Saturday, June 18, 2016
Retro Y'all (Orlando Edition)
I came out at the height of the AIDS crisis. A good friend had passed away from the disease several weeks earlier. It was a scary and uncertain time to be gay, but (for me) it was even more scary and uncertain to keep denying it.
I don't want to talk about my coming out here, except to say that it was difficult and scary. Also, it was not something that I really chose to do at the time it happened. There were outside forces at play--malevolent ones.
If it hadn't been for my mother and Keith, I would not have made it. There were times that I contemplated not going on. It was just too rough and I was not sure at the time I could do it. Coming out cost me something that was really important to me at the time, and that something had given me a sense of purpose and direction for several years. Without it, I was nearly completely lost.
A few years later, Keith and I were on a Halloween cruise on the Ohio River, sponsored by a local gay group. We were on the top deck, watching the river, listening to the music play below us. Suddenly, the music switched to old school disco--Donna Summer, the Village People, and of course the ever-playful, subversive Sylvester.
I made a remark to Keith that it was kind of funny, but in the face of everything, we as a community kept finding ways to go on. Ways to endure. Ways to dance and sing and celebrate instead of closing in on ourselves. Ways to live without fear. Somehow, without even realizing it, I had learned how to it too. Those dark, ugly, early days seemed very far away.
This was still years before the medical breakthroughs with AIDS treatments. Years before the passage of anti-discrimination laws in Louisville and many other places. Years before presidential candidates even spoke the words "gay" or "lesbian."
A lot has changed since then. The world is completely different. We as a community have become a lot more inclusive in our understanding of ourselves. We speak of "LGBT people" as opposed to "the gay community." We've grown.
So had society around us. Same sex marriage is a reality. So is anti-discrimination protection in many places. The broader culture sees us as a part of the world--a vital, contributing part. This is a world that I could never have imagined all those years ago. Ever.
The old world still finds ways to rear its ugly head, however. I'm not just talking about the tragedy in Orlando with so many dead or wounded. I'm talking about what has gone on since the shooting. What still goes on. There is a real concerted effort to focus solely on the identity of the shooter to the expense of that of the victims. This crime has to fit in the box that is being designed for it, and to do that anything that doesn't fit is being left out. Like the LGBT identities of the victims. There seems to be this thought that this is a terrorist attack, but not a hate crime, as if it cannot be both.
The problem is the extra messages this attack carries with it--that our identities don't matter. Our lives don't matter. The prejudices that are still directed at LGBT people don't matter. The hurt we are feeling right now doesn't matter. Neither does the fear. Or the anger. Or our loss.
If there's one thing that the AIDS years taught us, it was to never take anything lying down. We don't have to be crammed into those "official" boxes. We don't have to let our truths be covered over to fit convenient theories. We can and we will make sure our stories, our voices, get heard.
We will go on. We will live without fear. We will find ways to live, laugh, dance and celebrate.
It's what we do.