When Your Barber Assumes You’re A Racist Too

Being a spectator at the men’s evil bullshit parade every time I sat down for a haircut sucked. What was worse, maybe, was that my silence implicated me every time. And I let it

Isaac Fitzgerald
Mar 12, 2020 · 24 min read
Illustration by Bea Hayward

TThe second time I saw Gavin McInnes’s dick it wasn’t my fault. It happened when I was getting a haircut, and the hungoverly chatty barber was telling me about his partly professional and occasionally social relationship with Gavin McInnes. If you’re lucky enough not to know, McInnes is a founder of Vice Magazine and Vice Media, whose post-Vice career has involved a lot of hate speechifying, denying that he meant said hate speechifying, and founding a group called the Proud Boys. Give you two guesses what they’re proud of.

Now, Nazis who try to keep that they are Nazis kind of secret (despite it being 100% obvious) like to use two words. There’s “pride,” which is invoked when they are accused of hate — no, they are just proud! Of being white! That’s the only feeling they have about their whiteness! This charade never lasts for any length of time whatsoever. But, to be fair, “white pride” is shorter than “everybody else hate.” They also love to talk about “humor,” as in “the left has no sense of,” as if they can brute-force compel people to laugh at jokes that aren’t funny, and shame them if they don’t. Uhhhhhhhh, sorry that you’re only funny when you fail clownishly, which is often? Because you know what is fucking funny? Naming their — in their words — “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world” the Proud Boys (which sounds like nothing more than a group of four-year-olds who have cleaned up their toys or gone potty successfully, both major accomplishments in early child development of which one should actually be proud). Though the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group, McInnes denies this and has even sued the SPLC for defamation, a not at all hate group-y thing to do.

So by the time my barber held out his phone to show me a photo that I already didn’t want to see (but didn’t know just yet how very much I didn’t want to see it), my heart was already sinking, sunk, fully submerged. In the photo, Gavin looked drunk, wearing a robe that hung open like stage curtains to reveal his dick just chilling there. We had the same haircut. My barber had the same haircut. It was a “Who Wore It Best?” that I was absolutely horrified to be a part of.

Unfortunately I couldn’t deny I liked the haircut. It looked good on me. But what did it say about me that just by sitting in this chair, getting this haircut, looking like whatever I looked like, all of a sudden I appeared to be the type of person who’d really be pleased and entertained to see a picture of Gavin McInness, head of the Proud Boys, literally partying with his dick out?

LLong before getting a simple haircut somehow exposed me to Proud Boy dick, hair had always been weirdly fraught for me. When was it that I really understood the power of a decent haircut? Luckily I’ll never forget, because Terminator 2, one of the greatest action movies ever, will always exist to remind me. For reasons which are lost to time, when I was about nine years old my mom took me to Supercuts, or whatever the Massachusetts even-more-off-brand Dunkin’ Donuts of hair version was. Up until then, she had always been of the “we have haircuts at home!” philosophy, which usually led to me getting choppy bowlcuts. She never actually put a bowl on my head and cut around it, but it was like she couldn’t stop envisioning an imaginary bowl on my head and going from there. And, as I’m sure you’ll be very surprised to hear, the Scotch tape touch-ups didn’t help my bangs at all.

I wasn’t planning on wasting this rare opportunity to get a real-ass haircut. When I sat down in front of the stylist, I held up a picture of Eddie Furlong in Terminator 2, a movie that was already out on VHS but that my strict Catholic parents were never going to let me see. Clearly a cool movie, so if I couldn’t see it I wanted to be it somehow. Also, I wanted to look handsomer. Also, much, much thinner. Finally, because all the kids in my class couldn’t stop talking about Terminator 2 while I was coming up conversationally snake eyes, I needed this haircut to be-all end-all convince them that I too had seen this goddamn movie.

