Walking around Toronto yesterday, soaking up the atmosphere of the city in the run up to World Pride 2014, we interacted with two very different women.
The first was a black woman in the morning. She very clearly had a challenging mental health problem. She walked backwards and forth down the long street we also walking down shouting pretty awful things down a mobile phone that didn’t exist. At first glance she didn’t look too bad, until you realized the back of her shoes were worm though, her hair was a wig and the real hair peeping out was matted, and, bad pancake make-up was covering the sores on her face.
At one point, she seemed to notice Gavin and me and, in the way that people with mental health issues do (I’ve done it myself), we became part of her narrative for a moment. “Two white guys, two FAGGOTS!!!!” she shouted down her imaginary phone. We moved on to a different street and she was lost to us and us to her.
The second woman came us to in the afternoon in a drugstore (I’d had too much sun and needed some tablets). Apparently, my blue podka dot Bermuda shorts marked me out as ‘one of the boys’ (in Toronto, for all it’s diversity, real men wear khaki and denim). She was white, middle-class and middle-aged (in the North American sense of those things). She worked as a teacher in grade school. She asked if we had just come for the Pride Festival and I explained that I was a researcher, a cultural anthropologist, with Pride as one of my subjects.
She talked about have studied anthropology in college, about living in New York until 9-11 happened (which apparently stopped her career as a musician). She talked about moving back to Toronto which was great after New York , but too expensive because the politicians were mostly fascists (there was a sense of her establishing a certain type of liberal identity) in thrall to a certain type of immigrant. The contradiction between her calling others ‘fascists’ and what she went on to say isn’t lost on me…
The next 45 seconds (before I asked her to go away) were amongst the most offensive moments that I’ve spent in anyone’s company in years. Muslims buy up houses to breed terrorists. People from Hong Kong work hard, but kill unproductive babies. Everything that had gone wrong in her life, the life of the city, the history of the world was the fault of some immigrant group. But each sentence was prefaced with how much she supported Pride…
The first woman we met may or may not have been aware of World Pride happening in Toronto. Her comments to us may have been meant personally. I suspect not. It’s important to learn the feel of real hate. The second woman clearly was aware of World Pride, but to what ends? Was it authentic love? Or a way for a particular type of liberal to bundle the nasty prejudices, they now espouse towards certain groups, with a feel-good message that their essential liberalism remains untarnished?
I have to say I preferred the woman with the make-believe phone.