I am sick to my stomach. I have been for days. The news out of Orlando is heartbreaking. So so heartbreaking. Early reports today that the shooter in Orlando may have been gay have hit me in a very particular way and added a whole new layer to my sadness. Of course, the killing of one group over another isn’t ever more or less sad, but these deaths struck me in a very specific way from the beginning – as school shootings hit parents in a very specific way – not that the deaths are more or less tragic, it’s just that the pain nestles into a soft spot you have inside of you – one so tender and deep that any poking at it can be felt through your whole body. It’s not just sadness or fear – it’s an aching that radiates through your entire being.
Those folks in Orlando are my people. I don’t know them – not a single one – but they are my folks. I am with a man now and have a baby, so people read me as straight and I just have to live with that as the default assumption. When I was with a woman, I was read as gay. Both are untrue but fighting that misconception daily takes an effort I don’t currently have time for – I have oatmeal to make and diapers to change and a job to make it to and a home to keep together. But I won’t shy away from the truth of who I am – or feel like it’s not still my fight. I can’t just pretend that who I am is inherently different because I fell in love with a man. If I stay with this man for the rest of my life, I am still a queer woman. My past is not erased by my present.
Had this been in any number of other cities, these would be my friends, my kin, my clan. I would be attending funerals instead of just crying at home.
My gut reaction when I heard reports that two men kissing had so enraged the shooter that he armed up and went into that club was that he was overrun with self-loathing and was, most likely, queer. But just as I wasn’t going to assume it was an Islamic act of terrorism or an orchestrated attack on the gay community nationwide, I also wasn’t going to assume that my gut was right. After all, I tend to think that about a lot of people: anti-gay Republicans, reparative therapy gurus, vehemently anti-gay preachers. Usually there’s a thread of truth in it. But sometimes not.
And I don’t want to contribute to the frenzy of conclusion-jumping and information hand-picking that happens like an epidemic in these times of crisis. In times like this, when we are all afraid and sad and lost, we want answers. Fast. Easy. Easily organized and ready for filing in our mental libraries. Ways to wrap up what we cannot fathom and put it away. Me, too. I want that. My brain tries to tidy it all up.
My first instinct was that this man hated himself and who he was. It looks like I was probably right. Even though I didn’t know if I wanted to be or not. I only know that I wanted it to not have happened. Like a child caught lying, I wanted for time to roll back and for the story to change.
Self-loathing. So deep and hard and sharp that it’s part of one of the most tragic stories of our time. It’s not the whole story, for sure. In all of this gun talk and anti-Muslim rhetoric, though, I don’t want it to get lost that we live in a place that has historically made it difficult – what can feel at times impossible – to be ok with being queer if that’s what you wake up one day and have to face. The weight of the air shifts around you and presses against your rib-cage and changes the very way you breathe.
As self-assured, as loud-mouthed, as unapologetic as I am (and have been) about the life that has been mine to live, I struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment and – much to a shocked 24-year-old me: self-loathing. I did not even come close to harming anyone else over it – perhaps, at least in part, because I knew there was nothing wrong with loving someone else whose body was much like mine. I knew it even though the discomfort wrapped around me like a vise.
I was in a city that wasn’t accepting. I was in a family that wasn’t accepting. I was in a country where, even if it was ‘ok’, it was still a joke, the punchline, the insult, the pejorative for something dumb or lame or weak. I live in a country that produces the Fred Phelps of this world, the Focus on the Family groups, the legislators who try to police your every move if you don’t fit the sexual norm, the ballots where the public votes for my very basic rights as a human.
I live in a country that says I am, at the very least, an aberration. It could be worse. The news tells me that all the time. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy here.
It’s exhausting. And lonely. And painful. Physically painful. To battle it out with yourself because you don’t know if you have it in you to battle it out with all those other people.
I never struggled with religion. Never. I did not have to carry that weight.
The weight was almost unbearable for a short time in my twenties. So spine-tingling painful that I still tear up writing about it. When my parents wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t let me in unless I changed, I had urges to literally just bang my head up against the wall. The world felt that hard and solid and unforgiving. Impermeable. Impassable. Impossible.
I never felt like God was against me. I can’t even imagine that weight. I may have never made it here, to this place in my life, had I had that struggle to deal with as well. A whole universe of forces against you. Unimaginable.
I am not excusing that man’s behavior. In no way. It sickens me. It wrenches every cell of my being to imagine the pain of the people who knew and loved those who died that night. Or the pain and trauma of those who were ‘lucky’ enough to survive. There was more at play in the time leading up to those shots than just self-loathing. He was clearly not a stable soul and no one thing can easily tie this up for us. But we can’t just gloss over the effects of being made to feel despicable and disgusting by the very groups and people who are supposed to love us and hold us afloat.
We have blame to hold ourselves, as a society, whether we are one of those people who hate or not, when we raise boys and girls who are so afraid of who they are that the internal pain can’t be held in. Whether it’s Islam or Christianity or Judaism or Mormonism or JWism or Scientology or whatever other -isms that force a choice between the community and family that are all you’ve ever known or being true to the absolute fact of who you are at your very core. Whatever name or specific prayers or specific passages condemn those who simply want to live their lives to the fullest as queer people, even if there’s no religion, just the force of a family that will no longer keep you or let you in… as long as we let those things go and act like it’s not our problem, then we are helping to create the atmosphere that breeds a tragedy like what happened in Orlando last weekend.
I know people are fighting this fight – have been for decades and decades and decades now. And so much has improved. But so much hasn’t. It can’t be enough to just agree that everyone should be accepted for who they love. To say let love win. To say you’re an ally and raise your children to never make anyone else feel like they have to hide or be embarrassed about who they love. It’s necessary – but not enough. It may be enough for 2046 (I hope and pray that it is), but it’s not enough for 2016.
When it comes to religion, I don’t know the answers. If you’re raised Mormon, for example, and are gay then you have to decide between being yourself or suppressing it in order to stay with your family. For eternity. It’s easy for us non-aligned or atheist people to dismiss that – to say that they should just be who they are and leave the church. But it’s not easy to give up everything you’ve ever known and everyone you love. Easy is about the furthest from what making that choice is actually like.
What do we offer those people? How do we fill that void? How do we change the world enough to give them hope and a safe place to be that’s also a place they want to be? I don’t know. I just know it’s our duty to try to figure that out. To try to bend the walls enough to make it possible.
It’s a matter of public safety.
It’s a matter of your safety. Your son’s safety. Your mother’s safety.
It may just decide whether someone you love makes it home safe one night.
It’s not personal. It can’t be anymore. It never should have been.
It’s everyone’s business.