Grace under fire
December 24, 2010 11:06 AM   Subscribe

Non-lame way to handle homophobic intimidation?

On the train heading to my parents' place, me and the boyfriend got hassled by a guy of about 18, accompanied by a bunch of mates that looked younger (15-16). Mild intimidation and insults and some clear-yet-veiled threats of violence when we got off the train. Main guy was wild-eyed, maybe a little drug-affected. We ended up changing our plans and getting off one stop early, then they apparently got off early too. But then no further drama.

For future reference, how do I handle this like a boss and not a big nerd? (Just sat there and took it basically). Main aim: not escalating things and getting to my destination in one piece. Secondary aim: handling things with understated cool (early Brando) without cowering, overreacting, or making self-righteous comebacks. Complication: I haven't thrown a punch since the first grade.
posted by dontjumplarry to Human Relations (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I can't imagine a better response than the one you gave. These people are not important.
posted by EtzHadaat at 11:17 AM on December 24, 2010 [11 favorites]

The one time I was in a group-harassment kind of situation like that (as a woman dressed for clubbing out with my boyfriend, not as a gay-bashing situation), I got out my cell phone and said "I'm calling 911" and the guys immediately turned to "oh hey wait no it's no big we were just fooling around." I said "Turn around and leave or I'm completing this call" and they did. I don't know whether that would be routinely successful or whether I got lucky, though.
posted by KathrynT at 11:19 AM on December 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

As satisfying as it would have been to somehow scare the living bejesus out of those little bastards, you handled it well. As EtzHadaat says, these people are not important. Nothing you could have said or done done would have made a difference. Starting a confrontation with a bunch of druggy homophobic teenagers would not have been your best course of action.

Remember, they're NOBODIES. Pathetic and ignorant, but inconsequential.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:36 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with Kathryn, and add "start taking cell phone pictures".
posted by Meatbomb at 11:36 AM on December 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, not that I'd advocate it, but some tips for you should all else fail and you end up in a fight:

Never start a fight, but always end it: That is to say, most fights are over in under 30 seconds, despite what you see in the movies. If you are in a fight and it is against your choosing then you must commit to it if you expect to come out better than the other guy. Mentally accept that you will get hit and it will hurt. Now that you know this, you can go at your opponent like you mean to finish the fight. 99 times out of 100, your sudden willingness to get involved regardless of the balance of numbers will throw your opponent off balance as they think to themselves "Oh shit, this isn't what I envisaged happening".

If you're going to throw a punch, throw to the centre of their face, not to their face: If you attempt to punch someone in the face by aiming to hit the face, your fist will unwittingly decelerate as you anticipate impact and this will significantly reduce the effectiveness of the punch. Try to punch a place which is approximately 2 inches behind their face. By doing so, your punch will retain its effectiveness and, in all likelihood, will end the fight in one punch and not three.

Do not gloat over your opponent after knocking them down. Use the time to do what you should have done, but they left you no option to in the first place: leave. Expect that they will attempt to rescue some of their pride by threatening to come after you again, but it is highly unlikely they will engage a second time after being defeated against their expectations. Also, disengaging at the first opportunity and using the minimum of force makes it difficult for the individual to claim you were the one who started the fight, or that you were overly aggressive. Your response to the situation is both a justifiable and a highly defensible one in legal terms.
posted by dougrayrankin at 11:38 AM on December 24, 2010 [25 favorites]

I've never been harassed like that (I'm sorry that happened to you guys, sounds terrible) but I find that doing what you did but then giving them the finger or offering a really calm "fuck you!" as you're leaving makes me feel much better. This may be terrible advice.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:44 AM on December 24, 2010

What I was taught in self-defense class was to aim the heel of the hand upward at the SINGLE (do NOT attempt this if it's a group) attacker's nose rather than to punch, as punching is less effective.
posted by brujita at 11:58 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

At the first words, I would say firmly, "back off".

