Monday, June 13, 2016
On being queer and being safe
At the time, I didn't know anyone who was gay (or at least I didn't know anyone who was out of the closet). I had no gay teachers or friends. Later on, a lesbian couple would begin attending our church with their daughter, but this was after my own realization of my sexual orientation. This was before "It Gets Better." Ellen DeGeneres had come out on network television, but to a teenager in Montana, the idea that you could be accepted and even loved for who you loved, was about as realistic as living on the moon.
As a teenager, I visited an exhibition of the AIDS quilt in my hometown. Panel after panel, sized to represent graves, stretched out through the university arena. My classmates whispered in hushed voices, "they died of AIDS because they were gay."
The only image I had of what it meant to be gay was death. Brutal murder at the hands of homophobic monsters. Death by disease. Death by suicide. Death by being ostracized out of families, churches, communities. I knew that if I was going to survive, I needed to not be gay. I needed to bury that part of myself. I decided that if I couldn't be straight, I would have to be dead. So I was going to be straight.
There have been consequences for me. Depression and anxiety and pain. Bad choices. After a long time, I began the coming out process because I couldn't slowly die while living anymore. It was many small steps, and continues to be a path I walk rather than a switch that I flipped.
I have celebrated marriage equality in the capital building of Minnesota. I have marched in pride parades. I've spoken publicly about what it is to be queer, a Christian, and to be human. Just one week ago, I married the love of my life in a ceremony with over 200 of our friends and family present. I have been filled with life.
And yet, just a mere seven days after I professed my love to my wife in front of my nearest and dearest, I was reminded again of death. That queer lives matter less than the lives of other people. That hate is real. That homophobia was not vanquished just because we can get marriage licenses and health benefits. That the fear that sometimes knots in my throat when I hold hands with my wife in public is well founded. A fear of being attacked. I have found sanctuary in gay clubs. I could have been in that club, along with any of my friends. The difference between a hate crime and other crimes is that hate crimes are intended to stoke fear in groups of people for being who they are. This attack in Orlando gives me pause when I think about attending my city's Pride festival this year. I will be looking over my shoulder and will be on guard for anyone or anything that feels threatening. I am not a child anymore, but that child in side of me who fears for her safety and her life is still there.
I don't have a solution. I don't really have words right now. I need allies to speak the truth about the events in Orlando, that these events were not perpetrated by an Islamic Extremist, he was a homophobic sociopath. I need allies to attend to my safety and those of my community. I need allies to continue to create safe spaces for all youth to feel loved, but especially queer youth, because the world can be cruel.