By Ryan Douglas
Fair warning: I'm angry. And sometimes anger impedes clear thinking. But I had to get something out...
“If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.”
-@jerameykraatz on Twitter
The events of the last couple of days are weighing heavy on my mind. Most of my coworkers are going about their days. They’re talking, laughing. Of course, the events of yesterday are horrific. Nobody would dare say that they aren’t. But there are a few of us here who are sitting the office today and look different. We feel different.
Because we were attacked.
I’ve been infuriated lately. Infuriated by the events that happened, to be sure. Infuriated that the circumstances exist that allow this kind of atrocity to occur. But there’s more to it. This was not a random, indiscriminate act of violence nor was it someone getting back at people he thought had wronged him in some discrete way. This was someone who acted out against us simply because of who we are. He ended forty-nine lives because he was so disgusted with the sight, the very idea, of queer people that he apparently felt that this was the only way to deal with those feelings.
And in the midst of this there are folks who, I guess because they want to somehow be a part of our shock and our sorrow, try to say that this isn’t just about queer people. That this was an attack on all of us. This was an attack on America, on human decency.
I’m sorry, and I freely admit that I say this out of a place of hurt and anger, but to those who would say that: ____ you.
You most absolutely were not the target of the attack yesterday. This was absolutely an attack on queer people. It was an attack on and in one of the spaces that was the first place that most of us felt even remotely comfortable in our own skin. It was an attack on one of the ONLY spaces where some of us feel comfortable in our own skin even now in this land of supposed equality. Grieve with us, grieve for us. But to co-opt our grief as your own or insinuate that we grieve for the same reasons? It’s often well-meaning but always unconscionable. Because many of you have no idea what we’ve truly lost in all of this.
To say that this represents an attack on America means you don’t understand America. America is a country that has hurled this kind of violence at us for decades. Police have harassed and abused us. Politicians to this day freely spew hateful vitriol and introduce laws designed to marginalize and discriminate against us. Our government left us to die during the AIDS crisis and shamed us with DADT and DOMA. We are reduced to nothing more than our sexual proclivities and bathroom habits by the news and entertainment media. Saying that this is an attack on America is a convenient way to forget ALL of that. To pretend we are all equally attacked and equally affected. We aren't.
Many of you don’t know what it’s like to spin around and scan your surroundings before grabbing the hand of your significant other or giving them a kiss in public. Many of you don’t understand the mental calculus that goes into deciding to bring a antiseptic wipe and bandage outside to help the neighbor kid who scraped his knee because who knows how it would look to his parents if he went inside the house of the gay guys next door (and how does it look that I'm touching him at all?). And you don't know what it's like to be concerned that someone who doesn't know you wants to poison you, burn you alive, beat you to a pulp, or mow you down in a hail of gunfire simply because of who you are and who you love.
And thank God that you don’t. But much like those who say things like “All Lives Matter,” it’s clear that many people don’t like being left out of things. Even when those things are horrible. But know this: Co-opting a group’s anger and grief and demanding that you be included as an integral part of their ongoing suffering is just another way of marginalizing our lives, our realities, and our sorrow. You are contributing - unintentionally, I know - to the ongoing subjugation of an oppressed minority. You are welcome and encouraged to share in our mourning, but you are not allowed to take it away from us. It isn’t yours.
I recognize that this goes both ways. My heart breaks for the Stanford rape victim and I stand with everyone who calls for us to hold men accountable for their actions. But I can’t fully understand the plight of these women because I’ve never been blamed for a brutal violation of my body because I should have known better or dressed differently. I am angered by government abuse in the form of imprisonment, aggressive (sometimes fatally so) policing, early-year school suspensions, and systemic economic injustice that holds so many people of color down. But it’s not the same deep, personal anger, as the color of my skin has only ever opened doors for me.
In that way, I don't fully understand even my own plight. White, cis-gendered homosexual males have managed to find a much better place in this country than queer people of color or anyone who expresses their gender in a way that doesn't match the biological traits they were born with. I don't expect to be able to understand it, I just hope to fight for what is right and support people the best that I can.
Above all things, I don’t want to insinuate that I think our allies should leave us be or feel they can’t or shouldn't try to comfort us in this time. To the contrary, you are absolutely crucial as we mourn and heal so that we can stand up, lock arms, and soldier on together. In the aftermath of this tragedy, check in with your queer friends, family, and neighbors. They are hurting more than you know. Support them in their grief and be willing to grieve with them. But recognize that it is their grief. That they are not obligated to share their grief with you. That they are grieving something you don’t necessarily understand. And you don’t have to. We don’t want you to.
Nobody should have to.