If there's an emergency intercom in the car , use it.
posted by brujita at 12:01 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Meatbomb: "I'd agree with Kathryn, and add "start taking cell phone pictures""

If your intention is to not escalate or to not have to further engage,taking cell phone pictures could provoke them to try to get the cell phone and create a fight situation. If a fight does develop, dougrayrankin has some good advice. Follow it. Most of the out come of the fight depends on who is mentally committed to it.
posted by AugustWest at 12:13 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The unfortunate part is... this isn't the last time you'll confront a situation like this.
Find a martial arts class that has emphasis on street fighting. I highly recommend Kali, Eskrima or Arnis.
You start with weapons training and that then translates to empty hand techniques, trapping and limb destruction.
(it's "some" of the stuff Damon used in the Bourne movies)

As far as handling it like a "Boss rather than a big nerd"... once you've has some martial arts training... you will find that the Boss has always been inside you... and most of the time he won't want to fight unless absolutely necessary.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 12:46 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you did the right thing to avoid escalating the situation. I know it sucks because that doesn't feel like the badass response and you shouldn't have to deal with that shit, but keep in mind that those assholes are irrelevant and so not worth a fight or anything like that.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

how do I handle this like a boss and not a big nerd?

Walk away and give five bucks to the It Gets Better Project.

OK, that's presuming there isn't a true, imminent threat of violence. That's a different situation. Be prepared to defend yourself when appropriate.

But, what's appropriate? Just walk away from trouble. There's no possible chess move here that arrives at a better situation.

When I was young and stupid, I used to discuss with my buddies, "Hey, what's the best weapon in a bar fight? A bottle? A chair?"

Finally, a very smart person explained to me that the best weapon in a bar fight was a pair of running shoes.

"Huh? How are you going to hit someone with..."

"The running shoes are for you to run away. Because, guess what? That other guy? He's also been thinking about the best weapon to use in a bar fight. And his idea is waaaay better than yours."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:57 PM on December 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

I also recommend watching this episode of Louie. Note the bully's knuckles. He wants a confrontation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2010

You don't have to threaten them with 911 straight off, I would recommend using techniques the police use to destabilize attitudes, e.g. "Any you guys ever been arrested before?" Once you can establish in their young brains that the implications of their actions can easily be made larger than the particular interaction at hand, they may think better of talking to you. Of course, you'll want to back that up with a "Did you like it?" type answer if they answer in the affirmative. You can sharpen this approach if you focus only on an apparent leader (pace brujita, I'm sure Sun Tzu probably has something to say about this). If they persist, then by all means notify a conductor or the police.
posted by rhizome at 1:17 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

While I appreciate the naivete of so many responders who believe that the police would be useful, in many parts of the world (including some parts of the US and the UK) the police would be no help and might end up arresting the gay couple instead of the bullies. When my boyfriend and I are confronted like this in a public place, I usually respond. Oft times, just saying something to the head bully ends it. ("Do you have a problem?") When that doesn't end it immediately, I step up my loud and clear message to step back and leave us alone. Typically, this is enough to shut them down or activate other people to respond as well. (Of course, if the public place is a dark alley at night and not on a train, I act differently.) In the situation you describe, I definitely would have gotten into it with them. Unless we, as gay men, stand up to this behavior, we can not expect others to step up and support us.
posted by hworth at 1:31 PM on December 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Nth it's better to hit with the palm heel than the fist. You can hit a lot harder with a lot less pain to you. Think about it -- if you had to hit a wall as hard as you can and cope with whatever damage it might cause to you, would you rather hit it with your palm heel or your fingers curled into a fist? I think a lot of people pull their punches because they don't want to risk hurting their fingers.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:44 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rhizome, what I meant was if it was only one person menacing, not the leader of a group.
posted by brujita at 2:20 PM on December 24, 2010

Wow, lots of people are ready to fight in this thread. If you end up in a fight that you didn't start, which you must finish, your primary goal will be to disable the other people long enough to get away. It isn't possible to "stun" an attacker like in the movies, or "temporarily disable" a person in a snap fight. Therefor, your goal, what people are recommended when they recommend a fight, is to permanently disable or kill these kids.

So far, the advise given by fellow mefites is brutal enough to be of use if you are ready to risk accidentally (actually, purposefully) permanently disabling someone. I'm sure someone will come in and give detailed instructions on inverting people's knees and cavalier wrist breaking and half-naked-choke-neck-snapping techniques, but instead of macho bullshit, you may want to try agreeing with them but upping the ante.

