Gay clubs were for flowers.
Update: I wrote this piece before we learned more about what happened. I’m sorry about misgendering or mis-identifying the victims.
I’m 31 in a few months. Not old, but old enough to remember how coming out was not on Tumblr, it was at Taboo.
I would go with my best friends, all of us so drawn to each other (boys and girls) because we saw a spark of — what was it? We thought it was weirdness at the time — in each other. It was a badge nobody gave us, but we saw on ourselves anyway.
If only someone could have told us: this badge, it is a badge of queerness. Use it well, do not sleep with worthless people, and you’ll be okay. One day.
Why did the Orlando shootings reverberate across the world as I knew it — on the walls, timelines, of every queer person I know, and their allies?
The idea of safe spaces, and sanctity, kept coming up. Weird, perhaps to consider something like a sweaty, sweltering gay club sacred. But it was. And will always be.
Even if I never felt like I was of “the scene” (there was literally nothing for me there), being a woman, outnumbered with my persuasions out-persuaded, it was, in so many ways, where I found myself.
I’m a terrible dancer, but some alcohol with the encouragement of men who don’t care about sleeping with me, made gay clubs the only place I felt safe. I didn’t have to worry about men, even if I went alone. And most times, I did. In Singapore, in Bangkok, in Helsinki, in every place I have called home or visited for longer than a day. A gay club had always found itself on my itinerary. It was my window into the pulse of the rebels, the misfits, the mostly straight but didn’t want to be fag hags I could sometimes persuade.
Most of all, the complete sense of belonging and the unadulterated self. There, I could be myself, long before I could be that person at school, at home, in my places of worship.
When Omar Mateen went into a gay club halfway across the world, spraying bullets and quite literally hunting down gay people, my memories merged into one, as it did for many queer people everywhere. He didn’t kill 50 gays in one club, he reached into, placed himself in, and ripped up the safe space we have all found.
But how to explain a safe space to people who have never needed one?
18, venturing out timidly with my best friends. Seeing educators; kissing each other (of the opposite gender) to pretend, badly, that we were all straight.
20, between life milestones, trembling and swooning every time an older women “picked me” (hahaha, I was very young and very hot; they should have been swooning instead).
More recently in life, being protected and cared for by wonderful gay men in cities all over the world. From Istanbul to Helsinki and San Francisco.
It was not just 50 gay men that Omar Mateen killed.
It was all of us on the dance floor. The veteran gays who go to see friends and dance with them. The young man peeking out from his closet, having to hide his queer clothes in his bag. His career as a hot young stud, vanished. The fag hags who love the gay men they cannot have. The old couples who go because they want to believe they still got it. The amazing dancers. The not so good ones. The long lines for the men’s toilets; the lack of one, of the lack of a toilet, for women. The bad vodka. The cheap rum. The smell of leather and sweat. The promise of darkness and kink — but is it really that dark or kinky if you were the one getting it? The camaraderie. The cliquey lesbians who think anyone talking to their girlfriends is infidelity, even when gay men do it. The stolen kisses once outside. The sobering effect of a greasy meal early in the morning when you didn’t meet someone interesting or you made the right choices in life. Kebabs and Chinese food. Drunk friends you send home vowing to never let them drink again. The sullen faces that sometimes harbour disgust the moment you walk out of the door knowing you will not be accepted outside.
That’s where Omar Mateen took us all. He sprayed his evil bullets into our sanctuary, hiding his last minutes in the toilet of a gay club. Let that sink in for a minute. Possibly the worst homophobe the world has seen since the Holocaust. And he hides out in a gay club toilet before he dies?
All across the world violent acts are performed on minorities every day. Queer people are persecuted. Women are beaten. Trans people are murdered. Immigrants are hunted. Other ethnic and religious groups including atheists are tortured, hated, cussed at. What you think is casual racism, homophobia, transphobia, funny jokes that won’t hurt anyone, magnifies with a weapon in its hands.
So if you’ve ever stopped to say, why are you people demanding your rights? It’s a playbook from Western activists wanting to erode our culture! What next, marriage? Yes. We are demanding to not be massacred. To not be spat on and beaten in Albania. To be not pistol-whipped and left to die on a fence in Wyoming. To be not raped — correctively and incorrectly — in South Africa. To not be kidnapped by your parents and sent to “pray the gay away” camps, all over the world where evangelical Christians have found money and warped theology.
We are here and we are queer. Do not kill us like deer.