1. When I was eleven years old, I earnestly spent a library work-study hour arguing with a fellow student. We were arguing about whether or not the singer Boy George was gay. I said no, he was not, my acquaintance said yes, absolutely. I took the “no” position because I had been raised to respect all people, and what I knew of “gay” was that it was a horrible slander, the worst thing to be. To be called gay was awful because being gay was awful. The respectful move then was to insist that no-one was gay.
2. Walking near my school when I was fifteen, some boys rode by on bikes. They shouted at me, called me a fucking dyke. I was pretty confused by this, I must admit. I was walking by myself; how could walking alone be a homosexual act? But I knew on some level that they were not accusing me of loving women. They were simply yelling the most horrible thing they could think of. The worst fate of all: queer.
3. I cannot recall any specific speech by any specific political official on HIV, AIDS, or any LGBT topic throughout my entire childhood. What I can recall are the jokes. The relentless, endless jokes in every conceivable venue. Jokes in which the punchline is queer. Men on tv shows leaping apart from one another because they had touched butts, and butt-touching was gay, and the most horrible thing in the world was to be gay, so the characters repudiate the very notion with disgust and contempt. Clueless lotharios in movies set up on blind dates, and the joke is she’s either ugly and desperate (an entirely different microagression, thank you) or she’s ugly and a lesbian. The joke being that sex with a woman belongs to the lothario, so let’s give him something so unnatural that it’s not even a woman, it’s a dyke, ha-ha.
4. After a while, gays were not entirely and exclusively punchlines to jokes. Queers could be murderous villains.
5. After a while, gays could also die. Tragically. Of desperate self-loathing, maybe. Or of reckless self-loathing and bad choices. Of, increasingly, wasting illnesses.
6. I was not out, yet, when gays could be good and tragic and noble in media. As long as they died. I watched and loved all of those movies, all of those tv shows. I watched every sassy gay best friend, I tore through the movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, with all the codes and subterfuge. The out queers I knew kept saying, over and over, that being gay was NOT the most horrible thing in the world. But I couldn’t see the evidence for their argument. Wherever I looked, gays were dead, or dying, or the joke that is funny because it is too disgusting to even contemplate.
7. And then I came out.
8. I knew in my bones that the most important rule of being queer was “don’t get caught.” I don’t mean stay closeted — I didn’t manage that for very long, I’m a terrible liar, and this was the early 90s and my college hosted Queer Nation rallies — I mean don’t get caught. I knew that I could be out to my mother, out to my grandparents, out to my college professors, sure. But don’t be seen being gay in public. Not at the mall, not at the movies. Not, god help us all, on the bus. I knew that the world was filled with people constantly policing everyone else around them for gay. Suspicious, alert, always looking for gay in others. I knew this because of all the times I had been called gay, dyke, queer, or even faggot long before I ever came out. Gay was a crime that existed in the mind of the observer. I could be found guilty of gay by merely reading a book in the bus shelter; how much worse it would be for me now that I was actually gay. How much more vigilant I must be.
9. When I turned twenty-one, I could go to the clubs. Get dressed up, wear a coat to hide the outfit, pile into a car with friends, roll down the windows in the summer, sure, blare the music, sing along, roll the windows up when a car or truck pulled up alongside and shouted threats, hope they don’t follow, drive to the club, look around before parking to make sure no-one is staking out the street or parking lot, hide anything valuable in the car, lock it, walk to the club. Wait in the line to get in, all laughter and flirting and nervous grins and nervous shuffling and happy nervous everything, be grateful for the door-minder who was watching the sidewalk, pay, walk in.
Walk, strut, ease on in, breathe, breathe deep and happy and smell the smoke and beer and sweat and none of that matters because here, here no-one waits to catch you in the act of being gay.
Put vigilance down.
Put vigilance down, and dance.
10. I was never attacked in the parking lots of the clubs. A friend had a car window smashed. An acquaintance was followed, threatened, had a bottle thrown at them.
11. At some point the world changed. Part of that change is that the people who believe gay to be the literal worst and most disgusting thing a person can be or do, worse than murder, they feel outnumbered and threatened now. And now that they feel threatened, outnumbered, small and powerless, they enact their insecurity and fear in great grand gestures. But the mass murder gesture at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, on June 11th, 2016 does not stand alone. It stands on a wall of microaggressions that lead a person to believe that gay is the literal worst and most disgusting thing a person can be or do.
“You keep messing with me and I’m going to come over there and kiss you,” my male coworker says to a fellow male coworker. The threat is a joke, everyone laughs, but it works because gay is so disgusting it makes a good threat.
Bathroom legislation tells us to fear transwomen, because they are just men in drag and everyone knows that men only wear drag to spy on women. We know this because we have all seen the tv shows, the movies, the SNL skits. Men in drag are hilarious because they are disgusting – not only are they trying to be women, which is gross and hilarious because no-one wants to be women, but they are terrible at it, are ugly and unfuckable women, fooling no-one.
Sex offender registries always and still tell us that gay is the same as pedophile.
12. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Everyone is the hero, everyone is the good guy in their own life. If one believes all those lies of microaggressions, if one believes that all gays are pedophiles, that all trans people are liars and cheats, if one believes in one’s heart and soul that gay is the literal worst and most disgusting thing it is possible for a human to be or do … then what does a good person do? A good person fights the evil. A good person stands up against villains. A good person argues and shouts and pleads, and when no-one listens, a good person might, in despair and rage and righteous conviction, pick up an assault rifle and go kill monsters.
In the eyes of many, I am a monster.
In the eyes of many, I need to die.
The people who believe that, who know it in their heart and soul, they got to that point of view because we all allow it. We allow the slow drip of poisonous belief to spread. Every microaggression towards queers allows some vulnerable and confused person to believe that they are right, good, and justified in wanting my death.
13. I was horrified to hear the news out of Orlando. But I wasn’t surprised. I wish I found murders of LGBTQIA folk to be surprising. But I have been found guilty of being gay my entire life. I know how much, how casually, how thoughtlessly I am hated. Hated not because I am evil, but because I am merely the most horrible disgusting thing people can imagine.
14. The shooter went to a place of refuge, of joy, of celebration. He went to a place where queers go when we are told we are too queer to be seen anywhere else. He went to the place where all the shoving and flaunting of queer would have been hidden away from him. He sought it out, this crusader vigilante, this one good man with a gun we hear so much about. He took his righteousness and hunted down the gay he hated and feared.
15. So how do we go on. How do we live in a world that hates and fears us?
I cannot stop anyone from murdering anyone else. I don’t have that power. But I am … done. I am done with letting the jokes and remarks slide by. I cannot continue to passively agree that I am a punchline, a threat, a bogeyman, a cautionary tale. I just, … I am done.
I can’t stop the Orlando murders, or any other murders of queers.
But I am done being complicit.
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