Like the rest of the world I’ve been totally horrified and dismayed by the tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Beloved and I both are reeling from this act of senseless violence. It’s been constantly on our minds and we’ve talked about it many times.
We’re in Australia, so geographically not close to Orlando. But the people who died, the people who had their life ripped from them: they’re members of our community. And as gay women, the sense of grief is strong.
Sexual orientation is such a deeply personal thing. People spend years in closets and unshared spaces, coming to terms with who they are. Some people never ever come out of those places, the sense of shame or guilt driving them to a life of pretence and half living. And then you find out about a place you can go to. A place where you won’t be stared at. Judged. Laughed at. Brutally beaten. Cruelly taunted. A safe place. A safe place for people just like you.
And so, you go. You meet people. You might dance with someone of the same sex for the first time ever. You might finally say those words – “Yes, I’m gay”. You feel the exhilaration of freedom; the weight lifting from your shoulders as you gaze around and see people who are like you but happy and open and themselves. And in that moment a life outside of the closet no longer seems so scary. You have a community. You have a people. You are part of something bigger and you are totally, utterly safe. And like everyone else there, you dance.
Then it changes.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6 7 8 9.
11. 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22.
24. 25. 26.
293031323334353637383940. 41. 42.
The dance floor slowly empties.
Joy turns to chaos.
Life turns to death.
Freedom turns to oppression.
The closet becomes the only safe place once again.
You hear tears. Worse than that, you hear phones ringing and going unanswered. Worse still, you hear sobs desperately trying to be stifled.
And worse still, you hear silence where there should be no silence, silence where silence is the devastating reality of no further noise.
This is not about religion. This is not about creed or colour. This is not about gun laws or lack thereof.
This is about people. About a community attacked. About the right to be yourself, being snatched away and scrunched up like some used piece of cling film and flung carelessly into the bin.
They came to dance. To dance.
But now, the steps have changed.
I don’t know what to do from here. From Australia the reality is that I don’t know a single person who was at Pulse, and it’s really unlikely that I will ever go there. But I’ve been to gay venues. There’s a pride festival coming up later this year that beloved and I are going to. But the question dangles.
Will we be safe?
We can’t live, constantly scared that our love might flick the switch for someone who has a problem with it. But maybe we’ve had a reminder that we also can’t assume that what is normal for us, for our loved ones, for our community – we can’t assume that everyone is as welcoming or inclusive as we are. Because ours is a community that was primarily forged through exclusion.
For someone to enter that community, to go to a place that is safe for that community, and to singe handedly destroy exactly what it stands for: maybe that is what’s at the heart of the way beloved and I are feeling. That the physical safeness of our safe spaces are so utterly vulnerable.
But our hearts are strong.
And as a community, we love fiercely.
Yes, we will be targeted. Yes, we will be discriminated against. We will be judged. Denied freedoms. Experience shame. We will forge connections and explore life and get to know that person we kept in the closet, and when we come out you can be sure that the Mardi Gras Parade will be storming proudly through our hearts and our heads as each footstep shows that we are not alone and we are not less than anyone else.
We still can’t get married.
But we can love.
And from what I can see, that’s the true safe space.