The Kraken Inside Me

 

FAGGOT IS ONE of “those words.”

It’s taken some time for it to enter the lexicon of things you aren’t allowed to say. Like any of The Unspeakables, its ickiness depends on who is saying it, to whom, and in what tone of voice.

Mostly, you don’t want to hear it. But there are those time when the word flies out of someone’s mouth and the juxtaposition of usage and context makes you LOL. (For realz lol-ing, not hyperbolic-acronymical lol-ing.)

When I was part of the original Off-Broadway company of Naked Boys Singing, the choreographer’s assistant praised us – on the rare occasion that we got something right – by saying, in his booming bass:

“Yes, faggots, yes!!!”

Imagine that, amplified through the sub-woofer of a grown man’s lowest octave, in the most joyful way possible, and you’ll know why we laughed along with him. You’ll also know why it has become part of the vocabulary among my non-naked friends when something is either delicious, or fashionable, or just plain RIGHT. “Yes, faggots, yes!”

Out of context it sounds awful. But when you’re trying on a Hugo Boss suit, in spite of its unspeakably high price tag, and it fits perfectly (as Hugo Boss is wont to do on my frame), you might find yourself saying, “Yes, faggot, yes!”

Then imagine walking down the street, alone, in the middle of the day, wearing that Hugo Boss suit, feeling happy, alive, feeling pretty good about yourself. You’re thinking, “Yes, faggot, yes,” when you suddenly hear “Faggot!” in the distance behind you…

It’s not your inner voice. It’s something outside. And it’s not so welcome.

If, like me (and so many other gays), you were physically and verbally abused mercilessly from fourth grade through your senior year of high school, with random airstrikes happening well into adulthood, the spoken Unspeakable, hurled in your direction, has the potential to release the Kraken inside you.

Until that day, I believed my inner Kraken was a pussycat. (Ok, maybe a Lion, but a tame Lion more interested in play than prey.) But on a certain day last year I discovered that the word “Faggot!” is some kind of Pavlovian translator that converts “Yes, faggot, yes” to “Faster, pussycat, kill! Kill!”

And since my inner Kraken is a pussycat…

Well, let’s just say, it didn’t end well for the other guys

~

In 1978, Candace Montgomery murdered her neighbor, Betty Gore, in self-defense when Gore attacked her. The two women were good friends, but Montgomery had had an affair with Gore’s husband. One day over coffee, Gore confronted Montgomery. When she admitted to the affair, Gore left the kitchen, returned with an axe, and attacked. In the struggle to defend herself, Montgomery wrested the axe away and chopped Gore’s head to pieces.

Candace Montgomery was acquitted on a complicated psychological defense which involved her experiencing a dissociative reaction (going temporarily insane, basically) and unleashing a childhood rage she didn’t know she had. Childhood anger, as anyone with a child knows, can be shockingly potent. Anyone who has suppressed their anger for even a short time might be able to identify. Candace Montgomery had buried a single, innocuous incident from her childhood for so long that a specific trigger in the struggle with Betty Gore shattered her civility.

~

Last year, in the middle of a horrible no-good very bad day, I raced off to an event, running late but dressed for success in my favorite cowboy boots, a very fine Hugo Boss blazer, and some yes-faggot-yes sexy jeans. My pace was fast, my strides long, contemplating what might have been a glass half-empty kind of day. Instead, I was beginning to accept that this was not a glass half-empty day. My glass was overflowing with alien acid devil Kraken blood and anyone who crossed me might be sorry.

I was considering the dominion of the alien devil Kraken and why it was serving up its acid blood in my half-empty glass, when I heard laughter behind me, followed by this:

“Lookit that faggot,” schoolboy giggling, “he’s fixing his hair,” more giggling, “homo.”

There was That Word (“faggot”) and another Unspeakable (“homo”).

The men attached to these two voices both had a moment of pause when I turned toward them. Number One was about 6’1”, of frat-boy build and I think it’s a fair guess to say he was a more than frequent beer drinker. Number Two, about 5’10”, was surprisingly tall for a paramecium. I doubt either of them thought this would have been the day when a fashionably dressed faggot would douse them with a full glass of fuck you.

ME: What are you laughing at, Fatty?

(“Fatty,” is another of The Unspeakables. Number One wasn’t fat by any means but he was suffering from “carb face.” And I was suddenly feeling mean; sometimes you have to speak to a bully in his own language.)

NUMBER ONE: We weren’t talking about you.

ME: I’m not an idiot. (pause) Fatty.

NUMBER ONE: (laying his hand on my chest) Really, man, we weren’t talking about you.

ME: Get your fucking hand off me.

That was when I got shoved. I’m not sure who shoved me. But it was definitely Number Two who said: “What are you going to do it about, homo?”

ME: This.

And I raised my closed umbrella, swinging it with such force into the side of his head that his eyes opened involuntarily, unnaturally wide and the umbrella snapped at the handle.

It was at that point that my amygdala completely subsumed my logic.

