I haven’t been able to find the words to describe how I’ve felt since Sunday morning. Much of what I want to say has already been eloquently said* by LGBTQ+ folks across our community.
I wrote a response for Richmond Pulse just two hours after I first heard. As I wrote in the piece, the massacre happened two days after I attended and performed Dyke Mic.
This hits home for me, not only as an American who cannot keep track by the numbers of shootings each day, but as a queer person. I am a queer person of color who goes out to dance with my friends and partners. Dancing is a way for people across LGBTQ communities to come together. We wait in line for hours to enter spaces that exist for us even for only one night out of a month. We go inside to celebrate ourselves through dancing. We get to relieve ourselves of anxiety and pain until the last song ends and the club closes. And every time we leave, we hope we make it home.
Since writing that and watching the news and social media, I’ve experienced another wave of emotions, hoping that I will feel settled and comfortable again—it doesn’t seem likely any time soon.
My immediate response was to write. I thought about the first time I shared a dance space with LGBTQ+ people. It was a prom night for LGBTQ+ youth, many of whom weren’t able to attend their high school programs with their sweethearts or wear the outfits that best reflected their gender expression. I was 17 or 18 years old, openly identified as queer but still working through ‘being’ queer and taking up space.I was nervous walking into prom; I think I lied to my mother either about where I was going or why I was going. I remember I distanced myself from the prom to avoid conflict with her, but I couldn’t wait to go, having to lie only further proved how bad I needed the space.
Our bodies took up the entire gym in a relatively conservative district in our county. The smiles on people’s faces as they saw friends and significant others warmed my heart. Being queer, taking up space, dancing with my crushes-soon-to-be-lovers no longer a fantasy. It was a reality, it made me feel free.
It was the beginning of sharing dance floors with fellow LGBTQ+ people, especially QTPOC. I went with less than a handful of friends but we made many more, and I understood why we called ourselves family despite still being strangers less than three hours before. We shared dance floors, laughter, and resilience. And fear. Walking out of the space meant returning to lives where we spend most of our time making ourselves smaller, hoping we are invisible to avoid verbal and physical attacks on our bodies.
At 19 years old, I moved to Chicago, a city with a large LGBTQ+ population and what seems like an equal number of people who vocalize their hatred of queer and trans people. We have the small number of gay clubs and bars and turn up at themed nights at bars where we wouldn’t usually go with less than a dozen friends. We have house parties, marches, and festivals. There is a gayborhood (which, unfortunately, is mostly safe for only one demographic). There is what seems like a lot but are still tucked away in small pockets of a city where our fellow LGBTQ+ people face potential and completed attacks every day.
We still risk showing up because we have to. We need these spaces because we live in a world that still does not love us and hates when we dare to love ourselves.
This morning I told my roommate I was going to hug her. She granted permission for me to do so. I am not an affectionate person, even with this person I call my platonic life partner, but hugging felt like an act of defiance. It felt like an act of defiance even in our own home.
My other reaction is to dance. We need each other more than ever, and now our sense of sanctuary has been taken away from many of us, especially our Latinx and Muslim siblings experiencing loss and further discrimination and hatred. I absolutely love you all. I will keep fighting for the day every single one of us can live in peace.
For the victims and survivors and their families, we will honor and speak your names every day.
[*Here is a small reading list of some of reflections and articles written so far: Undocumented victims of Orlando shooting face unique challenges and fears, Activist: Latinx LGBTQ Community & Its Stories of Survival Should Be at Center of Orlando Response, Rejecting Islamophobia as a Queer Latina in the Wake of the Orlando Pulse Shooting, Unforgettable: We Can’t Lose Sight of the Queer Latinx Victims in Orlando, Here Is What LGBT Muslims Want You To Know After The Orlando Shooting, The Pulse Nightclub Shooting Robbed The Queer Latinx Community Of A Sanctuary, The site of the Orlando shooting wasn’t just a gay nightclub. It was my safe haven., Please Don’t Stop the Music]