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17 December 2014

It’s quite hard to be witty when a man with a tin of beans is calling you a “dyke”

It’s unfair that, when we come under attack for our sexuality, gender or race, we expect ourselves to immediately develop the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, the eloquence of Eleanor Roosevelt and the wit of Oscar Wilde.

By Eleanor Margolis

“Go to hell, you piece of filth ignorant cunt,” is not something I say that often. I’m 99.7 per cent sure that hell doesn’t exist, and if it did, I don’t think anyone would go there just because an angry lesbian told them to.  

But when someone calls you a “fucking dyke”, as happened to me the other night, those sorts of phrases shoot out of your face. I didn’t choose those words; they escaped from my head. Granted, I quite enjoyed saying them at the time. But, as soon as I walked away from the drunk homophobe with dirty fingernails and a tin of beans, I wished I’d said something a bit cleverer.
In a sense, the tin of beans was to blame for the whole episode. It was around ten at night and I’d gone into Tesco, because a cereal craving had got too much for me and I needed a box of crunchy nut cornflakes. On my way to pay for my box of night carbs, I accidentally cut in front of a man who had dropped a tin of beans and was bending down to pick it up. He wasn’t pleased, and said something just about coherent enough for me to gage its rudeness. I asked him not to be rude. OK, I rudely told him not to be rude. OK, I called him a “dick”. And so things escalated into “fucking dyke”.

I’ve been called a dyke maybe twice before in my life, which is astonishing considering I am one. One time, it was because I was kissing my then girlfriend, which is admittedly quite a dykey thing to do. But I come from an ostensibly liberal, suburban middle class bubble, in which homophobia exists, but it’s only expressed via a newspaper shuffle or passive aggressive topiary. A lot of the time, I can hear people thinking “dyke”, but it’s exceptionally rare for anyone to say it.

What’s more, I’ve never really considered myself visibly dykey. Let me clarify – I know that plenty of straight women have had “dyke” yelled at them. “Dyke” is all too often Moron-speak for “short-haired woman who happens to like wearing fleeces”. Apart from my short hair though, there’s not much about me that would say “dyke” to an idiot. I wear dresses and make-up, which aren’t traditionally dykey things. But, whatever it was, something about me shouted “dyke” at the man with the tin of beans. It’s quite possible that this person didn’t mean “lesbian” when he said “dyke”, he meant “woman with a temper”. So I can’t quite figure out if he was homophobic, per se, or just incredibly sexist.

Either way, hearing a man utter that word (one I happily use to describe myself) stripped my guts of all my pent-up anger towards those bigoted newspaper shuffles. And all I could do was swear dumbly. Retrospectively, I can think about the big cheese of stoicism, Marcus Aurelius, who said, “Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” Or Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I can also think of Oscar Wilde, and kick myself for not becoming him the second I was insulted. But, the moment you’re called a dyke, wisdom becomes bullshit and wit becomes impossible.

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Marcus Aurelius may well have written some clever things about anger. But are we really to believe that, if someone had called him a “thick Roman dung muncher”, he wouldn’t have got a bit flustered, said something like, “Takes one to know one”, then gone home for a rage wank?

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It’s unfair that, when we come under attack for our sexuality, gender or race, we expect ourselves to immediately develop the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, the eloquence of Eleanor Roosevelt and the wit of Oscar Wilde. It was silly of me to pick a fight with a sad drunk and his tin of beans. It’s even sillier of me to beat myself up for having called him a cunt.