In the course of a hellish commute today, I took part of my journey by taxi. My cab driver was from Guinea and we spoke at length about Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, Israel and the legacies of colonialism. For a stressful (and expensive) morning, this was pleasant, engaging and interesting. We ranged over other topics too — how much the weather in New York has sucked this winter, his son’s student loans, working in the media, where we had traveled, and why it costs more to fly to Senegal from the US than to Australia, despite the flight to Senegal taking half the time.
And then, somewhere, in the ranging of topics, he says to me that when in Morocco last year he met a man from Saudi Arabia who said he would not travel to the US because “Men marry men there; even the animals do not do that.”
The animals, of course, actually do, do that, even if they are short on wedding planners. But it’s the classic now what? moment, isn’t it? I had no way of knowing whether or not he approved of the Saudi man’s perspective. And I had no way of knowing if he did, whether it was a topic he was open to discussion about. And I had no idea what my obligations were both in assumption and in action — it’s extra tricky in a cab, particularly, because not only am I a guest (albeit a paying one) in someone else’s space, I’m in a car with a stranger, and that’s not necessarily the best time to be outing oneself or fighting for social justice (Seriously, years ago, I demanded a cab pull over and let me out after the cab driver issued a string of slurs about people of Chinese descent after trying to hit a pedestrian crossing the street legally in front of us. The cab driver then locked the doors from his control panel, wouldn’t stop the vehicle for me to get out, and started threatening me until I held up my mobile and said I was calling the cops; the experience was sincerely frightening and I am now very reluctant to try to change anyone’s mind from the backseat of a taxi).
So I said, effectively nothing. I nodded and went Mmmmhmmmm.
The cab driver continued, “I said, yes, they do there, and he said he would not go.”
And then he changed the topic because I clearly had nothing to say.
And I still don’t know if I failed because I didn’t press for an answer and abandon the vehicle due anti-gay sentiment from the driver, or if I failed because I assumed a threat where there was only an ally. I just know that I’m pretty sure that I messed this one up somewhere along the way, and that even the correct choice (which may or may not have event existed) might not have been the wise one.
It’s intersectionality and ambiguity like this that makes my heart hurt. And it’s awful when the only consolation is that this is the sort of stuff that, ultimately, none of us are really that good at. I’d like to be better at it, but I’m not even sure if, in scenarios like this, it’s possible to be.