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.


We are: Clamco said...

Great post Eddie.

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Well said Eddie! It's been a long road and we aren't done yet! I'm glad you survived and are here to keep fighting another day.

Pat said...

Beautifully written, Eddie. I am saddened by so much hate being expressed and acted upon these days, but what choice do we have but for each of us with love in our hearts to keep shining our light out into the world? Someday all of our lights together will cast out the darkness.

Donna Wilkes said...

Very moving post, Eddie. I was so happy when the news media changed the number dead to 49 instead of 50 which included the shooter. However I was appalled by some of the comments made by the media about this hate crime. I would rather know about the victims and their families than the shooter and his.

tyty said...

Well said!! I hope the world changes for the better as the generations that are coming through now accept LGBT as the norm and not hide it away. My son is 8 and has grown up with friends of ours that are gay and it is normal to him. My stepson is 20 and made a post on facebook supporting LGBT and was attacked by his girlfriend about it as she disagrees. I am proud of both of my boys and their stance on LGBT as unfortunately it is still not always the popular view to have. Love is Love, and the world would be a much better place if more people were accepting.

Shara said...

I've always felt that if you are lucky enough to be in love and to have someone love you - what does it matter if it's man/woman, woman/woman or man/man? It's just people loving each other. I have only seen news about the victims and I choose not to listen to the news about the shooter. Gutless and horrible. I do know that. I'm sorry that you had hard times. I hope those are behind you and you are happy. I like to think you are. :)

Judy said...

Great post, Eddie. I'm glad you've found love and happiness. Always remember, YOU MATTER.