I have been working on writing other things and haven’t touched this blog in months.
But I can’t ignore this. This tragedy in Orlando. This mass shooting.
On 9/11, I watched and watched all of the coverage. I couldn’t believe it, but continued to take it in and I was quietly thankful that I no longer lived in a “big” city. I didn’t identify with people working in the World Trade Center, although the media humanized them for us and I felt it deeply. They weren’t necessarily “me”, again secretly thankful that that could never have been me. I was concerned but not completely connected.
About 9 months after 9/11 I started to have panic attacks. Real visceral fear welling up out of me so much so that I would pass out. I was more connected than I thought.
It takes 9 months to birth a baby and many times it takes about 9 months to see how you’re going to process something.
Where will we be in 9 months? I’m hoping that we all don’t just breathe deep and hold this in, but I hope we let our thoughts and feelings out and that we birth a better connection to each other.
Orlando — it could have been me. Young, gay, feeling more free than ever among my own people, who were only my own people, because we were all gay. Some people say “Why do you have go to a BAR to feel free?” Unless you’re gay you wouldn’t understand. We sometimes have to hide our own truth, or risk being bullied, ridiculed, discriminated against.
I went to college in Charleston, SC. That was where I first went to a gay bar. The Arcade was right near campus and my friends and I would walk by being curious, but not curious enough to try and get in, especially during Freshman year. After Freshman year, we were ready, but you could only get in with an ID that said you were 21, my best friend had one, one we made one night with one of the seniors on our volleyball team. I didn’t and she wasn’t going to go without me. Somehow as luck would have it, I had another friend who worked in public safety and she gave me an ID that looked nothing like me, but it looked enough like me that I was going to try it. Crystal was my new name. I wasn’t sure how I was going to remember that if someone asked me, but we were going to The Arcade!
The first time we went in, we had to drive up our courage to walk up and open the front door, nervous not only because we were using fake ids, but also that someone might see us going in, or see us inside, what was it going to be like? That first time was incredible, dancing even though we were not big on dancing at all, or just standing there seeing people like us. A mirror for who we might be when we were actually 21 or 30 or 50, because everyone who was gay used to go the gay bar to hang out. They weren’t weird. They were real people. Why a bar? Because it was the only place we had to go. Because we lived in the deep south or in the midwest or anywhere really. Because when you are young and gay, or maybe even just young, you want to find your people, your tribe, but really what you want to find is your connection to this world.
A few weeks later, we were leaving volleyball practice late in the evening and one of our teammates jokingly said “Hey where are you guys going now The Arcade? Oh uh, whoops.” It was a common joke among straight college people to say that to one another and our teammate, our friend, looked at us in that moment knowing we might be and probably were gay, and I could see she felt shame, but not as much shame as I felt in that moment. Shame, because everyone knew, and at that time, I couldn’t even say that we didn’t even really like the The Arcade after going there. It was not really our scene and I never really felt all that great going to gay bars, being segregated from the rest of society like I didn’t deserve to be myself outside of those walls. I always thought — why do we need a separate place? Shame — that I was who I was.
In 1992, I moved to Washington, DC and was so excited that Bill Clinton was about to be President. Bill, although he had his faults, was going to make progress for us gay people. And while it might seem like not a lot happened, I know it did.
On April 25th, 1993 there was a gay march on Washington. There were more than 800,000 people like me, walking together yelling. “We’re here, we’re queer. Get used to it.” I felt alive, included, and necessary for the first time in my life. I promised myself to live my life as out as I could forevermore. The key word is could, because it could still be very dangerous to be gay. Dangerous to relationships, work, life in general.
The next year I met someone and started dating her. I called my sister, who I had never told I was gay, although I know she knew, and announced “I am so excited, I met this woman named Michelle and I think I might be in love.” She hung up on me.
I moved to Utah and had a rainbow sticker on my car. People yelled at me while driving down the highway. At work, people inched away from me when I told them I was gay, one friend told me that at work they felt like it was invasion of the lesbians, because I was very open about who I was. I moved away, not only because of that, but partially.
At another job, I was once told that I would never get promoted, first because I was a woman and second because I was gay. He was right. I ended up leaving the company.
I now live in a liberal city, where I am fine with who I am and this city seems to be too, but gay is not the first thing I think of at all. It is another part of who I am.
My life is no longer segregated by what I can be and can’t be in front of anyone.
I also know there are places and spaces where if someone knows I’m gay they may hurl an insult or worse. Yes, even here in my liberal city, I’ve been disparaged. “Dyke, carpet muncher, faggot.” Who calls a gay woman a faggot?! All these have been yelled at me here in this city and not just once.
This tragedy reminds me that I am gay. It reminds me that I am New York. I am Paris. I am Orlando. I hope we can all see that. This is not just about being gay. This is about how we are all connected. How we treat each other matters.
I will not hold all of this in.
I will not live in fear.
I will continue to tell my story.