It takes a lot to stun me, to bring me to my knees. It takes a lot before I open up and really share through writing. It takes something really huge happening on the world stage before I feel the need to address it. The shootings in Orlando are that something.
I put a lot of spin on my formative years to make it more palatable. ‘I was homeschooled because I caught mono in the ninth grade, and then it was just easier to finish high school being homeschooled.’ While that’s the truth, it’s a very colored and edited version of it. I was relieved when I ended up in the emergency room with a dangerously high fever and my throat swollen nearly to the point of cutting off my breathing. I was relieved because that meant that I didn’t have to go back to school, back to the beatings and the harassment and general hell that my life had become.
Some would say that my life was difficult growing up in a small town in rural Virginia being openly gay at thirteen. Some have asked what it was like coming out of the closet, but in truth, I was never really in the closet. I hate the comments that frequently followed that about being so brave to be so open and unashamed! Honestly, my courage was born from innocence, because I had an amazing mother who never once gave me the slightest idea that being anything less than who I am is an acceptable choice, so I naturally thought the rest of the world would follow suit. It did not.
I was gaybashed in school to the point that I had lockers pushed over on me while I was getting ready for gym class. I was harassed by day, yet in the evening the same boys that would harass me would give me the privilige of sucking them off. I attended a homecoming game, and while I was waiting for my mother to pick me up I was attacked by a group of guys that numbered somewhere around a dozen. I’m not convinced that I wouldn’t have died had my mother not pulled into the parking lot and actually hit one of them with her jeep. I remember that attack so well because that was the first time I wore makeup – to hide the bruises.
And that’s where we reach a core issue. Instead of healing our hurts, we cover them up so that nobody will see them. We don’t talk about them. We keep them in the shadows, like pain is something to be ashamed of. We don’t talk about the fact that as a society we are still so scared of anything that challenges the structures that have been in place by archaic notions of what defines each and every person. We wear the hat that society dictates. Stay in your lane. Don’t make waves.
When a tragedy like this happens, everyone clamors to lay claim. It’s terrorism to feed Islamaphobia. It’s a shooting, so it lends fodder to the anti-gun arguments. Oh, and be sure to not straight-wash this – it was obviously a hate crime against the LGBTQ community. This disturbs me so deeply that I struggle to find words for it, because first and foremost, the victims of this were people.
Watching this happen makes me think of Christianity. The main symbol of modern Christianity is the cross – the torture device meant to punish and kill Jesus. Why couldn’t it be the vesica pisces? Why not a chalice to represent the holy grail? Why a cross? That’s just morbid to me. In the same line of thinking, why do we need a tragedy to unify us a community? WHY DO WE NEED SOMETHING SO TRAUMATIC TO REMIND US TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER?
Don’t get me wrong, the cross has a lot of meaning to me, but it represents something completely different. My cross to bear is that of the crossroads – a symbol of choice. In the struggles I encountered in my youth, my mother didn’t let me be a victim. She helped me find a youth group for gay teens, then she supported me (insisted actually) as I decided to make a difference and speak in the Virginia House of Representatives and at the Virginia Teachers’ Association. She told me, “If the world sounds cold and cruel, it’s up to you to change the dialogue.” Right now, I’m standing at the crossroads making a very conscious choice to change the dialogue.
Hate is only going to perpetuate hate. Blame is a limitless resource. I’m choosing to love. I love and forgive Omar Mateen. I hope that I’m never put in the situation that would make me understand what motivated him to this heinous act. I pray for him, and for victims of the shooting.
I pray that we can find a way to create a culture that values dignity, diversity and uniqueness. I pray and bring into being a life filled with an array of different people with different viewpoints than my own, where I am challenged to grow by others that hold a wholly separate way of understanding the world. I pray that I am strong enough to greet each perspective without fear or judgment.
I am choosing to love higher. I am choosing to forgive. I am choosing to be the person that I looked up to when I was younger. I am choosing growth.
Sometimes I’m conveniently “too sensitive” to tolerate large crowds, and it’s true that I can become overwhelmed by all of the emotions and impressions flowing at me. But if I’m completely honest, I’m more overwhelmed by anxiety and fear that I may be attacked. When the man I loved held my hand in public once, I cried in the bathroom when we got home because my nerves were shot. I have been to see my family twice in the past decade because I still feel like I’m going to throw up when I think of returning to where I grew up. This is not the world I want to live in. This is not the world I want for the next generation or the generations to come. I want the world I grew up in twenty years ago to be distant outdated memory that has less modern equivalency than women’s suffrage. I want to live in a world that is driven by love and not by fear. But for that to happen, the dialogue has to change, and for the dialogue to change we all have to share our voices.
This is my voice. What is the world that you are speaking for?