Chevi Rabbit is Attacked for Being Gay but Won’t Stop Being Fabulous

Feature Image via Soko Fotohaus

 On Thursday, July 19th in Edmonton, Canada, 26-year-old gay University of Alberta student and makeup artist Chevi Rabbit was feeling hungry. He wanted a snack, so he did what you or I would do when running low on groceries and faced with a similar gastronomical situation — he decided to walk the few blocks to Safeway and get something to eat. Walking to the grocery store is the most ordinary of activities, but Chevi Rabbit is no ordinary guy. To put it simply, he’s fabulous! And as he walked to Safeway that Thursday evening, you can bet your gay unicorns he was wearing perfectly applied makeup. It’s hard to imagine what exactly was going on in the minds of the three men who attacked him, but they must’ve had a major problem with a visibly gay man who had the audacity to be out doing an ordinary activity in public with makeup on. Edmonton, like too many North American cities, has an affinity for gender norms and an aversion to walking (driving is the preferred method of transportation here). I guess that makes Chevi somewhat of a radical. Since I also live in Edmonton, Chevi’s story hit close to my heart. I was lucky to interview him about the attack as well as on violence against gender non-conforming people, what he is doing to make the city a safer place for queers and why, as he puts it, “walking to the grocery store should not be a life or death situation.”

Chevi tells me that as he was walking to Safeway, a vehicle pulled up beside him. Inside there were three men. “They stopped at the intersection beside me,” he says. “They started shouting anti-gay comments such as, ‘Hey faggot, you’re a fucking faggot, you faggot!’” Chevi handled this verbal attack with remarkable poise and well, fabulousness. He turned around to face them, said, “Thank you.” and continued on his way.

“It was embarrassing.” Chevi says about being verbally assaulted. “There were so many people around! There were over 15 people playing volleyball next to the sidewalk where I was walking. The neighbourhood is a good one. There are so many students in the area and everyone could hear what they were saying to me!”

He texted a friend about what had happened, not realizing that the van had begun backing up towards him. It stopped and the three men jumped out of the car, putting Chevi into a headlock and pushing him onto the concrete sidewalk. “Luckily there was a group of people who had witnessed everything,” Chevi tells me. “They scared off [the attackers], ran after them, and even managed to get their license plate and description.” Unfortunately, the three men still managed to steal Chevi’s iPhone.

In many ways, our culture is still deeply attached to a structure of rigid gender norms, and specific gendered behaviours assigned to one gender or the other. Who’s ever heard the expression “boys will be boys?” Growing up, I didn’t understand why there was supposed to be much of a difference between boys and girls. I painted my little brother’s nails and had clothing exchanges with the neighbourhood boys. I’d invite them to my room, undress them, wear their hockey jerseys and put them in my dresses. When I went to church on Sunday, the fact that the priest was always a man offended the little-girl feminist in me. What if I wanted to be a priest? To me, gender was one of the many things adults made unnecessarily complicated.

And even though I guess I’ve now joined the ranks of the adult, I still can’t wrap my head around why people get so hot and bothered about gender non-conformity. Remember when Jenna Lyons painted her son’s toenails in a JC Penney ad, and it created a huge controversy? Psychiatrist Keith Ablow shared his thoughts on gender and the ad on the oh-so-reputable Fox News:

This is a dramatic example of the way our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity – homogenizing males and females when the outcome is not known.

As far as I know, Keith Ablow is not assaulting any gender non-conforming individuals on their way to the grocery store, but comments like his touch upon the discomfort many feel when the trappings of femininity or masculinity are loosened. But gender shouldn’t be trapped by its trappings; it should be dressed up, dressed down and played with. The outcome of gender non-conformity should be having fun and letting us feel more like ourselves.

This is something Chevi understands. He’s been wearing makeup and has felt comfortable with his sexuality for a long time. “I came out about my sexuality at a very young age — early teens.” he says. Luckily, up until July 19th, he had experienced little homophobia. “Thank goodness that I had a very accepting family and a strong mother. My mother has always given unconditional love to me and her family. Because of her love for me, I was able to be myself and have grown up comfortable with my sexuality. I don’t have any issues with who I am as an openly gay man. I feel that sometimes it’s others who are caught off guard with how comfortable I am with myself in all situations.”

But post-attack, he wondered if he should wipe off the makeup for good. As a professional makeup artist working freelance and also for Yves St. Laurent and Giorgio Armani, Chevi tells me that makeup has always been a huge passion of his. But it’s dangerous to be different — and a man openly passionate about makeup is certainly different. We were all horrified when we heard about the attack on a lesbian woman in Nebraska, and closer to home for me, there was the violent assault on Shannon Barry in Edmonton. To add gender non-conformity to an identity as a sexual minority can create a dangerous mix. A 2011 report found that gender non-conforming youth are the most vulnerable when it comes to violence and bullying. Comments such as Ablow’s only add fuel to the dangerous fire that is the all-too prevalent bullying and attacking of queer and gender non-conforming individuals. Despite the danger, Chevi decided that the prejudices of others shouldn’t stop him from being himself. He says, “I have come to the conclusion that yes, this was a terrible hate crime and attack, but I will not let it change who I am. I will continue to wear makeup and live a fabulous gay life.”

