It has been one month since the massacre at Pulse Orlando. One month that has seen more death and devastation and violence than I can possible process. One month of communities ripped apart, here and abroad. One month of divisiveness and unimaginable pain and the rumblings of revolution.
Perhaps it is always this way — it is just that it takes events like this — events that hit us hard, and close to home and personally — to fully get our attention.
Still, there are some periods in this world where it all seems to erupt, all at once. And the grieving and the hurting and the righteous anger and the protests and the memorials and the demands for reform eclipse all else. As they should. As they must.
That week, much like this last one. I could not look away. Not from the news stories. Not from my social media feed. Not from the political response. Not from the attempted erasure of the color or sexuality of the victims. Not from the names and faces and stories of those lost and those who survived and those who were there to do the saving.
And most of all, not from the eyes of my fellow queers. My LGBTQ community. My family.
One week after the attack I went to a bar. My bar. My home. A lesbian honky tonk with it’s weathered wood dance floor and the bartenders who are like friends and the people that know me the best. The place where my muscle memory knows the music and my own feet have done their part to wear the floor smooth. The space that had sheltered me from the earliest days of my coming out. Of course we would be there.
Where else would we have gone?
We were afraid. We were hurting. And more than anything, we needed to be together. To be there. To defiantly claim this space. As safe. As our own.
And there, on that Saturday night, there was a time of silence. And in that moment, my friends and I hugged and we held each other and we took very deep breaths and we closed our eyes and opened them and just took it in. This crowded Saturday night gay bar, completely silent in memory of what had been lost just a week before. And then the music began again and we did the one thing that we could do. We danced. We danced and we danced and we danced — just like those 49 souls did that night at Pulse. We danced in safety and we danced in celebration and we danced in defiance and we danced in revolution.
I got home very late that night. Wet with the sweat of a night of spinning around and around and around that floor. Gritty and heavy and light and hurting and healed. And when I woke the next morning — it was with the words of a letter filing my my head and right on the tips of my fingers. And this came out — one of those times that the entirety of a piece has been gifted in the liminal spaces between sleeping and waking, and the only challenge to capture it all it before it is lost into the ether. And so I lay there in bed, and furiously punched out letters on my phone until my thumbs were aching, because to get up and get paper or computer was to risk losing what needed to be put down.
I recorded an emotional audio to send to a friend and later that day recorded a much more composed video version. I intended to share it right away. But I couldn’t. For some reason, I just couldn’t.
It was all too much. Too fresh. Too vulnerable and exposed. My queerness is not a secret, not by any means. As a writer with 15 years of online presence, when I came out, I did it publicly and wide open. My queerness — though often invisible unless I purposely call it out — is personal and political and refuses shame.
But this? This was raw-edged grief right on the surface of my skin. Grief mingled with gratitude and knowing and solidarity and a new awareness of what was possible. This was as wide open and bare as I could get. This letter was everything I was feeling, laid out in audio and video. No filter. No hiding.
And so it sat on my hard drive, and I wondered if I would ever share it. Today I woke up and sat down to work — and immediately saw that a month had passed. I knew it was time.
Two weeks after the Pulse massacre I was in San Francisco for Pride. That morning, I wandered The Castro on my own. I stopped by the Orlando Memorial. The candles, still burning, wax spilled all over the sidewalk. The pictures and the names and the flowers and the scrawled messages of love and support. I had my own moment of silence there, with the giant pink triangle on the hill above, feeling the echoes of Harvey Milk’s footsteps and the history — my history — heavy in the air.
That afternoon, in Delores Park, I melted into the crowd — this mass of jubilant queer bodies — claiming their celebration and their space and their pride. And later, in the company of two women I had only just met, sunburned and glittered, hands and lips sticky from the sickeningly sweet Smirnoff Ice grabbed from the slim options at a convenience store and carried in a ripped paper bag, I joined the Dyke March. And with thousands and thousands of others, we spilled into the streets.
And yes, there must have been hate somewhere in that huge city. There must have been. But there was no room for it that day. And there were people on the sidewalks and leaning out the windows and yelling from the rooftops. There were signs and chants and hugs from strangers. And there were bodies. Queer bodies. Transgender bodies. Bodies of allies and families and friends. All of us pressed together and moving as one.
When the march ended, back in The Castro — and the whole place was body to body to body of queer life, I looked again toward the memorial, now made invisible by the crush of humanity.
And I thought — this is how we survive. This is how we know that it will be okay. This is how we go on.
