In the hours following the Orlando Massacre, I was stunned, overwhelmed, and uncontrollably sad. Cheryl and I were in the gym on treadmills when the Breaking News! filled every television in front of us. About 15 minutes into all of it, the media revealed that the attack had been on a gay nightclub. About 10 minutes after that, I had to stop running because I kind of felt like I couldn’t breathe mainly because I felt like I needed to cry. We went out to the parking lot and sat in the car and cried for a while and went home.
I spent a lot of that day looking around and feeling like, Don’t you fucking know what just happened?? At the pool, people sat around in all their layers of fat, shoveling Fritos into their mouths and bitching about the cost of bridesmaid dresses, cable providers, and bad manicures. That evening, we drove downtown to attend a vigil amidst the final blowout evening of the CMA Fest in Nashville, a dually wonderful/icky yearly event that celebrates awesome music (sometimes), partying, guns, boots, and country.
I can’t say I was surprised, but I was, as always, disappointed to see that something that involved gay people (even a goddamned mass shooting) was acknowledged nearly exclusively by just the gay community. I mean, if this had been the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and it had taken place in, say, a shopping mall or a bowling alley, vigils nationwide would have been diverse and massive. Anyway, at least our super-awesome mayor gave a great and thoughtful speech, doing what she could to assure the gathered crowd that gay people are both protected and supported in Nashville. (True to some extent. And certainly by the mayor.)
Other speakers included a Muslim leader, the TN Equality Project director, and a minister who pointed out that, “It is so important right now to be visible, open, yourself. Let people know you are gay, you are married, you are in this world, you are happy. Hold hands in public, kiss, be who you are.”
I’ve heard this many times, and I know it’s true. But it is hard to describe to those who don’t think twice about putting their arms around their husbands, wives, etc. in public just how uncomfortable this still, STILL, is for nearly all gay people, even for lifelong openly gay homos like yours truly. Cheryl and I walked down 2nd Ave. after the vigil holding hands amidst some not-that-discreet stares and a few people enjoying self-induced whiplash to get another gander.
The massacre made me really, really sad. In a natural flow, then, I began to get angry. The obvious void of anyone but The Gays at the vigil made me angry. The stares from rednecks on 2nd Ave. made me angry. In general, I’m not one to boo-hoo, whine about persecution and discrimination, or try to dredge attention and pity in my direction for being gay. So simply feeling this way, in a bitter twist, makes me angry. Gah!
Basically, most of my gay friends and Cheryl and I all go along day to day living like anyone else and doing all the mundane, exciting, tedious, amazing, ridiculous, and incredible things that get rolled together to create Living. Every now and then we talk about how much things have changed in the past 30 or 40 years since we realized we were gay in the little bumfuck towns we grew up in. Because things have changed. But when something like Orlando happens, there are those jarring disorienting feelings of: Not Nearly Enough. Still A Long Way To Go. We’re Kidding Ourselves.
America can be a weird place. I know a lot of Americans are all self-congratulatory and patting themselves on the back about OMGZ! Gay marriage is legal! Look how awesome and cool we all are! In one online debate about how gay people shouldn’t be personally worried/upset about Orlando because, nationally, gays really aren’t discriminated against or hated anymore, some doof used the fact that today 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. “Things are really changing!”
In other words, nearly half of Americans still would like to deny us a basic human right and would be all for a law that instantly dissolved thousands of marriages.
In many parts of the country (like where I live), most straight people would prefer to pretend we don’t exist, deny us most rights, and be generally horrible. All to say, I think many Americans (and this includes plenty of gay people) are living in a fantasy world if they think homophobia and hate are no longer a real problem or threat. As always, laws change, but people don’t. That fact is how Trump has tapped into a ginormous cesspool of American racism and hatred. It’s been there all along in spite of 50 years of “progress.” I think even Trump has been surprised at how many millions of Americans are racist assholes (or in his words: “Just really really great, so great, Americans. Just really.”).
The Orlando murderer was a mentally ill violent psychopath who had a major problem with gay men. Increasingly, it appears that his problem may have been that he couldn’t reconcile his gay tendencies with how his religion condemned homosexuality. His own father taught him that gay people were headed to hell. I know that there are many people who would really prefer to insist that this was a terrorist attack, particularly those who, um, use their religion to condemn homosexuality. Yes, it’s that that awkward moment when right-wing “Christians” realize they share and spew the same views as a supposed Isis terrorist. It would feel a lot more patriotic to claim that the attack was random, not a “gay thing.” Then everyone could feel a heck of a lot more comfortable at, say, a vigil for 49 murdered Americans.
But it wasn’t random. It was a specific hate crime. By a fucking security guard born and raised in America.
What’s the solution to any of my anger, these problems, this rant? I have no idea. But I think it’s time for anyone who gives a shit to become uncomfortable. Our neighbor across the street who won’t wear the engagement ring her girlfriend gave her because her employer “might ask questions” needs to wear the damn ring. Straight people who feel funny about openly supporting and defending gay friends or acknowledging that gay people love each other need to feel funny. Cheryl and I need to hold hands and possibly kiss on 2nd and maybe even Broadway. Even when we’re with our straight friends. (Hi!)
As the minister at the vigil said, it’s critical to be seen and heard. Silence is as dangerous as anything. I know I echo the sentiments of millions of gay Americans when I say that I don’t have solutions, but that in spite of anger and frustration and sadness, I always, ALWAYS, have hope. In the words of Harvey Milk, himself ultimately slaughtered in a hate crime, “Hope will never be silent.”
And now, more than ever, it can’t be.