For Chevi Rabbit, it’s not enough to be himself. Since the attack, he has become quite the activist, speaking out to the media about what happened to him while actively organizing a NOH8 March and Rally that will take place in Edmonton this Thursday, August 2nd. “There needs to be some tolerance.” he tells me. “Certain demographics of people need to be educated on the differences that exist in our society, and that those differences are okay and should be embraced. It’s okay to be different and unique and feel safe being so!”

This Thursday, August 2nd, people in Edmonton are encouraged to come to Chevi’s NOH8 rally. He asks that you wear purple, the anti-bullying colour. The march will begin on the corner of 110st and 84 ave, where the attack happened. “Then we will walk,” Chevi says, “holding the hands of someone of the same sex as you.” There will also be speeches from some pretty impressive community leaders including Michael Phair, the director of community relations at the University of Alberta and the first openly gay city counsellor; Lewis Cardinal, the Aboriginal Federal NDP candidate; and Gary Simpson from the United Church. Tony-award nominated Broadway singer Michelle Rios will also be performing.

When I first heard about what had happened to Chevi, I was both saddened and angered by the violence and homophobia in my city. It made me think of the first time I held hands with a girl: I was walking down Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue when a man muttered, “Would you look at that!” I’ll never forget how angry his eyes were, and all I could think was, “I’m just being myself in my city.” Chevi is working hard to make Edmonton a safer place for anyone who is different, anyone whose sexuality and gender presentation doesn’t fit into a neat heteronormative box. My reaction to his story has changed from feelings of rage and grief to courage and inspiration. Yes, Chevi was attacked, but people came to help him and chased his attackers away. And now on Thursday, July 19th Edmontonians will gather to let the city know that hate crimes will not be accepted. Before our interview ended, I asked Chevi if he had anything to say to anyone who is being harassed and/or feeling bad about being different.

“I hope that my story helps someone know that it’s okay to be yourself, that it is okay to be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. You are valued in our society. And life is worth living.”

I thanked Chevi for the interview, for sharing his story, for being brave.

Feel free to contact Chevi Rabbit for freelance work, or even just to offer a message of love and support at chevirabbit [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also visit his makeup artist’s blog. And for more information about August 2nd’s NoH8 March and Rally, please check out the event’s Facebook page.

 

Avatar of Malaika

Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 83 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    Edmonton represent! As a fellow queer Edmontonian, it’s been disturbing to see the attacks in recent weeks. There had also been a lesser-publicized incident a few weeks ago where a young trans woman was assaulted by her boyfriend and left to die as he set the apartment on fire. Luckily there were people coming home from a party at 3am who spotted the fire and alerted the building – so instead of 20 people out of their homes it could have been 20 dead.

    The case has received less attention in part because it appeared to be a domestic dispute and not strictly hate-motivated, but it’s disturbing as hell either way.

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    I’m glad that those people came to help him, and that Chevi is ok. I hope they find the people that attacked him and send their butt’s to jail.

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    “(gender) should be dressed up, dressed down and played with”

    -> definitely. How else did women come to wear pants? And men to wear skinny jeans? so many great innovations in fashion come from playing with gender. plus, before the French revolution, men were wearing the same costumes as women-pink velvet bows on their lacy frocks etc. it was “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” that created the divide between men’s clothing and women’s clothing that we still see today. (before that the divide was seen in royalty vs. commoners. – their clothing was what set the “ladies apart from the tramps” and I mean that in a serious way haha). so, intrinsically, today’s gender assignments that everyone takes for granted -”pink is ONLY for girls”- is a social construct that came with the establishment of modern-day democracy, and not something inherent.

    and what about all the lovely ladies that disguised themselves as boys? (helllo 12th night). they had a lot to do with advancing women’s equality.. by eschewing norms, yay!

    People in fashion have been playing with this for a looong time. everyone take a look at Jean Paul Gaultier’s men’s look spring 2011 i believe. you all have seen this right? :) http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG8285904/Jean-Paul-Gaultier-shows-Andrej-Pejic-the-love.html

    In fact, one of the best parts of my fashion classes were about the history of cross dressing, where all of us had to go “transvestite” and pics or it didn’t happen. (actually- putting on boys clothes for the first time was a liberating experience for me. did you know they squeeze in all the least uncomfortable places? unlike women’s clothes do..). also, that reminds me of the huge crush I had on my teacher, Cheryl..God she is the gayest straight girl I know! :O

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    it really sucks that these things happen and it freaks me out more that it happened out in the street with plenty of people out. sort of makes me think twice about cycling in lonely country roads or being anywhere at all semi secluded without a phone or another person around.

    also, chevi is too cute

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    I am from Calgary (where Tegan and Sara are from FYI), next to Edmonton. I think we are little cities that have grown into big cities in the last few years. with people coming from every where (mainly job opportunities). It’s disappointing that this happened so close to home. Since being officially, I’ve heard a few homophobic comments but I think they’re quite (physically) harmless but stories like this makes me want to make homophobic people uncomfortable by being myself but at the same time makes me think twice about my safety and the people around me.