Against a frankly enormous and scary tidal wave of expectations, the stylist did her best. But when it was over, all I felt was disappointment. The haircut itself seemed to be a success. A neat and crisp part separated my hair into two asymmetrical lobes, one tucked behind my ear as the other hung over my eye. Unfortunately, getting in the way and ruining the whole effect was my same dumb face.

However, even though the haircut didn’t magically transform me into Eddie Furlong’s twin, it actually did end up fulfilling a few of my outrageous expectations. On Monday at school I fumbled my way through a conversation about Arnold Schwarzenegger (he’s… a… nice… robot? And… was… not nice… be…fore??), and then one of the Joshs in my class — no less than the second coolest Josh himself — told me “nice haircut.”

So I learned real haircuts could be magic. This would have been a totally fine lesson to learn if it wasn’t for the fact that I was still a child with zero dollars who would have to beg his mother to take him to Supercuts again, which she mostly wouldn’t. But now that I knew I could transform myself, I couldn’t go back. I had no choice but to fuck with my hair on my own.

Because I have never liked the way I look. As a chubby kid, a younger man with body dysmorphia, and the man I am now, I have wanted to look different almost my entire life. So I’m extremely here for anything that can help make that happen. And that’s the thing, the dream of a haircut, right? That somehow messing with this mess of dead cells that grows out of your skull can make your whole body, and thus your whole you-ness, look better, cooler, richer, whatever. If you could only figure out how to do it just right.

Hair is so, so easy to fuck with, fuck up. That’s why it’s one of the first ways in which kids can exert control over their appearance. By changing your hair, you could change yourself, and even drastically, in ways everyone could see, even if they’d never seen you before.

Plus, you could even do it for free. Hair dye could be shoplifted. Your best friend Liam could shave half your head. Your mother could pick you up after your friends invented a drink they called Weirdcore (cheap bourbon mixed with Carlo Rossi and god knows what else) which led to your buddy Dave giving you a mohawk, and in the silence that filled the car as she drove you both home, you gave thanks that she couldn’t beat your ass and steer at the same time.

Terrible. Blonde. Tips.

Did I look like shit, for the most part? Of course. But I was just grateful for the chance to look different.

My hair experiments paused late in high school, when I focused more on paring my body down in various ways (a mix of snorting Ritalin and Adderall, dip, and running) and stuck to a standard haircut with short sides and a gelled front that is exactly what you picture when you think the phrase “white dude with brown hair.” For years, that was the status quo, until I moved from San Francisco to New York City in my late twenties. In sunny San Francisco, I lived in a rent-controlled apartment in a beautiful neighborhood, jogged and rode my skateboard and BMX a lot, finally got to a place in my working life where I’d figured things out and didn’t feel like dying, and blew it all up to move to NYC for a job that was exciting but not all figured out in November during the worst winter the East Coast had seen in a decade, and quickly gained 30 pounds.

I dealt with all this by getting one of the worst haircuts of my life, as follows: Shaved to the scalp, except for a wide strip of long hair on the top of my head that was slicked back. Depending on your perspective it might not sound that bad, but 1) it was, and 2) no haircut exists in isolation; you gotta see it on a person to tell what it’s going to be, and on me it looked both stupid and mean. I don’t know much about Pokémon, but someone saw a photo of this haircut recently and assured me that I looked exactly like a “Pidgeot.”

Of course getting a trauma haircut is a time-honored way of attempting to reassert control. Unfortunately it often directly results in you playing yourself, since during those times where you feel lost and in flux, deciding on a whole new hairstyle is almost as ill-advised as choosing who to date. In both cases you make choices based on an imaginary self, hoping against hope that both the self and the outside world will somehow contort and transform a wrong fit into a right one.

