I am not someone who fears confrontation. I usually believe I am right, I am happy to argue with just about anyone, and I have an explosive temper like a rodeo bull (that’s just a metaphor—a cowboy on top of me has the exact opposite effect, actually).

But I am also smart enough to stay out of trouble, or a fight I can’t win, so I am quite judicious about when to exercise my fury, One such moment arrived during a recent trip to Birmingham, Alabama, to watch a Garth Brooks concert with my husband, Mike.

Now, I get we were on away turf. But our household is a country-music-loving, porch-swinging, tea-slurping crib, strewn with random bugs we try to get the dog to eat, and three separate barbecues. So although a gay couple aren’t your average attendees at a Garth Brooks show, a Garth Brooks show isn’t exactly alien to our own milieu. It is at places like this, however, that I exercise restraint; although I am a believer in standing up for one’s self, I also place high priority on the concept of self-preservation.

While standing in the line for beer before the show began, a group of three in the line next to ours decided to make fun of my husband’s shoes. Other than being able to describe the length of pants (shorts or short shorts) I don’t know anything about fashion and have no idea why they zoomed in on his shoes, which to me look as normal as the Braves losing to the Mets.

But focus on them they did, ad nauseam, with the woman, clad in heliotrope from shoulder to knee, openly pointing at his feet and laughing, and the two men snickering like they had just apprehended Smurfs. For ages this continued (the lines in Birmingham move like “The English Patient”).

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of this sort of asinine deprecation knows it has little to do with shoes and a lot more to do with the fact that two men who are obviously a couple were in a place where “regular folks” don’t often have to deal with them.

And thus began the vexing emotional entanglement that went on in my head: Snap back and open a Pandora’s Box into potential risk I couldn’t predict, or sit there and take it. And I sat there and took it. I sat there and took it because I had no idea what would happen if we got into an entanglement. A gay foreigner with his Yankee husband clad in mystifyingly remarkable shoes (literally they are gray slip-on shoes), going at “regular folks” at a show put on by the most “regular” person in America—how does that end?

We don’t know, because we decided it was too risky to approach a trio of douchebags. If we had been in a place where I felt reasonably safe, I probably would have said something. But we both knew this had very little to do with shoes, and a lot to do with who was wearing them, and the environment in which they were being worn.

If looks could kill, three people would have been cooked medium to well by the time I finished aiming telepathic vitriol at them, but defending ourselves in places we don’t really belong comes with more risks than your average public scene. We stood there. And let it happen.

We’re gaining rights and doing well, especially if the epicenter of your life is the right to wed the person you love. But the simple act of being unable, through fear, to respond to a dickhead trichotomy was a little window into the simple and inherent danger in which LGBT people can find themselves, just because they also want to jive along to the biggest selling artist America has ever known.

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