~

While Candace Montgomery did not have a channel for her inarticulate, childhood rage, I have been a performer and writer for decades. I had started writing in childhood: an instinctive sublimation of my anger, using horror stories to filter my rage. My response to Number One and Number Two was some kind of chemical concoction that stirred together years of self-discipline with years of abuse. My rage was not frenzied – it was a force, a light saber, quivering and vibrating, powered by abuse.

If Obi-Wan Kenobi had tried to lecture me at that moment, though, I would have said, “The force? Pfft! That’s like a 5-Hour Energy compared to this.”

As Number One and Number Two began to advance, cornering me at a loading dock on the side of my building, Number Two continued to push and Number One to insist that there was nothing to worry about it; they weren’t attacking me; we all needed to calm down.

Some neighborhood folk began to gather. A Baby Gay of about 20 or 22 sweetly tried to put a stop to the situation. In his attempt to calm things, Baby Gay got caught in the wake of 30 years of cowering and walking away whenever someone called me a “faggot.” “Ignoring it,” as I was instructed to do by everyone from teachers to parents to friends, festers. Add 25 years of training as a singer and you get:

“CALL THE POLICE!!!!”

I have no idea why Baby Gay didn’t just walk away and tell me to go fuck myself. Maybe because I suddenly sounded like Mercedes McCambridge inside Linda Blair. The demons were out. My inner Kraken had broken the chains. It was scary. And Baby Gay did as he was told by Scary Devil Kraken Man.

Number Two kept pushing me and saying, “What are you going to do about it, homo?” as Number One tried to prevent a physical confrontation.

Normally my reaction would have been, “Walk away and pretend it doesn’t bother you.” Not today. Wrong faggot, wrong day, boys. Today, Scary Devil Kraken Man was roaring:

“Faster, pussycat. Kill! Kill!”

One more time, Number Two pushed me and said, “Shut up, homo.”

That’s when my fist met his nose.

You know in the movies when a guy hits another guy and he goes flying across the bar? You think to yourself: “Pfft. That never happens.”

It happens.

There are a lot of crazy, mixed up feelings when you shatter a man’s nose. First you think, “Wow, I felt that,” then, “The look on his face is hilarious!” and “Ouch, that sounded painful!”

Number Two had flown back about 15 feet. He came at me as the birds and stars twittering and twinkling around his head tried to arrange themselves, but Number One held him off as I strode away, tossing over my shoulder, “That’s what you get when you come into my neighborhood and call me a faggot.”

As I vibrated along the way back to my apartment, I heard a voice rise from the group of blue-collar guys at the local bakery. “What happened, man?”

“He called me a homo, so I broke his nose.”

They cheered. I’m fairly certain none of them were gay, but they seemed to identify with the underdog.

The Baby Gay clapped me on the back and congratulated me. But I was too consumed with the rage and adrenaline, both of which obliterated any focus I may have had during the actual confrontation. Then there were these other thoughts which started to replace whatever I’d dumped on my bullies:

“Are they coming for me? Will the police come to get me? Should I walk around the block so they don’t know which building I live in?” And most importantly: “Should I call Christine Quinn????”

Going to the police seemed like a crazy idea. But maybe I should go there first before they came for me… If I did, what would I say? “I just got gay bashed but the other guy is in the hospital with a broken nose?”

Did I really think Number Two was going to the police? I could only imagine him walking into a station to report his broken nose.

COP: Your nose is bleeding.

NUMBER TWO: I got gay bashed.

COP: Do you want to call the Lesbian & Gay Anti-Violence Project?

NUMBER TWO: What?

COP: If you got gay bashed…

NUMBER TWO: No. No. I’m not the faggot.

COP: You’re hysterical. Sit down.

NUMBER TWO: No! Dude! (sigh) Jesus! I called this homo a homo and he broke my nose.

COP: (calling to someone out of sight) Hey, Mike, some fag broke this guy’s nose. (back to BD) You from Jersey or some shit?

NUMBER TWO: Staten Island.

COP: I’m from Staten Island. No one from Staten Island’s that stupid. You don’t call a Manhattan homo a fag because he will break your nose.

NUMBER TWO: What?!

COP: Case in point. (calling off) Hey, Mike, we need to put that on a t-shirt.

[laughter from the back offices]

OFFICER MIKE: (muffled, somewhere off) Hey, Simmons, did you hear what Chuck’s dealing with up front? Some fag broke a dude’s nose. (laughs) Dude wants to press charges.

[The back room erupts with laughter.]

COP: Get the fuck outta here before I break your jaw too.

Yes, faggot, yes!

But I still wasn’t feeling so well. You know when people say, “I’m upset?” What the hell does it mean? I knew right then what it meant: I had capsized. Whatever my thoughts had been they were now in the pit of my stomach. Nothing was where it should be.

