It smacks me like a 2×4 or a glare from an angry New Yorker as I hop on the downtown 2 train: an ad for an HIV protection pill showing to gay black men holding each other by the belt buckle with the words WE PLAY SURE printed across their chests. The ad itself isn’t what hits me; it is the words scrawled across the men’s foreheads in sharpie: FAGGOT. HOMO.
Really? I think. Even in New York? It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed anger or hate. Fear is the most powerful motivator that exists and that quickly morphs into hate. These things don’t ordinarily shock me.
… But in New York?
More likely the graffiti was the handiwork of a confused teenager drowning in a sea of adolescent strife and struggling to maintain face in front of his friends. You’ve seen these groups of kids on the subway. I keep staring at this poster with the hot pink background and thinking, I don’t want anyone else to feel the way I just did when I saw this. I’m not even gay and have no threat of HIV in my life. For someone who actually feels a personal connection to this ad, this could be an emotional sucker punch. Sure, there are worse things in the world, but why add to the hate ever? I stand there staring at it and I feel the niggling of a divine prompting.
Heavenly Father: Wipe it off.
HF: Lick your thumb, and wipe it off.
The ads are covered by a plastic sheet so it is likely that would work.
Me: I heard you! Still: what? Do you know where we are, HF? We are in New York. People here don’t do that. When we feel cold, we simply wrap our black cashmere scarves in tighter around our black turtlenecks. We don’t go around trying to spread good vibes on the subway like some kind of leper.
These conversations always go well for me.
HF: *patiently* Wipe it off.
Me: Are you even listening? There are at least two people I’d have to lean over to reach that thing and even on a crowded train, I’m not willing to risk invading those personal bubbles. My health insurance doesn’t cover it.
Me: … I never seem to win these arguments.
So I rearrange myself at the next stop, get slightly closer to the ad, lean over one sleeping person, lick my thumb and try to wipe it off.
It doesn’t come off. But I tried. Because I am practicing doing what feels right to me rather than what allows me to blend in most effectively. I don’t own any black turtlenecks anyway. I’m combating the fear.
A few stops later a mariachi band climbs onto the train and offers a rousting rendition of Feliz Navidad. It is a few days before Christmas. Before the chorus they shout, “Eeeeeverybody!” knowing full well that New Yorkers do not sing along to subway mariachi bands on their commutes. The Christmas spirit is not quite that strong. I want desperately to join in with both lungs, but instead I think about it. I put a five dollar bill in their hat and they disembark with a knowing smile and a, “Merry Christmas.”
Next time, damnit, I will sing.