Tangentially, nowhere was this more clearly shown than in Avengers: Endgame, which accidentally or on purpose did a deep-dive into the myriad ways that upheaval and trauma can compel you to fuck up your hair. Like so: The two captains remained captain-y: Captain America shaved his beard to reassert control (and hearken back to simpler, more winninger times) and kept his hair trimmed with a protractor, while Captain Marvel got a not-too-dissimilar power cut, except with a little more swoop and flair on top. Black Widow chose the path of neglect, letting her dye job grow out and keeping it out of her way in a sad multicolored braid. Hawkeye just stopped giving a fuck about everything, since there was no way he could sport whatever that was on top of his head and believe in a just and rational universe. Finally, Thor let his beard, hair, and whole entire self go (and this I loved most of all).

I was a patchwork of my San Francisco self, my New York self, my boy self, my man self, my responsible job-having self, my boozy fuckface scamp self, and although everyone else in the whole wide world is similarly patchworky, I couldn’t even figure out how to make my outside cohere into something that made sense to me, that would make me satisfied to present myself to the world. But I wanted to.

So instead of doing what I’d always done before — rolling with the awful haircut, letting it grow out, then giving up and settling for basic because at least basic won’t let you down — I kept trying to look better.

EEvery single barbershop I went to had a similar vibe. You know the kind; there was an explosion of them in the early aughts, and then they never really went away. The combs in the blue antiseptic water, a throwback barber pole creating a hipster aesthetic that says “we like old stuff but don’t worry we’re still cool.” There’s a bottle of whiskey by the register that welcomes you to take a shot as you settle up your tab. A flag, often American but without the current number of stars, hanging on the wall in a big wooden frame.

This isn’t one particular barbershop, mind you. It’s a lot of them. Not gonna lie: That aesthetic was my shit exactly. Past shit with present shit with punk shit with old dude shit, plus the fun of a bar except unlike a bar you look better when you walk out.

I was drawn to the look and vibe of these barbershops — like Terminator 2, I kinda wanted to be them — and there were plenty to try in NYC.

Which was good, because I had to try so many.

The quality of the actual haircuts turned out to be the least of my problems. To my great surprise, because talking is the one thing I always think I know how to do, the problem was the conversations during these haircuts. I’d come in hopeful and fresh, sit down all ready to chat and get clipped, and then… Time after time, it went to hell; time after time, I was plunged into so many moments from the Telling On Oneself Hall of Fame that I started to wonder if there was something about me that made these dudes want to talk about the worst shit on their minds.

There was the guy who wouldn’t stop talking to me about his failing relationship despite the fact that everything he said made it pretty clear that he was the one fucking things up in some toxic-ass ways. I kept my mouth shut. Reminded myself that I do my best to mind my own business and stay in my lane.

There was the guy who believed that the barbershop was a safe space for offensive views. You know the type — like a ’90s shock jock who claims to “make fun of everyone.” Sure, he made a joke about his gay cousin, but he’s an equal opportunity hater, he’ll make fun of anyone (total coincidence that this “anyone” turns out to be only the marginalized/oppressed/etc.) and besides, it’s his cousin. With this guy, I did notice some of the other barbers around him roll their eyes, bristle. Nobody liked what was coming out of this dude’s mouth, but, hey. It was the barbershop. The real talk spot. And they all had to work with him. I could just leave. And that’s just what I did.

There was the guy who started showing me a video composed of various clips from security cameras and cellphones showing women being hit. He was saying, “Because, you know, you’re not supposed to hit women, but sometimes….” and then let the words hang there. Waiting for me to laugh, or say something like “if they hit first.” The haircut was almost done. I just looked at him and asked him to turn off the video and finish up, please. I had someplace to be, I said. He rolled his eyes, put the phone down, and we spent the next five minutes in agitated silence. The haircut was finished. And I walked home thinking about why I, someone who grew up in a violent household filled with domestic abuse, didn’t say more.

