I woke up this morning to a call telling me that a mass shooting had taken place at a queer club in Orlando. The details were — and still are — few and far between, but what we do know is that a 20-something man killed 50 people and injured at least 53 others.
On my television, a mother whose son is still missing sobbed in the street in front of the club. On my Twitter feed, politicians and celebrities offered their prayers. Some called for gun control. Some blamed Islam. Some blamed political correctness.
Though the shooter reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, his father issued a statement claiming that religion played no part in the motivation for the shooting but, instead, it was allegedly the sight of two men kissing months ago that may have set him off.
We don’t know exactly why he did it and we may never know.
What we do know — what I’ve known my entire life — is that the sight of two men kissing is a stunning, terrifying thing. A dangerous thing. A thing that inspires fury and fear and violence and, yes, murder.
Even today, even living in New York City, one of the most accepting cities in the world, I think twice before holding another man’s hand or kissing another man’s face. I don’t want to — every time I do it I internally recoil a bit at my own reaction. And then I take a deep breath and take my date’s hand. Or I push my lips towards my friend’s lips when we’re saying “goodnight.” It’s a simple act — a moment — but even twenty years after I first came out, I feel the terror swarming me because I do not know what might happen.
I don’t want to think of myself as brave any time I kiss another man. I want to simply enjoy that moment of connection with another person. When I realize that’s not a luxury I’m afforded because I’m queer, I’m crestfallen. I’m furious. And I’m reminded that just existing as a queer person is still a radical act and every public (and even private) affirmation of my identity is still revolutionary.
Because even after all of the victories the queer community has seen in recent years, even after securing marriage equality for all people in The United States, even after more visibility in Hollywood and on sports teams, here we are: forced to face the fact that we are still misunderstood and hated for nothing more than who we are, who we love, who we fuck and how we live our lives.
We can pass all the laws we can to secure our equal rights and still, none of it matters when fundamentally we are still seen as less than, other than, sick, deviant, twisted, immoral and evil.
I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to see two human beings exchange a brief intimate moment and respond with disgust. How does someone get programmed to react that way? And how do we deprogram them and our culture?
I don’t have all the answers. But today isn’t about answers. And today isn’t just a day for thoughts and prayers (which, of course, help many people cope) but it’s a day for outrage and anger and remembering the role that those emotions have played in where we have come from, how we got to where we are and where we are going.
Here we stand in the middle of Pride Month, a month dedicated to remembering all of those who came before us and fought so that our lives could be better, our love could be brighter, and in the face of hate we must continue down that road.
So how do we do that? As I write this, I’m sending texts and emails to the people in my life that I love and I suggest you start by doing the same thing. Then, share photos of yourself kissing whomever you love (or like or just find sexy or smart or kind). Go and find someone new to kiss. Come out. Come out. Come out. Talk about who you are, what you’ve been through, what your life is like. Be sex positive. Be vocal. Read and share the stories of those who came before you. Donate to relief funds. If you can donate blood, do it. If you can’t, speak out about how offensive and outdated regulations against queer men donating blood are. Support trans people. Call your elected officials and tell them you won’t standby while even one more anti-queer law is passed. Teach your children and your friend’s children and your neighbor’s children about what it means to be queer. Fight HB2. Speak out against radical religious officials and politicians who spread anti-queer hate. Have sex. Be a role model for a queer teen. Donate to a queer homeless youth center. If you’re not queer, support us and be loud about it.
We are devastated. We are terrified. We are in mourning. But we aren’t alone and we must not let anything stop us from continuing our fight to be heard, to be seen, to be respected and to be free.