While prejudice can be powerful, it often is undone by a personal connection.
When I put on my getup, hop on my bike and ride out into the country every day, I generally know what I am getting myself into. I mean, obviously it looks pretty dorky, but what I have never been able to wrap my mind around personally is some of the wildly vicious, and unprovoked hostility I have received from time to time while out on the road.
Every cyclist could tell you about this: gay slurs hurled at them, along with actual objects every once and a while. I had a person throw a beer bottle at me one time.
Of course, the fact that there was a beer bottle in their car to begin with probably points out that this may not be the best demographic by which to judge humanity, but it isn’t always the people that you would expect.
When I was on a group ride last year, a car 50 yards behind us blared on the horn as it went by. I was expecting to see a truck or something, but it was a Prius. Talk about irony. That was like seeing a Prius with a “Drill Baby Drill” bumper sticker.
That said, to a certain extent I can understand where some of the hostility comes from. I am not reticent to say that I have not always been a perfect member of the community on the road. While cycling, I have made mistakes in judgment, and have done things that I should not have done. I get why some people hate cyclists, because just like drivers, some of them are terrible. After a while, people generalize, just like I do when I hear a car horn and expect to see a truck coming up behind me.
That is the thing, though: As much as I can try to understand the frustration, on more than one occasion I have had someone veer closer to me just as they went by, for no other reason than to scare me. This has happened to me out on country roads, and in the heart of the city. The beer bottle? That happened to me one time, but overall things like this happen more frequently than you would think.
And when they do, I can’t get away from the realization that, at that moment, I am no longer viewed as human by the person doing it. The thing is, I am not naive enough to believe that all of these people are truly just awful human beings. In fact, I know that most of them are probably pretty nice people who would treat me much differently if they saw me wearing a Twins T-shirt and baseball cap the other 95 percent of the time. That is the problem with prejudice: It isn’t rational.
In the news over the past few days, we have heard — and are going to hear — a lot of (for the most part) decent people saying some awful things about gay people. The debate itself that is going on right now is inherently insulting and dehumanizing to members of the gay community. Their right to equality is being discussed, and all of it done in a nation founded under the notion that such things must truly be self-evident.
Last year on a beautiful summer night, I hopped off the trail in Minneapolis for the two blocks on the road to get me home. There were two lanes, and I was over on the right, but a car in the left lane was moving slowly up a hill, and the car behind it switched lanes quickly and floored it over the rise. I heard them coming and dove for the curb. I managed to stay up, but it was close.
As I pulled up to the stoplight next to the Range Rover that barely missed me, a middle-aged woman who looked like she was from Wayzata (generalization) had her window rolled down and was yelling at me. Apparently it was my fault. I was tired, so I took off my sunglasses so she could see my face, and see that I am a 20-year-old kid like the one she probably has, and said, “Lady, I have a mom, and if you hit me, she is going to be pissed.”
Just for a moment, she stopped yelling. Then the light was green, and it was over. I’d like to think that the message may have gotten through, and that maybe she would be a little more careful next time, but I have no idea.
The point is, while prejudice can be a powerful thing, it is often undone by a personal connection to the person or object of scorn. The gay community has waited a long time for all of us to have gay aunts and uncles, moms, brothers, cousins and sisters. Its members have waited for us to fall in love with wacky sitcom characters and realize that the stigmas we all held didn’t hold water. They have waited to be full and free citizens in this democracy — and though individual minds are changing every day, the law needs to work faster than this, because they have waited long enough.
Andreas Aarsvold lives in Minneapolis.
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