There was the guy who barely said a word for three whole haircuts. I’d walk in. We’d nod at each other. I’d sit down. He’d ask, “Long on top, short on the sides?” I’d nod again. He’d cut my hair, and then I’d leave. I was in heaven. I thought I had found my barber. It was pure bliss. To not talk at all. What a gift. When I came in for my fourth visit and sat down, the guy said, “You know, the problem with freedom of religion is…” and my whole dream collapsed. Much to my horrified non-surprise, instead of complaining about, say, how often and how boldly Church is allowed to encroach on State in America, he was gearing up for a racist monologue. I opened my mouth. I pushed back. But after I made a few attempts to bring up the distinctions between faith, belief, and religious extremism, my barber continued on his tirade. Almost everyone in the shop grew quiet. He shouted out for agreement and a few people half-heartedly grunted. I got quiet and just concentrated on getting out of there. Feeling shitty, I paid and left.

And finally, there was the guy who showed me Gavin McInnes’s dick.

Being a spectator at the men’s evil bullshit parade nearly every time I sat down for a haircut sucked. What also sucked was the fact that I wasn’t just sitting and watching it go by — this was their way of holding their hand out, inviting me to jump on the float. I felt implicated, because I was. One reason they talked to me like that was I looked the part. The tattoos. The tight sides. I get that if you took a photo of me and put Alt-Right Poster Boy underneath it no one would really blink. Because of this certain people sometimes speak more freely around me, when I truly wish they would do the opposite, and then go get bent.

The thing is, after years of working as a bouncer I am not inexperienced with physical altercations, and am pretty good at talking drunks down when they’re being complete assholes or getting into fights. The other thing to know about me, though, is I’m incredibly polite. Too polite. Like my therapist recently described me as a “pathological accommodator” and the outrageous accuracy blew my mind. Like once I was at a book fair talking to some Scientologists without knowing it, and even after I realized I was talking to Scientologists I kept the convo going for another twenty minutes because I didn’t want to be rude and it was only when they handed me a clipboard asking for my email and phone number that I got up the nerve to pretend to get a phone call, and mouth “I’ve got to take this” at the Scientologists and shrug apologetically before scurrying away, my phone not having made a sound.

This politeness is a sickness. And yes, me and my therapist are working on it now, but I’ve only been in therapy for a year and some change, so I have a great deal of past politeness to keep me up at night. Even as somebody who prides himself on living a life without much regret, I can honestly say that I regret every time I didn’t speak up while I was sitting in those barber chairs. And sure I could say something about how it’s hard to disagree with someone when they’re lining your beard up using a straight razor but that’s weak and you know it and I know it. Full stop.

At the time, rather than deal head-on with any of this, I took the coward’s route and decided to grow my hair out. Long hair, no therapy, don’t care! But you can’t ignore hair forever: That shit just won’t stop growing. And you still have to do stuff to long hair to have it look good, a truth I was conveniently trying to forget, even as I began to look like a murderous drifter. Still, I probably would’ve kept it going for a long time, except that I got a new job, and the new job was on-camera and they were not down with the Mindhunter cameo look. I needed a haircut, and then I needed to keep getting those haircuts every couple of weeks.

WWhen I walked into Badlands in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I knew I had found the place for me. It was not a dedicated barber shop but a salon, which had a large rainbow flag and a punk rock vibe, but not the bad kind of punk rock vibe where it’s the same old jocks and bullies worshipping at the church of manly aggression only in better outfits, but the good kind of punk rock vibe where it’s about being weird and mad and fun in whatever fucking way you want. When I slid into my chair, I was eye to eye with my hair stylist, who had a shock of bright, expertly dyed hair and gave off an impression, both literal and figurative, of sparkling all over. Her name was Rachael. As soon as she put the cape over my shoulders, she launched into a story that began, “Back when I was in the circus and lived in Louisiana…” By the end of my appointment, I looked sharp, and more importantly, I felt like not an utter sack of shit. After forty-five minutes chatting with and learning all about the hilarious, interesting, kind person cutting my hair, I felt refreshed, peaceful, just… good.

For almost two years, I saw Rachael every two weeks. Though I no longer have a job requiring strict hair maintenance, I still go in whenever I need a trim. Rachael tells me about her pup Ru (unstoppably adorable), her bartender boyfriend (it’s working out!), and her most recent adventures (someone is doing her twenties right), and I do one of my favorite things, which is not say much at all.