~

Until that fatal moment, Candace Montgomery had buried her anger in such a way that her trigger turned an act of self-defense into the obliteration of her attacker. To strike a person again and again in the head with an axe is the unleashing of the Kraken. In the case of Candace Montgomery, it may seem easy to deny a form of temporary insanity unless one has experienced extreme, if only momentary, rage. In her defense, Montgomery’s lawyer said, “She was aware of doing the act but didn’t comprehend what she was doing… she was no longer a human being. She was an animal. She turned into something less than a human being…”

Anger, even justified anger, produces a chemical surge that sets off the amygdala (the emotional brain) while increasing blood to the frontal lobe (reasoning.) These opposite ends of the brain should, theoretically, remain in balance but the amygdala’s quick-fire response – as fast as a quarter of a second – can lead directly to action without conscious thought. In moments of anger, a deep breath and a mental activity such as counting to ten can prevent impulsive actions which might lead to broken noses or, worse, murder.

In the case of my street encounter, we were talking about decades of “ignoring” the epithets, pretending it wasn’t happening and believing I was better than them. They were “jealous” or “just jerks” or “insensitive.” Whatever triggered me also unlocked something and set it free.

When I walked away from the bullies, my body was surging with adrenaline, and I was so consumed that I had a hard time engaging my frontal lobe. In other words: I couldn’t relax. And it was scary. I could neither think nor see. I was literally, actually, blind for a few moments until I sat down and took some deep breaths. I made phone calls. Spoke to friends. Told my story. Anything to bring a sense of normalcy to the hours it took for me to calm down.

Having been chained so long by social constructs, my Kraken was unable to express itself until those hapless twentysomethings accidentally found the key. I could make the argument that, like Candace Montgomery, I both knew and didn’t know what I was doing – and it would be true. But unlike Candace, I wrested control of myself from my amygdala and walked away after the initial release. Candace and her victim were not so lucky. I’m glad for myself and for Number One and Number Two they walked away with only one broken nose between them and a lesson:

Careful who you call “faggot.”

Luckily, this time, they had only encountered me and my relatively tame Kraken. But what if it had been some other gent, making his way home from his country house, laden with gardening tools – an axe among them…?

The anger I’ve walked around with for so long has translated into a more playful spirit. With more freedom to play, my Kraken seems a little more tame and even willing to heed some discipline: “Sit, Kraken. Good, Kraken. Kraken want a cracker?”

Strangely, my confidence has grown. I think I understand my strength, physical and mental. In an emergency, I trust this experience has taught my amygdala how to channel the Kraken’s rage.

Yes, faggot, yes. Sometimes you need to give your Kraken a treat.

Tom Gualtieri

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri (@TomGGualtieri)is a theatre artist with his hand in many disciplines: lyricist, playwright, performer, director, knitter. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. His solo play, That Play: A Solo Macbeth, was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award.
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3 Responses to The Kraken Inside Me

  1. John Summers says:

    Thom,

    I enjoyed reading your story. We’ve all been there. My most recent subjection to homophobia was years ago, I believe I was crossing 57 st and 6 ave and I heard some guy say, ‘Flame on.’ I of course acted as if I’d not heard it and who knows, maybe he was being supportive. The worst recent incident occurred years ago right in my neighborhood and it involved 2 very young black american boys. They said something subtle like, ‘Hey faggot, suck my dick.’ At least they didn’t yell it. Interestingly enough, I experienced several such type of experiences shortly after I returned to NY from Birmingham and it was always from young african americans.

    I applaud that you were able to vent by punching the guy. I of course don’t recommend you try that again, not that you need my advice, you seem very well tuned to your emotions, but next time, stick with the verbal defense, it’s probably more scarring. But in the end, and again, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, forgiveness is a great way to vent our hostility, I often find I’m forgiving people daily because otherwise I’ll fester so much anger it’ll manifest in an ulcer or worse. Oh, and tennis! Nothing like bashing some balls to get your anger out of your body.

    In the end, what I took from that story is that the word faggot has a negative connotation to it, no matter who is saying it. I’d of been beside myself if I’d have been in a show and someone running the rehearsal referred to me/us as faggots. Yes, he didn’t say it in the ‘bad’ way but still, that’s so inappropriate and heck, weren’t there straight guys in the cast? He sounds like an amateur. I consider myself politically incorrect and when a gay guy pisses me off, yes, I use the word, not to their face but definitely in my thoughts and if I voice my opinion to an understanding close friend.

    I suppose hateful and angry thoughts will never completely go away from humans, but hopefully we’ll all be as self aware you and I are, acknowledge it and then move on.

    • Tom Gualtieri Tom Gualtieri says:

      John,
      In the 80′s there was a need to take back power from the oppressor and adopt the word “queer” as our own. It’s been, I think, almost entirely successful. You rarely hear it anymore in a derogatory way. Instead, the LGBT community uses it for events, parties, clubs, and charities. Use of “The F Word” in the two situations I described was wildly different. Put it this way: you had to be there for the first one. It was a strangely potent moment because it diffused the awful meaning of that word into the lowest comedy. The shock value was hilarious. Regarding the 2nd? Be glad you weren’t there. It wasn’t pretty.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope there are more than just gay men who relate to the Kraken inside.

  2. Pingback: Exploring the Darkness Through a Solo Macbeth — The Good Men Project

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