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      You are absolutely right. Calgary and Edmonton have grown so much in the last few years. they are becoming big, diverse cities, and hopefully with more education about differences/diversity peoples’ small-town mindsets will grow too.

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    Yeah, so that happened at “my” Safeway…This hits close to home for me, too, obviously. The university’s queer group was contacted for comments, but we decided not to say anything since Chevi isn’t a member. But yeah. I’ve only experienced homophobic backlash to holding my girlfriend’s hand in Edmonton. I guess Whyte Ave isn’t the best place to be gay either =\

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    Chevi is so fab and what happened to him is awful :(

    I have a cis gay male friend who is equally transgressive with his gender presentation, and he thinks that it’s more dangerous to be a femme guy than a trans woman in public, because it’s seen as more of a threat to bigoted assholes like the ones who attacked Chevi.

    Even in San Francisco, my friend says he can’t go a day without dealing with homophobic harassment simply because he likes makeup and feminine jewelry. I’m a trans girl and I’ve never experienced anything like that, in SF or elsewhere. Thoughts?

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      this, I think people are far more uncomfortable when dealing with things that are visibly outside of the norm. Trans people are people in progress from one end of the gender spectrum to the other; the end destination safely within the confines of one label or the other.

      This is easier to understand for people not versed in these issues. However when one feels they do not fit in either category and expresses it as so, people are confused and react in ignorance and anger and look for security within the norms they’ve been taught.

      Like your friend I am so afraid that if I embraced my masculine side, in clothing, in hair, presentation, while being a woman, I will become the object for public disapproval and scorn. This world we live in.. I can’t even begin. It’s so oppressive and it looks like it will never end

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        Thanks for your input! :)

        But I just want to point out that not all trans* people are binary-identified and/or normative in their presentation. I’m both, and also I’m not read as trans, which explains why I personally don’t have to deal with harassment.

        But I know plenty of women who are visibly trans, and they don’t get harassed the way that my (cis guy) friend does, and I think it’s because he still identifies as a man- and that is more of a threat to other guys because it challenges normative assumptions about their own gender. It’s harder for them to “otherize” him, if that makes sense.

        Misogyny also plays a huge role in all this. Our society values masculinity over femininity, so an openly feminine guy is seen as embracing something weak, frivolous, and worthy of ridicule. This explains why a woman wearing a suit and tie is NBD to most people, but a man wearing a dress in public will surely be stared at(at a very minimum) by others.

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      If a trans woman is viewed as being gender normative (AKA “passing”) she might not be in a lot of harm… although when her trans status is revealed, that can radically change. There have been some highly passible trans women who have been murdered (and/or beaten) when their trans history became known. The most intense violence is often against women who are trans and have (whether encouraged or not) sexually turned-on straight men who then panic about what that means about themselves. Femme cis men (especially those who are visibly gender variant) do get hassled a lot… but I’m really reluctant to say it’s worse than trans women. I’ve known trans women who didn’t “pass” who lived under constant harassment whereas there are environments/work & social situations where femme men are fairly common and even expected.

      My one issue with this thread is how so much of it is focused on homophobia and Chevi being gay when I would say this incident is way more about transphobia (even if they did call him a fag… which I’ve gotten many times in my life too).

      Also, one correction: the toenail painting ad was a J. Crew ad, not JC Penny.

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    Hi Annika! Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I think cis male femininity is the ultimate transgression for a lot of “bigoted assholes,” as you so nicely put it. I’m not sure what exactly about it is so threatening…I don’t have fully developed thoughts on this, but maybe it makes other cis males uncomfortable/insecure about their own gender. Anyways, I’m happy you commented on my article cause I love all your articles!!so much!

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    He’s really beautiful… both inside and outside. (Even more so than some girls… teheh, I feel a little jealous? haha)

    I’m happy he won’t stop what he’s been doing and continue being his beautiful self =)

    Angers me greatly that it happened in Edmonton, since I do live here, but I’m glad he could turn it from something horrible into such strength and power.

    Keep being awesome =)

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    Being Trans and Les, my friends joke that I have 2x the fun, problem is that I also have 2x the danger. This person is awesome for all he’s doing in Edmondton. You wouldn’t belive how many people get upset over my being trans. It’s almost like they’d be cool with my being homosexual if only I wouldn’t transition to a female body…

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    i can’t believe i’m only reading about this now!! how sad for chevi and for all glbti folks in alberta. i grew up just outside of edmonton and am still fighting against all the hateful anti-gay messages i internalised while growing up.

    so incredibly that chevi bounced back from this injustice to become an outspoken activist! <3 love it.

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    So amazing to read this and see all the comments from people from Edmonton! I am also from Edmonton, and know exactly where this happened, right in the middle of where I live, work and go to school, but yes, it could have happened in any North American city.

    The NoH8 rally was a success! I didn’t make it, but Malaika did <3

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