The following is an excerpt from my prison memoir-in-progress, called Rebel Hell: Doin’ Time for Barely a Crime. In this section, our 100-man Drug Unit (a special unit with its own rules and jobs and responsibilities that included daily meetings/classes) just finished watching the movie Philadelphia, in which Tom Hanks plays a gay man with AIDS.
*NOTE: although many people in prison thought I was gay, I am not. I’m simply an advocate for equality and social justice, which brought me myriad problems and animosity and drama–though of course what I experienced was NOTHING compared to what actual gays in prison do.
This is how I felt on a daily basis during my two-year incarceration.
In any case, Jay’s bunkmate Pete also complains about the movie, offering a more specific and incisive critique. “That was the gayest fuckin movie I’ve ever seen,” he says, and guffaws in his particularly buffoonish staccato way.
“Well,” I tell him, “it was a movie about gay people, so it kinda makes sense.”
Several people stare at me. Duff says, “Did you like the movie, Jan?”
I hesitate for a moment. Then decide I don’t care. “Yeah, I did, actually. I thought it was a pretty damn good story.”
Pete. Man, he’s one scummy motherfucker. Made all the more malignant by the fact that he has an outgoing personality and a strong sense of humor, which makes him liked by most Inmates. But I see through the façade.
He’s a scumbag, plain and simple. Unkempt black hair, a goatee, and a big toothy grin that brings to mind beavers and other large-toothed woodland creatures. I think he’s locked up for selling guns—at the very least, he claims to’ve been involved in slinging handguns on the black market. On his left pectoral muscle, he has a tattoo of a pistol. Wow, dude, I want to say. You’re SO cool! You’re such a badass! I wanna be just like you when I grow up.
He gets his rocks off talking shit about other people all day long, like Jay and Capone. He may not be the number-one worst gossip queen—I think Capone is planted immovably atop that throne—but Pete’s the loudest and most obnoxious one. He also happens to be a bigoted fucking moron. In a homophobic wasteland, this guy is one of the most outspoken gay-haters I come across my entire incarceration. Dude calls Spongebob Squarepants a “gay conspiracy to turn kids into fags”—that’s right, Spongebob Squarepants, the silly innocuous show on Nickelodeon (wish I were pulling a James Frey and fabricating that, but sadly I’m not—it’s a verbatim quote). This may seem over-the-top-ridiculous to the point where it must be farcical, but no. He’s dead serious: he truly believes things like this. So it’s no surprise that his favorite show is Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. Favorite by a central-Illinois-mile. No surprise either that Pete seems to have a borderline homoerotic affinity for the former governor of Minnesota.
The plot thickens—like a blood-engorged dong. He makes tons and tons of gay jokes (Pete, not Jesse Ventura, at least as far’s I know). Seems a little “queer” to me. If you will. A huge percentage of everything he and his few closest buddies in the Unit say to each other involves a cock or balls or men’s assholes or teabagging someone. Teabagging is when a guy dips his balls in and out of someone’s mouth, typically when the victim is asleep, and hence helpless. Pete freely admits to having teabagged a friend’s mother, as well as numerous friends. Friends both female and male. The plot further thickens—like the width of an anus getting fingered.
He’s frequently claiming celebrities or actors who appear on his TV are “fuckin faggots”. He makes jokes almost daily about how I love Elton John’s music—obliquely and often not-so-obliquely implying that I’m gay because I enjoy the songs of an immensely popular and well-respected musician who happens to be gay. Finally I get sick of it one day. Time to fire back.
“You know,” I tell him—purposefully loud enough for everyone in the room to hear—“some big-time university did a study about people who hate gay people. There were two groups of people: ones who openly admitted they dislike ‘homos’, and others who said they have no problem with gays.” There are about 10 guys in the room, and all but a couple (who don’t notice because they’ve got their TV headphones on) are watching us closely. “Both groups,” I continue, “were shown gay porn. Get this: the dudes who self-identified as homophobes were far more likely to be sexually aroused by it.”
Pete backtracks faster than an NBA point guard in the fourth quarter of a close game. “Hey, I don’t hate gay people! I just think they’re funny.”
“Oh yeah?” I’m not a little concerned he’ll realize what I’m suggesting (that there’s a significant chance he’s gay), especially since I’m doing it in front of the whole room, and that he’ll get enraged and kick my ass. My heart’s clomping like the hooves of wild Mustangs; I’m struggling to keep my voice both casual and steady, free of weakling-trembles. I am scared. Willing to admit it to you, my Dear Reader. But I’m so goddamn tired of his outspoken bigotry toward gays. Can’t hold my tongue anymore—I’m compelled to confront him on it. “You think they’re funny, that’s what it is?”
“Yeah! I think it’s funny they like sucking cocks, HUH-HUH-HUH-HUH!” That’s his laugh—it sounds like a super-fast reproduction of Butthead’s from the MTV show Beavis and Butthead.
“Gotcha.” Right. He doesn’t hate gay people at all! Even though one day he makes an offhand comment, during a news segment about Clay Aiken, that “All fags should be hunted down and shot.”
. . . . !
That kind of unadulterated, brazenly violent hatred just blows me the fuck away. I can’t believe people actually feel like that. Let alone speak it out loud! It literally makes me ill, crushes my heart. Is it because he’s a latent (or closeted) homosexual, and he’s fiercely terrified/angry about it, or is it just plain old vile hate, rooted in ignorance and stupidity? I truly don’t know which one is worse. It’s the precise kind of sentiment that resulted in Matthew Shepherd’s getting savagely beaten to the brink of death in Wyoming, then tied to a fence and left to suffer and slowly die. Same attitude that led to the rape and murder of the transgender man Brandon Teena. Same one that got thousands and thousands of black people lynched, tortured, mutilated, and murdered in post-Civil War America. Pared down to its fundamental basis, it’s the extreme hatred of the other. Of people who are simply different from the so-called norm. It’s vile, it’s revolting, and it’s dangerous.
 Who is also another of those humanoids for whom I could make a strong argument for classification as a separate subspecies of homo sapiens, b/c he’s such a vile scumbag.
 Amusingly enough, big tough-guy musclehead Duff happens to love Spongebob Squarepants (along w/ many other cartoons). Also amusing: I notice that Pete never once makes this claim when Duff is around. Ha!
 (Not that there’s anything wrong w/ that!)