In light of the tragedy in Orlando, I hope you’ll forgive the small change of pace.
I finished a piece recently about my hometown: about its culture of silence, and the muffled cries of queerness and mental illness struggling to survive under that suffocating grasp. An acquaintance of mine was editing it and of everything we discussed, this stuck with me: “It’s sort of an angry piece.”
She didn’t mean it as a criticism, but my first instinct was shock. I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person. I am quiet in public. I avoid conflict with a deftness Aaron Burr would be proud of. I hold back, and I convinced myself that meant the anger wasn’t there.
Today, I am angry.
I’ve never been comfortable having my picture taken. When a camera is pointed at me, I have a different set of concerns than the average person: adjust the hair so it frames the face right; accentuate the point of the chin, away from the fullness of the lips, the length of the eyelashes. One wrong gesture, and the work I’ve done to shape my image will be gone. I cannot pass for masculine on the street; my dysphoria is not pat enough for what the cultural narrative of genital surgery allows. To be trans, in the small way that mainstream culture understands it, is to cross a supposed gender binary, and then spend the rest of your life proving that you are not just a woman, or a man, but the utmost stereotype of that image, lest the cries of being “not really a….” threaten to bury you.
There is no place for me. Life in physical space is an understanding that pronouns will be assumed, and that the slap of my birthname will linger inescapably. I can stand it, I told myself. I can tell myself that these ignorances are well meant. I remind myself that if I stopped to educate every stranger, playing roulette as to what their reaction might be, I would have no energy left for living.
The nebulous fears of being fired, evicted, beaten, screamed at, and legally discriminated against are already a draining, constant cloud. The awareness that if I hug my girlfriend in public, part of my brain will stand outside that moment and wonder if someone has seen us and wished we were dead. You have to learn to ignore some of it, I told myself. Just to survive.
Fifty corpses cannot be ignored.
The shooting in Orlando is a reminder of what we already knew: that Marriage Equality is a bandaid stretched across a bullet wound, little more than a paper tiger meant to give symbolic peace of mind while the queer community that doesn’t fit the marketable mold suffers ever-less-silently. It is not enough. It was never enough. Surviving is not a substitute for living.
When “queer” was reclaimed by the community from those who used it as a slur, one of the slogans went like this: “not gay as in happy. Queer as in fuck you.” I’m beginning to understand the sentiment.
Our joy is taken when hard-won pockets of safety become graves. Our sorrow is taken when we are told that our murders are not political; as we are silenced, as surely as the unmarked graves of AIDS patients. Our fear is numbing, as familiar as a limb we no longer feel. What is left to us, if not our anger, as our corpses lie in rows.
I am angry. I know that is a luxury of my youth, like my idealism, and the belief that education can turn away a hateful hand. I hold onto it for the sake of everyone who can only see the monstrous faces of those who have wounded them and wished them dead. I will hope someone takes the torch from me, when I can no longer bear it.
I can spare, still, my passion, for the mountains of dead I do not and will now never know. In time I will have to turn that energy inward, when all I can spare without flaring out is a small light for the loved ones I can touch. There will be no grand battles then. No pleas. I will take care of my corner of the world, beaten down in the knowledge that it is not over. I will be dead before it’s over. I can only hope it’s old age and contentment – not a bullet, a two by four, a self-righteous fist – that gets me.