Street Harassment: Growing Up Gay in the South

I would define street harassment as going out of your way, putting forth your own effort, with intention, and sole purpose, of making sure someone else knows your unsolicited, unnecessary, and potentially caustic and harmful opinion of them. I would include any forms of unsolicited catcalling to outright threats–any form of calling out to someone with the intention of making your own opinion heard and broadcasted. To catcall someone, or to call out to someone in general, is to ruin their day, embarrass them in front of the world, and pull them from their private sphere into a defenseless public situation. The feeling is awful. [From my own experience,] you feel exposed and stripped of any barrier that one puts up when they leave the safety of their own home.

When I was a teenager, I first experienced harassment in a way that was directed towards my person. It was outside of a coffee shop which I frequented (I went here every day to study, read, hang out, relax–all of the typical things a teenager does. This place was on the verge of being a second home) and a car, stopped at a red light, had a passenger who decided that I needed to be made aware of my own sexuality, as well as their extreme opinion in relation to my own life. Without dancing around it, I was told “kill yourself, faggot” in a slight backwoods accent from the passenger of a low riding pickup truck.

This kind of harassment happens to me not incredibly often, but often enough for it to affect me and, by now, it’s lost its shock value. Coming from the south, I can generally expect it at least once every time I head down south for intersession. At this point in my life, I mostly get that good old southern hospitality glare and I suppose that’s what hurts the most right now. It makes me feel excluded from a community that I grew up in; like I shouldn’t exist; like I’m the problem. It pushes the fault, the shame, the defect, the “you don’t belong” to the “you caused this” onto me.

To my friends who have told me that it’s only a glare: I realize that it’s a glare, I truly do; but there is a difference between a simple glare and the look of disgust that has a hint of violence in it, and if you haven’t seen the latter, then you always assume that I’m complaining about the former. After being confronted in a store one day, I’ve learned that I should consider leaving, immediately, when I see that my presence isn’t exactly wanted somewhere.

The last time I stood up to being harassed was actually in high school–there was an ROTC commander who really didn’t appreciate my existence: from the way I styled my hair to the sound of my voice. In retrospect, it wasn’t the best idea to call him out about how marginalized and awful I felt from the way he decided to talk to me, as I was threatened with suspension. Otherwise, I typically don’t respond due to how violent a situation can become.

In 2013, 20.8% of hate crimes were solely based on sexual orientation and, of those, 60.6% were directed towards males*. I know where I stand in terms of deciding on how to react. I’ve learned what not to wear; how to speak; where to go; where to not go; how to react; how to gauge the social climate of a room; when to leave. To echo something one hears a lot: it should be proof enough that homosexuality isn’t a choice, solely based on the fact that I grew up gay in the south.

The best way to change something, in my opinion, would be education; however I thought that you were expected to, as a child, learn that you should treat someone the way you want to be treated. Talk to your friends, have them talk to their friends, spread the word that street harassment is not a compliment. Teach people at a young age that there is no reason to expend their own energy bothering other people. If you’re the type of person and have the ability to, I completely support someone yelling back and defending themselves. I feel like there should be more publicity on this. It starts with stereotypes too, ones that are ingrained in people and they don’t see anything wrong with it.

If your masculinity depends on calling out to someone, maybe the problem isn’t them. Maybe the problem is you and you should try sitting down and being introspective: why did you do that, why did you want to do that, how would you feel if someone did that? I think a lot more problems like this would be solved if we could start learning that what someone does with their personal life doesn’t affect anyone but themselves. If someone wants to look nice, they’re confident and rocking whatever they’re wearing–you don’t need to interject into their life. If someone loves someone not for what’s attached to their body, they love that person for who they are-you don’t need to tarnish that with hate. If someone is struggling with something, from finances to a disability, who the hell are you to make their situation worse?

Educating one person is good, but a complete societal change would be better (however change does start with only one person). So educate your circle of friends and be active for change in your community. Have them talk to someone and keep it going. Maybe our grandchildren won’t experience what we’ve gone through.

From someone who has felt defenseless and stripped of their privacy: to those on my side of this issue, be safe and strong; to those who are out there catcalling and harassing strangers passing by, take a good look at yourself and reconsider; and to that gay kid in the south who might be reading this one day, it does get better.

– Tyler

* https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/december/latest-hate-crime-statistics-report-released


This post is part of a series of contributed posts about individual experiences with street harassment. If you are interested in sharing your experiences, please submit

Comments are encouraged and will be approved to further discussion as long as they follow our guidelines. Please keep an open mind and respect your fellow humans. 

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