Not in This Neighborhood

Last month, Dyson student Roberto Chavez took home the first ever Kelly Herbert Writing Award presented by the LGBTQA Task Force at the NYC English Writing Awards ceremony. Read his moving poem, “Not in This Neighborhood,” about his every day fear of being the target of a hate crime.

Not in This Neighborhood
A Performance Poem
Roberto C. Chavez
April 17, 2011
For Steven Green Jr. 

This poem should be performed by two or more gay poets, both male and female couples. This is an ensemble performance piece.


We can’t hold hands here,

Not in this neighborhood.

I’m not ashamed of us, just worried about you babe.

I know the fear of eyes staring at us,

Possibly turning vile,

Images of glass bottles being thrown, the sound of shouts growing,

Or a hand becoming a fist, connecting to the back of a skull,

A skull broken in

After being curb stomped.

But we don’t speak of those fears
That lay deep in the back of our minds,

Because it’s an unspoken rule

That is common law,

A law that is simplified into a whisper:

“Not here.”

I can’t kiss you goodnight

Or hug you the way I want to,

Instead I have to plant

A platonic kiss to your cheek,

Or give you the straight man’s embrace,

And act like strangers, when we’re not.

I can’t kiss you goodnight

Or say I love you the way I mean it,

Because we’re outside

Because it’s late

Because those men are staring 

Because my neighbors can see

Because we might get caught,

Or worse 

Or worse, we could end up like

Matthew or Rashawn, dead somewhere.

Listen babe, I mean it when I say

Call me, text me, when you get home

Because my mind disturbs me with images

Of men beating you after we said goodnight

And if you died, it would have been my fault.

So goodnight love,

I want to kiss you on the lips,

Hug you so tight that our hearts

Beat with one another,

But I can’t love you,

Not here,

Not in this neighborhood.

               I long for a day that may never come. I long for the day when I do not have to worry about my terrible fear of being the target of a hate crime, solely because I hold my boyfriend’s hand out in public.

                Equality is a strange, loaded term – like solidarity and society – even though “we” may not know what they mean. Perhaps those words are just dreams, or visions we perceive as prophesy. Perhaps they all just depend on the individual.

                I would say equality is the social tolerance, acceptance, or approval (also strange, loaded terms) that would allow me to walk down the street without this lingering fear I have held deep in my mind. I seek that tolerance/acceptance/approval – or even at times long for “I don’t give a crap/so-what?” attitude.

                I do not want to have horrific daydreams of my boyfriend being beaten up by a gang of homophobic men; I do not want nightmares of a blooded lip or a swollen eye, or of hospital beds and my mother’s tears. I do not want my mother to worry each time I go out, even to “safe” neighborhoods. Her mantra for reminding me to be careful is, “Remember mijito, there are crazy people in the world that kill for no reason. Please be safe.”

                Maybe equality is safety. Maybe it’s the feeling or illusion of it. Maybe.