The first time I went to a gay club I was 19 years old. The ride over, from Worcester, MA to Boston, MA was largely fueled by a mild social anxiety and Jim Beam. I was also dating a man at the time. Does the anxiety make sense, now?
I still count that night as–in the midst of the hardest year of my life to that date–the most at home I have ever felt. I came out to my close friends 8 months later. My family, 2 months after that. To the outside community, gay clubs may appear to be a number of things: sex parties, drag shows, a layer of clothing shy of a massive orgy.
To those inside, gay clubs are one thing: a sanctuary for the story.
Living life in the queer community is to act out your life’s story with ongoing commentary from people you will never meet. Who do they love? They can marry? Can they donate blood? Which restroom can they use? This one. Not that one. Do we have to call it marriage? Is it a mental illness? Isn’t this religious freedom? I won’t bake you a wedding cake. God hates fags. Can’t we just call it a civil union?
The story of any queer person is one that has been defined, to some degree, by conflict. If not internal conflict, then interpersonal conflict. If not interpersonal conflict, then societal conflict. Those in the queer community encounter, endure, and largely shape their lives around incongruity between their stories and the “right” story.
Their battle is not unlike the battle of other marginalized communities: African Americans, immigrants, women, poor people. The stories of those who find themselves outside the locus of power in our country do not run intertwined to the story of “America.” Our stories only run parallel to it. Subject to its commentary.
For a long time, whenever I read news of a tragedy, I had difficulty understanding Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to “let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” I believed (and to a certain extent, still do believe) that anger is an appropriate and oft-necessary response to events of the gravity and magnitude of Orlando’s events early today. I am angry. But I am beginning to understand the call.
Hate, like the commentary ticker on the bottom screen of the lives of the marginalized, is easy to produce. Hatred of gay people, hatred of Muslims, hatred of Trump, hatred of the shooter, hatred of the straight white man, hatred of our society, hatred of Republicans, hatred of Democrats. There is so much hate. And hate is distracting.
At a point, there begins to be so much “hatred commentary” that we forget about stories altogether. We literally do not have the time to analyze the structures which brought these stories about. We are respectively identifying and demonizing whatever or whomever we believe the singular, most immediate reason for tragedy is. All we are doing is providing the commentary of hatred. We are not listening to the story.
I am tired of “it could be worse.”
I am tired of “hold your loved ones tighter.”
I am tired of “at least it wasn’t here.”
I am tired of “at least it wasn’t there (where I have friends).”
I am tired of privileged talk.
I am tired of commentary.
I am tired of people saying to stop using events such as these as “stages” for “national conversation,” as if learning is exploitation.
I am tired of the idea that we cannot and should not use the only thing we have–stories–as opportunities to learn. As opportunities to change.
And I am really, really tired of hashtag praying.
It is impossible to get a country to use experience as a stage when they see “experiences” of various peoples and communities as distinct from their own as Americans. When an experience is not our own, the only logical thing we can do is provide commentary. When the experience of those who fare poorly in the halls of justice (as Baldwin would say) does not mirror the experience of power, power cares not for change.
The people killed in Pulse were denied arguably the most important component of a human life: the right to write their own endings. Our country homogenized and wrote the ending for lives who have kicked to the surface–against the weight and currents of personal and public burden– for the singular right: to be themselves. To be a story. To be here.
The only thing I can think about is the sickening irony that a “pulse” serves as a singular reminder for the person to whom it belongs: I am here. I am here. I am here.
Feeling a “pulse” serves as a singular reminder for the person feeling it: they are here. They are here. They are here.
How did we get here?