Although my previous posts about Virginia don’t really show it, I actually had an amazing time there. That one incident could not tarnish the experience of finally seeing Peter again, getting to meet all of his friends, and of course eating some delicious food. It was an incredible and eye-opening trip in many ways and I seriously can’t wait to go back again.
And just like the state name sort-of-not-really promises, there were many first experiences for me during this trip:
- Riding in a convertible.
- Eating KBBQ. I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY COOK IT FOR YOU. Not to mention Peter aegyo’d his way into getting us a free bibimbap. That boy is a slut for food.
- Living on a legit college campus. NYU’s “campus” is pretty much integrated into the city. Our academic center is a public park. Our track is on the roof of a building. Our bookstore is next to a McDonald’s for god’s sake. So visiting and living on a campus where they have things like separate libraries for individual majors, a large frat and sorority system, and an actual quad for students to relax on was sort of a culture shock. Not to mention that I was blown away that I could enter any building I wanted without an ID or having to deal with security. In a lot of ways it was sort of that ideal, stereotypical college campus, and yet I found it to be really cool since I hadn’t really been exposed to that environment. It was like I was Jane Goodall and the students at UVA were my Tanzanian chimpanzees. Or maybe something less patronizing.
- Sleeping on a queen size bed. For the past 21 years of my life I have slept on a twin size spring mattress. So when I got to Peter’s and discovered his queen size MEMORY FOAM mattress, I just about died.
- Sleeping without pillows or blankets. Peter is ghetto and doesn’t appreciate proper sleeping etiquette as he doesn’t use blankets or pillows. He just sleeps on a single sheet and rests his head on his giant stuffed animals. I slept for 4 nights motorboating the naughty bits of a stuffed giraffe.
- Eating hibachi. Video coming soon! Apparently our hibachi chef was awful and Peter was really upset at his service. But naive me had no idea so…goes to show how easily entertained I am.
- Eating authentic Southern food. Fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, green beans, sweet tea. OMG SWEET TEA. So effing good. It’s probably sweetened with crack or some shit.
There are probably other firsts but that’s all I can think of as of right now. I really had a great time and I miss everyone I met there already. Hopefully I’ll be back soon, but until then I guess I’ll just resume life as three-thirds of a person.
Since the cheapest bus to Virginia only took me as far as D.C., I had to travel an additional 2 hours by car to get to Charlottesville. Luckily, Peter was nice enough to pick me up from the D.C. bus station and drive me back to his campus.
We were 10 minutes away from his apartment when we stopped at a red light. “Finally, I get to kiss you!” he said as he leaned over towards me. It was actually really cute how he had waited for almost 2 hours to hit a red light just so he could give me a kiss. After a quick peck, the light turned green again and Peter began accelerating. That’s when we saw the blue and red lights.
The car behind us turned out to be a cop. Peter and I were in disbelief that he was pulling us over—what had we done wrong? We pulled into a nearby parking lot and waited for the officer to get out of his car.
When he approached Peter’s window, he asked in his slow, Southern drawl, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Peter responded that he did not know. The officer continued, “I have on my radar gun that you were going 86 miles per hour past a group of cars back there. That’s reckless driving, you know that?”
Peter and I were stunned. 86 miles per hour? Group of cars? Reckless driving? What was he talking about?
“License and registration, please.” Peter calmly handed the officer his information but looked visibly shaken. I was pretty uneasy as well. When the officer returned to his car, Peter and I tried to figure out what was going on. We definitely were not going 86 miles per hour—both of us constantly watched the speedometer and it never once went over 60 mph. Neither of us saw any “group of cars”—there was one car to our right, the cop car behind us, and two cars across the street. We never passed anyone, not to mention the officer didn’t turn his lights on until the light went green at the intersection where we stopped. In the back of my mind I had an idea of why we were pulled over, but I didn’t want to make that ugly assumption.
The officer returned to our car and handed Peter a yellow slip of paper. “This is a summons for your appearance in court on ___________. You were going 86 mph, which is considered reckless driving, so you can discuss the ticket there.”
“Officer, there must be some kind of mistake,” Peter said. He tried explaining how we never once went over 60 and that we never passed a group of cars along the road.
The officer wouldn’t budge. “I saw a dark, compact car driving by at 86 miles per hour and you’re the only car that fits that description. Everyone else around you was an SUV or a van. If you have a problem with the ticket you can bring it up in court.”
Peter pointed out that there were only 2 cars around us—one compact car to our left and another behind us (the cop car) so it could have been someone else. But the officer wasn’t having it and left us with the ticket and the option to dispute it later on. With that and a warning to “Drive slower next time,” the cop turned and went back to his vehicle.
By this point, it was pretty clear why the officer has pulled us over. We weren’t speeding; we weren’t endangering other drivers; we weren’t driving recklessly. Those weren’t the problem. The problem was that we were gay. The silhouette of two men kissing in the privacy of their own car made us a target for a bored, ignorant Virginia cop. Not only that, he falsified evidence to justify the summons, to justify his homophobia. I’m probably the last person to play the gay victim card, but I don’t know how else to describe this scenario with any word other than discrimination.
Had it been anyone else—another student, a restaurant server, a complete stranger on the street—I would have told them to fuck off and brushed aside their comments. But something about being targeted by a cop, by someone in whom I’m supposed to trust and depend on for my own safety, really shook me. From that point on I never felt entirely safe or comfortable in Virginia. I felt unwelcomed and out of place. I felt like I was forced back into the closet again.
But I felt even worse for Peter. The pressure of facing a judge to explain this story—particularly to a judge from the same county as this cop, who might be unsympathetic to such a complaint—is intimidating and discouraging. And even though I’m scared too, I need to be there for him to help tell the truth and to make sure that this injustice is struck down.
As angry as I am at that cop, I’m also a little angry at myself. I was naive to think that everywhere was like New York, that everyone was becoming more accepting and more tolerant towards the LGBT community. This incident was just a slap in the face that as much as this country is changing for the better, there are still places that are desperately trying to stay the same.