Presumably they are calling you all manner of names and accusing you of perversions, turn it around and tell them about how awful you really are. The more colorful you can be the better. Make sure you don't come on to them (could get violent) but do get really perverted and self-deprecating. You'll remove their fun in tormenting you if you not only join in and enjoy, but come up with more perverse and nasty insults than them. Compliment their on their clever jokes and laugh heartily at their taunts. They'll lose interest because you aren't actually being insulted by them and no one will end up a brain injury.
posted by fuq at 2:30 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

For future reference, how do I handle this like a boss and not a big nerd? (Just sat there and took it basically). Main aim: not escalating things and getting to my destination in one piece. Secondary aim: handling things with understated cool (early Brando) without cowering, overreacting, or making self-righteous comebacks. Complication: I haven't thrown a punch since the first grade.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you're weak if you don't fight. Note that this is implied by the phrase "sitting there and taking it."

Fuck that noise. Let's step away from assigning power to cocky teenagers with big mouths because our culture has a fetish for their alleged physical prowess. Give 'em the same WTF look you'd give to anyone over whom you feel that you have the authoritative upper hand.
posted by desuetude at 2:56 PM on December 24, 2010 [12 favorites]

When riding trains as a single female, if someone makes me uncomfortable I get out at the next stop and switch to a different car - the few times a conductor asked me about it I explained the situation and no further questions were asked.
posted by cestmoi15 at 3:20 PM on December 24, 2010

I've used the cell phone trick before many times and it works great. On a couple of other occasions when men (I'm a woman) were hassling me (eg construction workers) I've sweetly asked them their name and where they work then equally sweetly said "that's all I need to tell the cops, thanks". 99% of the time they blanched and ran away. The other guy I got fired (he was on the job when he chose to harass a coworker and I).

The only time anyone was stupid enough to actually grab me I knocked him on his ass and broke his nose. I was only 19 at the time and pretty sick of dealing with lewd older men. These days I'd use my words. It's better.

The real trick is confidence. I am 100% sure I am going to come out on top in the long run. I WILL follow up and make them suffer the consequences even if it involves police and massive inconvenience to me (I've done it before). I will fill out the forms, call their mom, tell everyone they know, press the charges, or whatever it takes to make them suffer if they fuck with me. People sense that. Heck, I took on Bank of America's mortgage division last year and won. Street punks got nothing on that.
posted by fshgrl at 3:52 PM on December 24, 2010 [21 favorites]

If this happens again in a public place, and it doesn't stop when you roll your eyes and go "whatever, dude," then stand up and in a loud, clear voice, tell them what you want them to do - LEAVE US ALONE - and name what they're doing - STOP HARASSING US. Don't shout, but use a tone that can be heard and understood in a noisy environment. Be firm. One of you should take out a cell phone and begin dialing 911. Tell them again what you want them to do - LEAVE US ALONE - and what the consequences will be if they don't - WE WILL CALL THE POLICE. Make eye contact with bystanders.

If your goal is to fight, this is not the technique for that. It's worked for me (a woman) when guys have gotten grabby on crowded buses and trains. Once, when a guy was harassing a friend and me, we ran away - partly because he was chasing us, but we also didn't have to fight, which was the goal: not fighting.
posted by rtha at 4:16 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is no panacea. Some assholes will back off with a single harsh word. Some assholes will back off when you bring up the idea of police involvement. Some assholes will back off when you escalate to physical confrontation. And some assholes are looking for an excuse to stomp you into a fucking paste.

Sorry, but walk away. Lame? Better than being paste.
posted by Etrigan at 6:39 PM on December 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm straight and a dude. I would have handled it exactly like you did. I've had my ass kicked several times by groups and individual assholes and I can tell you that threatening to call 9-11 or pointing your cell at someone doesn't always help-often it's the excuse to start swinging. Change trains, tell the conductor, get out immediately and quietly. If you want to say or do something clever or devastating, be prepared to take a punch. Brando the Boss is a fictional character.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:01 PM on December 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

The culture of bullying ends up with some gay people injured or worse, and let's some haterpunks think it's ok. Call the police. It's criminal threatening and reporting it helps demonstrate the need for police action. if the cops in your town don't care about hate crime, join local groups that aim to change that.

Taking pics might escalate the situation, but do it if you feel you can. I'd post the pics to facebook as "the guys who tried to mug me."

Bullies keep it up only if they think they'll get away with it.
posted by Mom at 6:42 AM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

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