A few months ago, I had an event coming up and needed to get my ears lowered, but Rachael was on vacation, so when I walked into the salon, I was paired with the one guy who worked there.

Drew is white, tall, lanky, cool. The more we chatted, the more the tension I hadn’t even realized I was feeling drained away. Drew is from Ohio, lived in Boston for a while before moving to New York, which led us into talking about friends back home, which led us into talking about talking to old friends. Drew said he’d been discussing privilege with his white friends where he’s from, but using the word “blessings” instead. He knew it wasn’t a perfect match, but it had helped some people get used to the idea before — after they’d been talking for a bit — he could substitute “privilege” back in. He told me that he’s had more than one friend come around on the view and how they see themselves as privileged.

None of this is to say that all folks back home, wherever that is, are inherently more ignorant, less thoughtful and caring and knowledgeable. It’s only that Drew, and me, and countless others, had a lot of chances to be plopped into new environments among new people with new (at least to us) ideas and ways of thinking and being. We learned, we listened, we kept our mouths shut, we fucked up, and somewhere along the way we managed to show that certain kinds of conversations and explanations might not be wasted on us. The chance to grow like that is something you earn and deserve; it is also a tremendous gift, given to you by others with such gleaming generosity, especially when you think about how they don’t know what they’ll get back.

RRecently I was at a friend’s house in LA, telling him that I was working on this essay. Upon hearing Gavin McInnes’s name, my friend got up and dug around in his closet until he emerged with a copy of the collection Vice DOs & DON’Ts: 10 Years of Vice Magazine’s Street Fashion Critiques, a book I hadn’t cracked in over a decade.

I opened it up. Over the next hour I took a trip down a very specific type of memory lane, known as what-a-piece-of-shit-I used-to-be-as-evidenced-by-the-shit-I-used-to-find-hilarious road. Wheeeeeew. It’s not like I don’t know that Vice was meant to be edgy. But the book wasn’t just sprinkled with a few badly aged jokes here and there. It was an artifact from another age.

Over time, cool does any number of things: It dies a rapid death, and then the corpse is interred in the tomb of the permanently uncool, where it remains. It dies a rapid death, and then twenty or thirty years later the corpse comes back to life and fights its way out of the tomb. Rarest of all, it lives forever. Because cool changes fast and it changes hard. So it was no surprise that the DOs and DON’Ts no longer seemed at all cool. They sounded more like someone’s shitty, horny, drunk dad talking over the TV while channel-surfing.

The real surprise? The book wasn’t only overtly awful — it also contained more subtle awfulness than I’d remembered, ultimately making it all the more awful (and insidious and damaging). I’ll explain: I went in expecting a plain old outrageous faceful of racism and misogyny, and got… well, yeah, a shit-ton of racism and misogyny, with much of it cloaked and buried and tempered in various ways… along with a whole lot of transphobia and fatphobia which wasn’t.

Gavin McInnes loved to give offensive compliments, to reference racist canards about black penis size and Asian math skills while thumbs-upping people’s outfits. They were Trojan Horses with praise as the facade, because if you accepted the praise, you’d also need to engage with the horrible ideas woven into the praise as if they were worth considering, weighing, or even accepting. One page contained an image of some Nazi fuckheads at a rally, marveling at their graphic design and dapperness (and isn’t that oh-so very familiar?); the next image was of anti-Nazi protesters at that same rally. Both were DOs.

A brief interview at the front of the book highlighted McInnes’s both-sides-either-way-who-knows thinking, when he tried to answer the question of what makes someone a DON’T. He said something about how DOs don’t try too hard, before acknowledging that sometimes it was random: “Often there’s no difference between DOs and DON’Ts. It’s just whatever works better.” Occasionally there were too many DOs for a given issue so he’d turn them into DON’Ts, or vice versa.

