When I was a freshman in college I met a man on campus in our student Pride club. He was older, an adviser to our group. It was my first time there so he introduced himself. I had just recently come out to my family and I mentioned that I was so glad it’s “over.” He said to me, with a very knowing smile, “Sweetie, you never stop coming out.” It struck me, but I didn’t really know what he meant.
15 years later, I think I do now.
All LGBT people know of our unique challenges when moving to a new community, a new home, or starting a new job. We know what it’s like to think What will these people think of me? Will my neighbors notice I’m gay? What if I mention the date I had last night with this new coworker? We know the absurdity of these questions, and yet they are there demanding an answer.
We know what it’s like to have that hesitation, to have to make that split-second decision between hiding who we are, and sharing. At office parties, family gatherings, Christmas celebrations, in line at the damn post office when your phone rings and it’s your boyfriend. We have to decide.
We know the depth and complexities of dating in public as an LGBT person. We know how it feels to be out on a date, floating up with all that is new in the person you are with, walking down the street wrapped up in smiles and…and the bottom drops out for the briefest moment when your instinct is to grab that person’s hand. Is this a safe area? Can I do this here? This isn’t the Castro after all. Will someone see us? Will some yell fag, again?
We know what it’s like to walk in to a business meeting and wonder if we are fitting in, in a different way than our straight counterparts worry about. We know what it’s like to be at a summer gathering or a winter pub and, even if just for a moment, ask ourselves, Am I being butch enough? Fem enough? How’s my body language? What did I just do with my wrist? Does it matter?
Some of us have chosen to care about these questions less than others. Some of us don’t have a choice. Some of us may not notice how much we care about these questions in the first place. But all of us, all of us, experience this in some form. And it never stops.
We never stop coming out.
I come out every day. I come out to my neighbors. I come out to my coworkers. I come out when I decide whether or not to hold my date’s hand in public. I come out at BBQs and Christmas parties and meetings at work. I come out when I speak my mind. I come out when I laugh at a certain joke or move my body in a certain way that isn’t, I suppose, part of our heteronormative world. I come out when I tell my mother I am seeing someone. I come out when I confront a complete stranger who I hear using a homophobic slur.
I never stop coming out. And it’s exhausting.
But, there is a place where I don’t have to think about this. Where I don’t have to worry for my safety. Where I don’t have to consider strange looks from my heterosexual counterparts. There is one place where I don’t have to be overtly body-aware. Where I don’t have to censor. Where I don’t have to consider whether it’s acceptable to hold the hand of the person I am with. There is one place where my limp-wristed, acutely queer, artistically self-absorbed, high-pitched, flaming, neo-fem self can let go and march forth with all the proud faggotry that is I.
The gay club.
For many, it’s a sanctuary. It’s freedom. Each time we walk through the club’s doors we can breathe. The club is where we get a sense of nostalgia, remembering the first time we felt a new kind of acceptance that everyone but us seemed to experience. It’s where I can take my boyfriend, smile, and hold his hand without hesitation. It’s where we can love, and be loved, and be totally insane and totally ourselves and totally queer without fear of harm.
It’s the place my community relied on in the 70’s to escape the arrests and beatings in America’s cities, where we came together during the AIDS crisis of the 80’s to support each other while half of our friends died, where we gathered in the 90’s to talk about how oddly connected we felt to Matthew Sheppard, and where we began to celebrate the earliest signs that the gay right’s movement, our movement, was gaining steam in the 2000’s. It’s where I, in 1999, for the first time in my life, felt the rush of simple flirtations with the object of my affection without fear.
The gay club.
And in the early hours of June 12th, 2016 in Orlando, Florida, it was defiled. It was attacked. It was covered with blood at the hands of an abhorrent lunatic whose actions weren’t born out of Islam or Christianity or some intangible form of terrorism.
It was born out of homophobia.
I want you to understand what this massacre means to this community, to my community. I want you to know there are people around you, LGBT people, who are hurting in a way that is unlike your hurt. I want you to know that while we as a country mourn the loss of these 49 people, I also mourn the loss of the only sanctuary where freedom and a sense of safety for myself felt guaranteed.
49 people went to that sanctuary Saturday night. 49 people were smiling as they picked out their best outfits and texted their friends, I’m ready. 49 people were breathing an almost unnoticeable sigh of relief as they entered those doors, that safe space, that place that allowed them to express and love and kiss and dance and, can you believe it, hold hands. 49 people heard a song that night that made them smile or dance or yell or laugh. Some were there with their partners. Some were looking for love. All were there to connect. 49 people were, for a brief moment, enjoying life in the way that most non-LGBT people do everyday: Without Fear.
These people were murdered. These people died in the one place that, surely, they felt homophobic violence and hatred would not reach.
The horror that took place in Pulse is not about gun control or Islam or whether or not our political leaders are using the right words or making the right choices. It is about these 49 people and their parents and children and partners and friends.
And, secondarily in a very distant sense, it is about the entire LGBT community and how we feel knowing that marriage equality has not taken away the atmosphere of violence we have all experienced in countless ways while growing up Queer in this country. We are reading the news not thinking about those people. We are thinking about us.
Social media is filled right now with distracting arguments about guns and religion and what our president did or didn’t say in his press conference. But a few, just a few, are asking the question, What can I do to help?
This is what you can do: Reach out to your queer friends in the coming days. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them for their thoughts. And then be quiet. Don’t be surprised if they start telling you about their childhood, or the first time they experienced fear born out of their sense of self and an external hatred towards that self. Don’t be surprised when they share their story of the first time they went to a gay club. Don’t be surprised if they say you can’t possibly understand. Because you can’t. Tell them you already know that, and you want to try anyway.
And, for the LGBT people reading this, speak up. We know change comes when our straight counterparts learn about us and our struggles in a personal way. Share your thoughts on this tragedy with anyone who will listen. We feel the darkness from this tragedy in a way many do not. We feel the horror, differently. It is personal to us. We can take this experience, and share. We can learn and grow and help others do the same. In this way we honor the victims. This is our duty as LGBT people. It is our responsibility.
Reach out. Come out. Honor the victims.
Thanks for reading,