And so this, one month later — is a letter to my queer family.
Thank god that you are you. Because if not, I could never have found the courage to be me.
A letter to my queer family:
In our community we use the word family to mean someone who is like us. Who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary or questioning. Someone who claims one of the stripes on the rainbow flag. This is a means of identification and inclusion. This is the coded language of our own solidarity.
“Is she family” “I think he’s family”. “Don’t worry. They’re family”
In a community forced to the margins, this is how we create our own connection. This is how we build a home.
This is a letter to my family.
You. The exquisite gay men and the magnetic lesbians and the delicious queers and the defiantly breathtaking transgendered and the solidify bisexual and the definitively non-binary who fill in all the spaces in between. You, the questioning and closeted and fearful who have not yet figured out what it all means and where it will all land.
You. Who shattered the boxes and the binary and my limited notions of man and woman and gay and straight and danced me right into the liminal spaces where it’s all fluid and stunningly beautiful.
You. The family that welcomed me when saving myself meant losing everything I had.
You. Who held me until the world stopped spinning and placed me gently on that rainbow flag and told me I could rest now. That I belonged. That I was home.
You. Who taught me what it looked like to be comfortable in my own skin. Who showed me what love looks like made manifest and real when the world would rather ignore its existence.
You who taught me defiance. Who stood tall against legislation and regulation and complete lack of protection. You who refused silence and mobilized and raised voices and locked arms and demanded change.
You. Who gave me my history. Who sat me down gently and said once you know this, in your bones, you will be changed. This.. Stonewall, Matthew Shepherd, the devastation of entire glittering generation to AIDS, DOMA, Prop 8, unimaginable crimes of hate, god hates fags, don’t ask don’t tell, Leviticus, Harvey milk, Brandon Teena… This is now yours. And it will change you, but we will be here to hold you in the aftermath. Because we know. And then you must hold it in honor of all those who can no longer.
You who know what it is to hold hate in your being. Who have turned on the tv to see your love or your family or your job become a sound bite for some election debate or homophobic soliloquy in the name of someone else’s righteous God. Who know what it is to stand in the line at the grocery store and wonder which of the ordinary people around you just cast a vote against the worthiness of our soul.
You who have had insults hurled at you in the streets, or fists or weapons. You who have been sliced by the thin blade of hatred. You who understands what it is to scan a room before speaking, before kissing, before holding a hand or walking to the restroom. Because these things are not always safe. Because these things sometimes come with far too great a cost.
You, who do all those things anyways and you who are too afraid to even imagine you one day could.
You who lost your job or your home or your family or your safety or your religion or your community. You who were forced to exchange everything you had in order to be everything you are.
You who have dug deep enough to find the courage to come out. And then have come out again and again and again and again. In every new circumstance and at every new job and to every new person. Because that’s how that works, that risk that repeats itself anew every single time.
You the closeted. You the confused. You who know but cannot act. You who want that which you feel you can never have. Who live divided lives, who carry shame who do not know if they will ever find the courage to open that door. You who know it would never be safe to do so.
You who are grieving. You who were changed somewhere deep inside by this in ways you cannot articulate. You who cannot yet look away. You who are afraid to go to the places that always felt the safest. You with the tears that will not cease carving paths down your cheeks. You who cannot move on from this. You who have spoken their names and who read their stories and who honored their existence. You the candle lighters. You who raised your voices in song. You who called legislators and who made signs and who gathered in spite of your fear. You who didn’t hear from a single member of your family of origin or from the friends who mattered most. You who are not okay and who won’t be okay, not for a very long time.
You incandescent queens, you deliciously undefinable androgynous souls, you sturdy bears, you chivalrous butches, you tomboy dykes, you drop dead yet still invisible femmes. You with your flare, your flamboyance, your rugged individuality, your glorious diversity, your insistence on being seen, your quiet but steady presence in the places that matter the most. You, the cliche and every unexpected exception. You, the world’s stereotypes brought to blazing life and everyone who smashes the boxes and changes the paradigms and refuses to be painted into place. You, who knows that queer looks and speaks and sounds and moves through this world in a million different ways.
You the grieving. You the dancing. You the proud and the humble and the defiant and the free.
You are my family.
You taught me what it is to be proud. What is to stand tall in my reality. What it is to show up for the fight and to not back down and to never lose hope.
And I could not have made it through this week without you. I could not have made it through this decade without you.
I would never want to make it without you.
We are family. And together we will survive and thrive and live and love and lift and protect and build.
Because that’s what families do.