I’m sure it would be telling to know which photos he’d have been willing to re-categorize — and which photos were non-negotiably DO or DON’T — but it also doesn’t matter. The devil was in his very shiftiness, his trickster quality. To probably misuse a physics concept in order to bolster my point, in the Vice DOs and DON’Ts Gavin McInnes made himself a particle governed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: Was he praising or condemning? Was he mocking and moving away from hate, or speeding toward it? And he’s still at it to this day. (Again, McInnes vehemently denies any and all allegations of being a racist or a Nazi or of founding a hate group.)

This kind of stance was a hallmark of hipster racism, which had a primetime in the early aughts. Hipster racism is of course just racism-racism, distinguished by the lie that we are now all so equal and copacetic that we can joke and laugh about racism and racist shit, and the more one did so the more one proved this, setting aside the fact that there are those for whom life contains so many opportunities to laugh at others and so much fewer occasions to laugh at oneself; as well there are those who are asked to ignore, damage, sacrifice themselves to laugh. There are better jokes and there are killingly worse jokes, and all jokes show something about what the teller really means.

The McInnes of the Vice DOs and DON’Ts was slippery, wrongfooting, unpindownable. But you can’t laugh at everything and mean nothing forever. More than fifteen years hence, he has shown us what he really means. The mask became his face, or it always was, and it is the same face worshipped and worn by so many people in this current moment, murky and shifting at a moment’s notice from hideous troll to laughing jester to self-regarding worldly dapper dan, but recognizable by the hate shining out the eyeholes.

I’I’m growing my hair out again. Less to do with any shitty experiences at barbershops this time around, and more likely something to do with my turning 37 and an unwillingness to face that I’m growing older. But while I might have an issue with giving up my BMX or skateboard, and I did recently buy a ridiculous hat as a stop-gap while my hair looks dumb but also just because I simply love this dumb hat, I am so damn happy to be just-turned-37 me.

Because at some point in my life — and this is something I considered while flipping through my friend’s copy of Vice DOs and DON’Ts — at some point in my life I thought this book was so important that I made room for it in the one bag I packed for my move to San Francisco, 3,000 miles across the country, when I was 23.

That, by the way, was the first time I saw Gavin McInnes’s dick. I brought it all on myself. It was the early 2000s. Vice was the only magazine carried by the bar where I was working at the time, and when the collected DOs and DON’Ts came out, it seemed to appear instantly in the bathrooms of every 20-something wannabe cool kid in the country.

Near the front of the book was a photo of Gavin McInnes that would have been nude except a very fake-looking pair of briefs had been drawn on top of him, on the picture. But no need to worry about what you weren’t missing: Marooned on a page near the back was an image of the exact redacted dick area, which you were instructed to cut out and glue to the photo in the front. It was a joke, a joke on everything, a joke on the prudish publishers and a joke on an author making it very clear he wanted everyone to see his dick and a joke on anyone who would go to the trouble of cutting and pasting the dick. A joke on anyone who didn’t think it was funny and anyone who did. One last little edgy joke in a book filled with them.

So, yeah, to recap: when I moved to San Francisco, my copy of the book was in my one bag, which meant I made room for it, a little cutout of Gavin McInnes’s dick removed from one page so it could be glued to another (because I was one of the idiots who did go to the trouble), carrying it and everything else I didn’t know 3,000 miles with me. Only to move 3,000 miles back, years later, book and accompanying dick lost and all but completely forgotten until I sat down for a haircut and was reminded of that dickhead’s dick all over again.

Remembering this book, and how hilarious I thought it was, made me feel shitty. It’s hard not to try and immediately justify: Well, a lot of people liked the book. Well, he was joking, right? Well, it’s not like I liked all the jokes.

Look. Not everything ages great, and our very own pasts the most regrettably of all. You look back over your history, I’m sure it’s not just glimmering perfect accomplishment after glimmering perfect accomplishment. If it is then… good on you and I wish you a happy life but I personally wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you (which, given the whole aging thing, isn’t far these days).

