The Orlando massacre is barely in my rear view window, and I’m already seeing it. My LGBT family is doing what it does best. We’re dusting ourselves off, reaching out a hand to lift one another up, and getting ready for the next round, because, let’s be honest, when it comes to the queer community, there’s always another round.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Thank you, Ms. Angelou, thank you. You know.
It’s happening as I type—our stubborn refusal to be erased—though, by God, there are a lot of people trying. It started quietly, unremarkably, but has built quite a head of steam. It’s a grassroots groundswell that is best illustrated through an example that’s repeating itself around the world like some queer, universal ditto.
My husband called me during my stateside visit the day the heartbreak made the news to tell me he’d attended a vigil back home in Auckland, New Zealand. A single call had gone out—one—and before the sun had fully set that same evening, in a local park on the other side of the planet, seven hundred people had gathered. They embraced, lit candles, and raised their flames overhead to memorialize our dead and console the living, while trying to make sense of the senseless—the nature of hate, and our role in it. Words were spoken afterward, some in the form of prayer, others an acknowledgement that while we are not victims, neither are we the cause to hate’s effect.
Seven hundred flames to counter a pastor in Sacramento and another in Tempe who both lamented that not more of us had died.
How many, I wonder, in Paris, then? In Seattle? London? How many calls? How many thousands and thousands of flames to illuminate a path for the “peaceful migration” of our brothers’ and sisters’ souls*, even as the Twitterverse erupted with countless versions of the following from one Jonathan Howell: “Florida Pulse gay club attacked I’m so happy someone decided to start shooting perverts instead of innocent people.” Or this one from Drew (last name blocked out): “Nothing wrong with shooting a few gays.”
Drew added a laughter emoji to impress upon everyone that he thinks killing us is… funny.
To these people, we’re not headlines. We’re punchlines.
The truth is we’re old campaigners when it comes to hate, all of us in the LGBT community; battle scarred veterans who are forever dusting ourselves before stretching out a hand to those of us still on our knees. We’re a team, but never more so than after a tragedy; a bloodied, big hearted amalgam of the little engine that could, no one left behind, and the ugly duckling.
Not so long ago, it was the fight for marriage equality. Before that, the big bugaboo—AIDS. Sixteen thousand died—among them my partner and twenty-odd friends—before President Reagan even acknowledged its existence publicly.
My participation in this larger cycle began with Anita Bryant. I was a teenager, all of sixteen, and while I should have been addressing issues no more grave than acne, I had to grow into my sexual awareness as she marched across America to “save the children” from those animals. Which was I, Ms. Bryant? The child or the animal? It doesn’t matter, I guess. Your lesson plan, with its orange juice wholesomeness, big teeth, and talk of God’s will, was effective. I learned to hate myself and to fear everyone.
And that, my friend, is why Gay Pride Month is so necessary.
Somewhere within all these battles, and within my personal recovery, lies its essence, at least to my eyes. Triumph. Indomitability. Perseverance. Self-worth.
So it shouldn’t come as any surprise when I say I’ve been thinking about the connection between the Orlando atrocity, Gay Pride Month, perseverance, and, more to the point, parades.
My thoughts, though, have taken a decided departure. I’ve not been thinking of these things from the perspective of a gay man in a straight world. Rather, I’ve been thinking about my LGBT siblings who find our celebrations embarrassing, even mortifying. Strip away the pretty words, and their arguments are all variations on a simple theme: We must fit in.
The truth is that we must not, especially now, and for three reasons I can immediately see. Though I’m sure others will come to mind.
Fear. It’s not an argument. It’s a reaction. And it’s the last thing we should succumb to. Its focus is survival, which is, despite what just happened in Orlando, the antithesis of Gay Pride. We’re not throwing on the paint and glitter bomb to survive. We’re doing the bloody opposite and thumbing our noses at it with as much leather, chenille, and theatre as possible.
Beyond their wayward concern over how others may perceive us when we throw caution to the wind for a single day and unleash the full force of our fabulous differentness, our square-peg-in-a-round-holeness, the people who subscribe to the conformity argument are missing the point altogether. Our parades are for us, and us alone. If the world wants to join, it’s more than welcome, but this is our playground, and while you may not understand the rules, they must be respected.
You see, we’re celebrating the fact that we’re the every-colored polka dots in a world of hole-punch tabs. And that makes us a gift the world has yet to open.
We’re defined by our theatrics, and we should be, but what does it say about those who are blind to our other qualities; the patience, the compassion, the empathy, the right-brained, left-handed brush stroke of the master, the insistent tap at the door of the world’s conscience, the paradoxical shaking-in-our-boots courage that marches relentlessly forward, the collective will to forgive, and now the NRA’s worst nightmare, because, what the hell, we’ll be your knights in shining armor, if you’d only let us.
If you’d only let us.
A little love goes a long way with my crowd. We can ration that shit like there’s no tomorrow, because, as Orlando proved, there may not be one. Yet, even in the face of all that—and here’s the main point—we remain the Ever-Ready Bunnies, staring the world down from behind our Ray-Bans, our lips set in a grim line, as we beat our drums on and on and on. We’re Matthew Shepard. We’re Virginia Woolf. We’re Bayard Rustin, Jane Addams, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Alice Walker, Alan Turing, Michelangelo, Cole Porter, Frida Kahlo.
And let me ask you.
What is a parade without it?
*Thank you for the reference, Lucy. I’d attribute it to the author, but I don’t remember her name.