The Gayborhood: Our Home, Our Castle

Having spent some time living out west (I’m talking Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid west here, rather than BankAtlantic Center west), I had a sociologist’s—or maybe it was anthropologist’s—view of what it was like to have lived in the Old West.

Part of living here in the sissified east is that many of us are ignorant of the social niceties of something known as “castle doctrine,” this despite the fact that Florida itself has a Defense of Habitation Law.

Such statutes (also known more cutely as “Go Ahead, Make My Day” Laws) have as their basis the aforementioned Castle Doctrine, a medieval concept  and more recent (in terms of centuries) American legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode (or, in some states, any place that is legally occupied, such as a car or place of work) as a place in which that person enjoys certain immunities and protections, including, under certain circumstances, the use of deadly force to defend against an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.

Castle doctrine comes from the English common law concept that “a man’s home is his castle,” a view that was established as British law in 1628 and taken to the New World colonies.

(The evocative phrase “Make My Day Law” takes its name from a 1985 Colorado law that grants immunity from criminal charges or civil suits to a person who uses deadly force in the course of defending against a home invasion. The nickname itself is hommage to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. Law imitates “art:” Be very afraid.)

It’s easy to forget that such considerations exist outside the quite confines of our Gayborhood, or from the suburban-esque security of burgs like Victoria Park and other gentrified-by-gays sections of Broward County. But the outside world reared its ugly head a few nights ago when my partner and I and another couple were taking the night air on Wilton Drive.

As we were passing Jaycee Park—which was most recently the home of the city’s holiday Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa display)—I saw a youngish African American lady talking on her cell phone, a pre-adolescent boy bringing up her rear close behind.

Being the son of a single mother (and, of course, I have no reason to know if in fact this woman was a single parent, but my right brain was driving here) I usually try to have a smile for kids who (I think) are in circumstances similar to my own while I was growing up.

But as I prepared to dole out my Mary Poppins Best, the waif gestured at us in what could—in other circumstances—have been interpreted in a comedic way, if the message hadn’t been so clearly and viciously homophobic: he placed his hands in such a way as to mimic “blinders” so as to avoid seeing us holding hands and otherwise engaged in ‘couples’ behavior.

The emotions that passed among us ranged from blissful ignorance to polite indifference to DEFCON 1 preparedness. This last was most demonstrably evinced by one of our friends (who is of the dangerous-when-provoked-variety), and who was on the verge of giving the lad a mindful/mouthful combo when he was talked back from the ledge by his boyfriend (which is of the attorney-variety).

The outrage put me in mind for some reason of the provocative scene in the 1995 film “Die Hard with a Vengeance” in which Bruce Willis’ character is compelled by terrorists to wear a sandwich board in the streets of Harlem, New York, bearing the message “I Hate N******”—a word that is offensive in a way to which neither “faggot” nor “queer” measure up.

Happy (Proud? Relieved?) as I am to report that I was in no way prompted to rain that particular—and particularly loathsome—sobriquet upon the kid’s head (which would make me the story here), it shocked me that he and his mom were clearly “okay” enough meandering the nighttime streets of the Gayborhood, but not on a level in which “junior” would feel remotely remorseful about behaving so badly in someone else’s “castle.” As Tony Soprano might say, “They’ll let that kid say anything.”

On some Reptilian Brain level, I suppose I was strengthened by the knowledge that I was on my home turf—which gave me territoriality to add to my righteous indignation and moral outrage (what my mother might call “the high ground”). What right, quoth the Reptile, do these people have to put us on the defensive in “my house?”

I realized that being a gay man made it difficult for me to invoke, in the words of the philosopher John Rawls, a “veil of ignorance” and judge the situation on its “merits” rather than through the impulse of emotion. What was doubly ironic about the timing was that, just a few minutes later, we walked past The Manor and saw that it was hosting a predominantly African-American event in its nightclub. Progress has its small victories.

The election cycle of 2012 taught us that LGBT rights is a “winner” on the national agenda, and that in a meaningful way we have “won” the bigger conversation. Now we just need to translate that to weeknights on Wilton Drive.