The Joyride

Joyriding is what I call it. All my life, strangers have had fun yelling at me from cars.

The dark green Nissan Pathfinder slows as I walk down Indiana Avenue. The man at the wheel revs the engine as though he’s challenging me to a drag race.

Inside the SUV are three other young men. Out of the corner of my eye, I see them high-fiving. My stomach churns. All I can think about is that home is so close. “Faggot!”

“You think you’re so cool, don’t you, faggot!”

“Nigger, give my sister her pants back!”

I’ve just wrapped up my Tuesday morning classes and am headed back to my house to make lunch. The Pathfinder creeps beside me, spewing insults.

I feel like I’m about to burst into flames.

Ignore them, I tell myself.


Joyriding is what I call it. All my life, strangers have had fun yelling at me from cars.

They catch me off-guard, call me names, try to dissolve me into nothing.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been told that I’m too much. The first thing people see is the color of my skin. I’m African-American, so I can’t master English.

I’m gay, so I’m a freak of nature. Even worse, I’m not afraid of who I am.

I don’t mope down the street. I strut.

A palm reader once warned me that if I didn’t avoid extremes I would perish. That was her word: “perish.” Another time, a friend’s mother urged me to stop being gay in front of her husband and sons.

“Can you turn off the sexuality?” she said. “Because it offends the boys.”

Her suggestion was bewildering. It wasn’t as if I was prancing around in a tutu.

I didn’t buy that attitude then, and I don’t buy it now. Why should I have to hide so other people feel comfortable?

It took me forever to get to where I am today. I’m learning how to be myself with all I’ve got.

That Tuesday morning, before the jeering from the men in the Pathfinder, I’d been jolted from sleep by Lady Gaga’s voice booming from my phone.

My grandmother had taught me to start my mornings with a prayer. So that’s what I did. I thanked God for another day and asked for peace and strength. I made my bed — another piece of my grandmother’s advice.

I headed for my closet and debated what look to pull off. Sometimes I’m Lady Gaga’s twin with movie star sunglasses. Or I drape myself in black, like a French fashion designer. I have my Western days, with flannel shirts and cowboy boots, and my Sid Vicious days, with torn T-shirts and high-top sneakers.

That morning I chose a sleeveless Sgt. Pepper Beatles shirt, cut-off denim shorts and a worn pair of black boots. The final touch was my eyeliner. I leaned close to my bathroom mirror and held my breath as I traced the dark pencil beneath my eyes. When I was done, I exhaled.

Taped to the mirror was a message. Four words formed by letters I’d cut out from Vogue.

Show your true colors.


“Faggot’s got a sweet ass in those jeans!”

The joyriders have been following me for almost half a block. The Pathfinder stops at a red light. I wait for the signal to turn green so I can cross onto 10th Street. I can’t seem to tune out the taunts.

One of my classes that morning was Y100, American Political Controversies. The course focuses on conflicting viewpoints about the death penalty, health care and gay marriage. The point is to understand perspectives you don’t agree with.

Waiting for the light to change, I try to apply what I’ve learned. I wonder what it would be like to be one of the guys in the SUV. If I were them, would I do this to me? Would I see someone like me as a threat?

The revving of the engine and the jeers are obviously designed to scare me. Does belittling me make them feel bigger? The tension is almost sexual.

Are they getting off on this?


I want to play it cool and be above these guys. But I’m starting to panic. My breathing quickens. My jaw tightens.

What will happen if I lash out? I’m in public. If I lose it, I’ll look like a lunatic.

Suddenly I don’t care anymore. I want to push the Pathfinder over.

“Get out of the fucking car, every last one of you,” I roar, “so I can beat your fucking asses!”

In the back row of the SUV, one of the men laughs so hard he slaps his leg.

I’m still standing there, red-faced and huffing, when the light finally turns green. The Pathfinder screeches off, blanketing me in a cloud of exhaust.

Tears sting my face as I head home. I can’t believe I allowed myself to lose control.


The next morning, I listen to my grandmother. I say another prayer of thanks, make my bed, get dressed. Once again, I gaze at my reflection in the mirror and apply eyeliner. A different shade this time.

Mint blue.


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