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On Ponsonby Rd? Really?

Tue 14 Dec 2010 In: True Stories WayBack Archive National Library

Dan Eichblatt's post about the homophobic, hateful abuse and threats of violence he and his boyfriend were subjected to on Ponsonby Rd this weekend has whipped up a storm of outrage on Facebook. He's kindly allowed to share his story, which shows hate can spring forth from anywhere, even on Ponsonby Rd: Last night – Sunday 12 December – was one of those gorgeous, balmy Auckland evenings and my sister and boyfriend joined me for a glass of wine in a Ponsonby park, followed by the mandatory (if you're an Aucklander) stroll down Franklin Rd to look at all the Christmas lights. Families, couples, friends, teenagers, carol-singers, grandparents, dogs…all were out in force. It may seem twee, but I was feeling festive, and at last on holiday (I'm a school teacher – apologies to those still working). We'd had a great evening, and around 11pm decided to call it a night – some had to work the next day. Doug and I strolled home along Ponsonby Rd, hand in hand. Now, for those of you who don't know, Ponsonby Rd is generally thought of as, for want of a better term, Gay St. While its credentials may have slipped in the last decade and only a couple bastions of gay nightlife still exist – SPQR, for example – it's still widely known as being, at the least, gay friendly. The kind of street one could walk down with one's boyfriend without fear of aggression. As we passed Chapel, a bit of a boisterous, largely-heterosexual meat-market, the patrons outside gave us disgusted looks and overt, almost comical double-takes. Someone may have muttered something disparaging to their friend. I was mildly surprised that anyone would be taken aback by our blatant display of togetherness, but we kept on walking, smugly believing that for some, a gay couple is an amusing novelty. Less than a minute later, we found our path obstructed by a group of eight people, late teens, early twenties, male and female. They parted for us to get through, but looked at us like we were freaks; the disgusted horror on their faces told me they may have been from the suburbs and were not used to seeing men holding hands in public. Again, no big deal, but it felt unusually aggressive, and I tightened my grip on Doug's hand. Perhaps in the past I might have dropped his hand, to avoid unnecessary drama, but not tonight. ‘F*** them', I thought. “Faggots”, one of the men hissed. It's not the first time I've had that word used against me, but wine and indignation made me turn and yell “What the f*** is your problem?” The group turned as one and began advancing, and another man piped up with a mouthful of abuse. Doug responded more angrily than I had, and I genuinely felt like if things had kicked off I would have been in there, despite the fact that I have never thrown a punch in my life and would probably have had the shit kicked out of me. Eight against two is not the most optimistic odds. Then a girl in the group, a skinny little terrier clutching a beer bottle, threatened to smash the bottle and cut us. “Fuckers” I spat at them, feeling utterly impotent, inarticulate, powerless. We left that little interaction with churning stomachs, hating that it had happened – on Ponsonby Rd! – but reasonably glad that we'd at least responded. We took a seat on the beanbags in Western Park, staring at the massive corporate Christmas tree and trying to articulate to each other how we felt. I had my hand on Doug's knee. A group of three women, older than the group before and therefore less deserving of forgiveness, glanced down at us as they passed. “Only in Ponsonby…” one sneered, as she was confronted by this revolting display of affection. We left soon after that, feeling, understandably, incapable of being around a public who had quickly turned from jolly and festive to ridiculously hostile. I don't understand what's going on. OK, sure, in the grand scheme of things our experience last night was not exactly front-page news. No one was hurt, only feelings were bruised. I question whether this writing even needs to be posted – am I over-reacting? I can tell myself that these people are not ‘used to' seeing men together. I get that. I also understand that some people ‘disapprove' of homosexuality, cloaking their prejudices in religious doctrine and willful ignorance. I also understand that instinctive, primal ‘ooh yuck' reaction to something one doesn't understand, or cannot muster the empathy to just let be. I've done enough Queer Studies papers at uni, and I'm old enough and tough enough to have a thick skin. But I'm pissed off and I don't know how much more patience I can show for the pig-ignorant, the arrogant, the sheltered and the vacuous that seem to be growing in number. I am not sure how many more times I can respectfully ‘agree to disagree' with someone who implies that I'm going to hell for who I love. I don't know how many more times I can bite my tongue when someone patronizingly uses the phrase ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin', or the word ‘tolerance', words so dripping in undisguised loathing it's poisonous. I'm running out of understanding for those who see me as ‘A Gay' and nothing more, or who reduce me to an alien and disturbing series of sex acts. Do I recoil in horror at the signifiers of heterosexuality? The children, the hand-holding, the wedding band? Is holding the hand of someone I care about really that provocative, that I risk my safety by doing it? If I have children one day, is their safety going to be compromised by the innate, unchosen sexuality of their dads? I have no answers, just this stream of semi-articulate consciousness, and a hope that in railing against those who would go out of their way to intimidate or weaken others I am not alone. If you know someone who might need to know that they're not alone in their anger, or if, like me, you are someone who wonders where kindness, civility and basic dignity have gone, please share this on your walls. Finally, a challenge: Call them out on their bullshit. Challenge their narrow-minded, ignorant ‘opinions'. Ask them what the fuck makes them better than others. It's 2010, time to grow up, people. (Thanks for sharing your story Dan -     Dan Eichblatt - 14th December 2010

Credit: Dan Eichblatt

First published: Tuesday, 14th December 2010 - 5:39pm

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