gay’ have mutated from their previous functions (specific attacks regarding someone’s failure to comply with previously established gender roles) into general slang. They are now applied to anything undesirable,anything ‘uncool’. Something doesn’t just suck anymore, now it’s gay; that guy isn’t just a loser, now he’s a fag. Who cares if he’s got a girlfriend, he doesn’t listen to the same music as us, so he must be a homo. So what if that object is inanimate, it now has a sexual preference since I don’t like it. But make sure you get it right; that girl, she’s a dyke, not a lesbian, ’cause girl on girl action is all the rage; it’s a hot erotic fantasy when it’s photographed and sold. When women are posing together- clad in ‘outfits’ made from the cloth equivalent of three doilies- and are being instructed by a man with a camera, it’s hot. When they are alone, it’s unnatural. So, one can only conclude that when it’s not being marketed, homosexuality is wrong. It seems evident to me that it’s not worthwhile to tell anyone that their natural feelings are unnatural, and yet people feel the need to advertise their opinions in often-destructive ways.
When someone calls me a dyke, I don’t just feel personally attacked. I feel as though the world’s lost a little bit of its already rapidly fading appeal. We are told that things from terrorism and foreign aggression to same-sex marriages and uncensored music threaten our children, our ‘way of life’. My life, and the way I choose to live it, has never felt more threatened than when I’ve been witness to prejudice in action.
©2005 by Makena Henriksen