I enjoy spending time with folks who learn from their mistakes. Lord knows I have. And the same comes from public figures, but that’s the thing. You have to take a person and look at the things they’ve done over the years. Growth isn’t just saying “look, I’ve grown” or “Oh, I’m sorry.” Growth takes effort. Growth takes time. Growth takes listening and learning, and then having those conversations yourself, like Drew does.

I’m not going to lie; I’ve hugely benefited from all of the folks in my life, present and past, who have helped me grow by having those types of conversations with me. Who helped take me from places of ignorance, or not-getting it, or not-getting it seriously enough.

It’s something for which I will never be able to fully thank the people in my life. I know that educating people in this way can sometimes feel like explaining very nicely and patiently and calmly to the person who just stabbed you — and who is still gripping the shiv as your blood runs down their knuckles — why they might want to consider not doing that. So, of course I’m not saying that people must always educate others, especially when this responsibility so often is imposed on those bleeding from the most and deepest wounds.

But I cannot pretend like I’m not incredibly grateful to everyone who has ever taken the time to make me be a better person.

That’s what angers me about organizations like the Proud Boys, who take advantage of the fact that these conversations are happening, who take advantage of the feelings spurred in so many young men by these conversations — rage and confusion and mockery and hurt and fury — to say, You are good. You are right. This country, which was once built by you and for you, is now against you. Change it back. The Proud Boys and others like them tell these young men they are perfect, just the way they are, which has the useful side effect of taking their anger and tripling quadrupling it, multiplying it by itself until they don’t remember how they felt before they chose anti-growth, anti-knowledge (both general and self), anti-future, anti-people not laughing at the exact same shit you do. It is poison to be so lazy and ignorant in your perfection, and it also sounds pretty fucking snowflakey to me. Because nobody’s perfect.

And to any young men out there who aren’t too far gone I say, you’re not done being yourself. You can keep growing. Growing, it turns out, is what this life is all about. Don’t fear change, fear being only who you are right now forever.

And to anyone who has struggled with the things I am grappling with in this essay, I say, have the uncomfortable conversations, even if they may lead to a scrape or two, or a fallout between you and your friends or family. Fuck your racist uncle. Or barber. Stop letting people have those ideas so comfortably, and stop forcing marginalized people to have those conversations on their own while you sit, politely quiet, telling yourself you’re one of the good guys while you even refuse to get close to the heat, let alone jump into the burning building.

I’m grateful that I’m no longer the person I was. Of course, the person I was is still… me, and I remember him having his faults but being not all that bad…. But I’m not so invested in thinking that that dude is so rad and unimpeachable that I’d fucking want to be him forever.

Thank god for the conversations that changed me, most of all for the people who had those conversations with me. And any of those times I feel afraid to speak, afraid to be rude or hurtful or overstepping, I need to remember that that’s the only way I can really repay my gratitude. I can do for others what was done for me, and maybe it’ll get me into a fight or everyone will call me a stupid asshole the second I walk out the door or whatever else, but I’m a white straight cis guy with tattoos who doesn’t have the shiv in his side so what is the big deal, truly? I was failing to treat people like what they said and did meant something real to me and others; I was failing to talk. I’m not now; I won’t in the future. But there will be so many other failures; some of them I’m sure are in progress already. All I’m hoping is that I can meet and acknowledge them and years in the future be a better person than I am now, who is hopefully better than the person I was years ago.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Isaac Fitzgerald

Written by

Isaac Fitzgerald has been a firefighter, worked on a boat, and was once given a sword by a king, thereby accomplishing three out of five of his childhood goals.

Gay Mag

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Isaac Fitzgerald

Written by

Isaac Fitzgerald has been a firefighter, worked on a boat, and was once given a sword by a king, thereby accomplishing three out of five of his childhood goals.

Gay Mag

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store