Evening and Mourning

vigil

Vigil in Orlando for the victims. Picture via heavy.com

I kissed a man on Saturday night.

The date was casual. We had met last summer and he was back in town to see friends and he asked me to join his group at Midsommerfest in Chicago for some beer and pickled herring. We talked, we laughed, we debated fan theories on Game of Thrones. We drank cheap beer and went out for Vietnamese food. Afterwards his friends went their separate ways and he had to go back to where he was staying. We ducked into the shadow of a car park and said good-bye.

He kissed me there, and I kissed him back. It was a good kiss. So was the second one.

There were some people walking past on the other side of the street. I’ve always been hyperaware of the affection I show to men in public, but Saturday night I wasn’t too concerned. I was in a gay-friendly area outside a gay-friendly street festival. No one said anything. Someone wolf-whistled. We said our last good-byes and I turned towards home.

And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.

When I checked the news in the morning, I saw the hashtag first. #PrayforOrlando. I guessed right away there had been another mass shooting. Another in a long line of massacres that has marked 2016. I didn’t look for details right away. I showered, made a plate of eggs. Opened up my laptop to get some work done. Clicked on the news.

It was at a gay club. Someone had targeted a gay club. There were twenty people dead.

The planet continued to revolve on its axis, but it felt as if it had forgotten to take me along with it.

I think I wrote some stuff on Twitter. I can’t really even think of what I said. All I remember was when the number of dead jumped to fifty.

We all know the details now. Omar Mateen, a Muslim American on the terrorist watch list, had gone into Pulse Nightclub on a Latin-themed night during Pride weekend and gunned down forty-nine people who were drinking and dancing and enjoying their lives. He had declared allegiance to ISIS. The attack was clearly homophobic. The victims were predominantly LGBT and Latinx.

His father said he was angered by the sight of two men kissing.

I don’t think I can describe the fear I felt when I read that. LGBT people have long acclimated to the fact that a kiss, holding hands, a declaration of love, can bring violence on down upon ourselves at the hands of violent homophobes. Now we have a new fear; that a simple kiss can cost the lives of our LGBT siblings. People we have never known or met but are part of this community alongside us. Even if we are willing to risk harm on ourselves to live openly as we are, now we must balance the lives of the rest of our people.

The fear is like frozen snakes twisting through your stomach, crawling, slithering, opening the closet door with a flick of the tail and hissing admonishments to return and shut the door behind you.

For the first time in my life, I was afraid to go to Pride.

That first day was exhausting. Exhausting to type out the words on Twitter, the commands to not use this attack to incite violence on more innocent people. The gestures of solidarity and expressions of grief. Grief for the victims, grief for the families, trying not to make the tragedy about you when all you can think of is how afraid you are. Words, words, words on a screen. Rainbow avis and candlelit memes and exhaustion.

And with the exhaustion, anger and rage as what we all knew would inevitably happen happened. People telling us to side with them against the ‘Muslim threat.’ People policing our anger at a theology that so violently dehumanises us, telling us it’s not about Islam or religion and that we’re not allowed to claim otherwise. Pundits claiming it was not an attack on LGBT people, but on Americans. People asking where he got the gun. People calling for more gun control. People calling for more guns.

The bodies of our fallen siblings had not even grown cold and the frightened, angry, grieving LGBT community was regulated to second-class citizens in our own massacre.

Most of all by those Christian leaders who made pious statements of solidarity and mourning and shallow compassion when for years they had fought against us tooth and nail. Where our marriages and blood and military service and bathrooms had been their political fodder now our murder was a new opportunity. Politicians who shared the stage with pastors who called for our execution. Bloggers who previously referred to us as sexual perversions and told their readers to treat us with a gag reflex. Clergy who declared our marriages were the signs of the end of America. They all wanted us to see their tears and hear their platitudes in the face of homophobia that couldn’t be brushed under the pew.

And as it grew and grew and grew I had to speak. I couldn’t let it go unchallenged.

No. You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to mourn with us today.

You don’t get to talk about how our identities and relationships and
intimacy are immoral and rebellious and perverse on 11 June and then weep with us on 12 June. You don’t get to stand against every part of who we are with religious zeal and then stand with us when we are cut down by religious zeal. You don’t get to use our lives as a platform for your prejudices and then turn around and use our slaughter as a platform for your piety. You don’t get to claim that we can ‘stand together’ when it’s our rights, lives, and relationships you have attacked, not the other way around.

You don’t get to pretend to be grieved about our slaughter when you are completely unable to talk about it without referencing our ‘sinful lifestyle.’

The Russell Moores and Chelsen Vicaris, the Thabiti Anyabwiles and the Jen Hatmakers, the Karen Swallow Priors and the Albert Mohlers, the Landon Schotts and the Preston Sprinkles do not get to mourn with us today.

You will not weep with me today. You will not send prayers rooted in dehumanising and bigoted theology for me today. You will not make the violence we face on a constant basis about you today. I do not accept your prayers today. You are not welcome beside this community today.

I went to bed with my head filled with thoughts of cell phones ringing on a bloody dance floor, of a 22 year old man smiling in a Harry Potter uniform, of self-righteous comforts and unending rage.

And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

I lit a candle in Boystown on Monday. A friend in Florida lit one for me in Orlando. A relative in Northern Ireland lit one for me in Belfast, where my life was first touched by religious terrorism.

I talked to my mum on the phone. I told her I was going to Pride. She asked me not to. It’s not worth risking your life for, she said. I had always avoided telling my mother that I was going to Pride for fear of a lecture on sin. Now it’s so she doesn’t have to fear for my life.

More information about the terrorist trickled through the media. He was divorced. His wife claimed he was abusive. He had been to the club before, many times. He may have had profiles on gay dating apps. It was possible he was a self-loathing homophobe. I didn’t want to believe it. Self-loathing homophobia is something I personally understand. It would make Omar seem too human. Too real. Better to think of him as a monster than someone I could relate to, even in this wretched way.

I was still angry. Still grieving. Still frightened. But the day went on. I worked. I had a cider with friends. We debated fan theories about Game of Thrones. My date from Saturday texted me. We caught up. Flirted a bit.

I resolved that I will go to Pride. I will stand on the street and cheer as gaudy floats filled with men in speedos roll by. I will wear my t-shirt with the Romani wheel in rainbow colours. I will be proud.

I will be defiant.

I will promote my gay agenda, to live each moment as who I am, fully and unapologetically up until the moment someone decides to take my life into their hands.

I decided I would keep living.

And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

On the morning of the third day, I sat down to write.

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