Alexander Chee is the author of the novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic, an editor at large at VQR, a critic at large at the Los Angeles Times. His forthcoming collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, is out in April 2018.
I was standing at a men’s room urinal at a restaurant today when I became aware of a man waiting patiently for me to be finished. There was a clear path to just one other toilet behind me with a door that closed, in a decent-size room that could easily fit two people. I wondered, briefly, if he was waiting for the urinal, something I’d never seen or heard of in all my years of using public restrooms. He was not cruising. I zipped up and walked toward the sink, and this placid white man, in jeans and a sweatshirt, older than me, smiled faintly, nervously, as he made his way behind me. As I turned on the water at the tap, I heard him close the door to the stall and lock it. He hadn’t been waiting for the urinal after all. He was waiting to be entirely alone in that corner.
I exited as quickly as I could, to help him on his way. And as I did, I thought about how so many people have to contend with histories of abuse and assault. And of the ways we all negotiate through public and private space from then on, trying to feel safe. For years, as I worked on recuperating from my own abuse, I was one of those people who needed a door closed — it was my own kind of victory to be at a urinal casually. I don’t know for sure what this man was doing, by waiting for me to exit, but it was clear he had room to get by me without coming near me. When you’re triggered, or even fear being triggered, you pass by whatever it is with the caution of someone confronted by a snarling dog. His smile — I know this is weird, don’t ask me — was familiar to me from my own face.
When Anthony Rapp’s story about Kevin Spacey’s assault on him hit BuzzFeed Newson October 29, my first thought was how awful it was. My second: how hard it must have been for Rapp to stay in the business after that and achieve all that he’s achieved, knowing he could run into Spacey again, maybe even be cast with him. I’ve had a long-standing respect for Rapp ever since 1996, when he made his way onto Broadway in Rent, playing, ironically, a straight character in a show conceived by a straight man, while being a gay man in an industry that is swift to penalize men for coming out, even as it has long been sustained by the work of gay men in just about every way. But Rapp has done much more than that. His coming out as queer then — he preferred it to gay at the time — was something that my generation of queers celebrated, and he became one of the first of his kind. Read more via Them