Dancing With Orlando

I’ve sat on this post for a while, not knowing what to say, but knowing I had to say something for my own healing. As a friend and fellow blogger noted, there are plenty of blogs and articles and think pieces out there by people more informed, more connected, and more articulate than I. But I have to write. So, here goes.

Early in the morning of the 12th of June, a heavily armed gunman entered Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire. 49 people were killed, 53 people were injured, some still in a serious condition. It was Latin night at the bar, so many of the victims were Latinx or coloured. Most of them, as has been reported, were members of the LGBTIQ community.

Australian television reported the event as breaking news. Not once was it reported that Pulse was a gay bar. I didn’t discover this fact until the next day as I was trawling Facebook. An already horrific event just became all the more terrifying.

I am a cis, white, femme woman. The way I look invites assumptions that I’m heterosexual. The only time you would know I’m bisexual is if I tell you, or if you see me holding hands with my same sex partner. I came out to family and friends 20 years ago with little fanfare. I have never experienced random homophobia unless I am holding hands with my same sex partner. My ability to “pass” as straight has afforded me the privilege of living relatively free from fear. I’m also tough and opinionated, so the times I have been met with stares and looks in public whilst with my partner, I have defiantly returned the looks and stares. Homophobic epithets yelled from passing cars have been laughed at because I think it’s ridiculous.

My wife, however, is a cis, coloured, androgynous lesbian woman. She screams gay. To look at her, you could safely assume she’s gay. She has had a different experience all her life. She does not feel safe holding hands in public. She has to check who she’s with before she refers to me as her “wife” rather than her “partner”.¬†She has experienced discrimination, hatred, thinly veiled contempt, and violence in the form of homophobia. She has felt a fear I haven’t.

We have both, however, taken refuge in our community. In our clubs and bars we have felt safe. Surrounded by LGBTIQ people we have felt at home, free, able to be ourselves.

Now, in the wake of Orlando, for the first time in my life, I am afraid. I know I shouldn’t be. I know that I shouldn’t allow the hate of that act to change who I am in the world, but it has. Because it could happen to me. It could happen to my wife, my friends, my dad, my family. In that one place where we go to take off the armour of staunchness against society’s view of us – us queers, the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals, the transgendered, the intersex, the ones questioning, the ones uninterested in labels but who know they aren’t straight, the “others” – we are no longer safe. And it scares me.

The day after the Pulse shooting happened, I was on a train going to rehearsal. A man and his girlfriend were sitting next to me, arguing loudly. As they left, the man yelled out to an Asian man opposite us that he was a “filthy fucking chink pig”. Usually, I’d call out this behaviour. Usually, I’d apologise to the person abused for being subjected to that. This time I didn’t because I was afraid. There was too much hate that weekend for me to stand up against this.

Our community has had enough. This is not to say other minority groups haven’t; we have all had enough of hate. But the LGBTIQ community have been fighting for decades – for generations for our rights, to be treated equally, to be recognised as human beings who are as we are, not as degenerate, or mentally ill, or perverted, or criminal. We have fought not to be brutalised or “corrected” or killed for being not straight, for being born “different”. We have fought for our freedom to marry our partners, and to walk down the street holding hands without being heckled, abused or bashed. It seemed like it was getting better. It seemed like we could relax for a little while. Then this happened.

Not only has this act of the worst mass shooting in America’s modern history slammed the fact in our faces that we’re still not safe, the refusal of the heteronormative mainstream media – and some of our country’s leaders – to recognise the homophobic element of this crime has made us feel that we are invisible.

Yes, this was a crime against humanity and a crime against our freedom to be as we are – all acts of terror are – but this was also, unequivocally an act of homophobic hatred. There have been reports that Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the shooting, was a regular at Pulse and a closeted homosexual. It is still a homophobic act. Growing up gay in a world that tells us being gay is wrong and evil will, in some cases, elicit feelings of self-hatred so intense that they explode in violent acts against others.That’s homophobia.

Oh, and then there’s the hoaxers – the people who believe the shooting was a false flag to further the “gay agenda”, Islamophobia, gun reform and Obama’s “black politics”. You know, the people who post videos, vehemently insisting the victims don’t exist, demanding photos of gun shot wounds from survivors to prove they aren’t “crisis actors”, giving “evidence” that the whole incident didn’t happen. You know what? I’d probably take these opinions more seriously if their videos and opinion pieces weren’t littered with homophobic tags (e.g. “aw, look at the poor grieving faggot”), racism (“it was only them spiks that were killed”), and general insensitivity.

Look, I’m not going to deny anyone their right to express their opinions however abhorrent I find them. I’m not a big fan of blindly swallowing whatever the mainstream media feeds us, but for fuck’s sake, people are dead. Those who are using Orlando as a platform to vent their anti-government/authority/big corporation/whatever viewpoints aren’t serving the greater good. They’re just augmenting the hate.

People are dead.

Fuck, it hurts. It really hurts because I’ve realised that I haven’t seen myself in any of the terror victims of the past. I haven’t recognised the fellow fallen humans in Baghdad or Paris or London or Syria or anywhere at all. It’s not until my community – MY community, MY identity, MY place of belonging – is threatened that I am affected. That saddens me. I may not have been at Pulse. I may live on the other side of the world in a country with gun control. I may not be connected to any of it other than the ownership I have as a queer woman. I may not know any of the victims or survivors, but I see myself in them. And it’s made me aware that I see myself in all victims of violence, and that’s overwhelming.

Enough. Enough hate. Please.

Having said that, having admitted my fear, K and I have been going¬†out to our local gay bar for the last couple of weeks because she is competing in a drag competition (she’s a drag king, and she’s hot as a guy, and more on that later). There was so much love, so much acceptance, so much the gathering of like-minded and love-minded people that all my fear dissipated, even if it was just for a few hours. I love our community. I love the supporters of our community. In spite of all that’s happened, we will keep on dancing. We are dancing.

 

I Do

I got married yesterday. As with most things in my life, the act was non-conventional and probably quite impulsive. I proposed to my girlfriend a couple of months ago whilst visiting my family in New Zealand with the idea in mind that we’d travel to New Zealand to marry for legals while the Australian government continued to waffle and be embarrassingly reticent to allow the same civil rights for all their citizens. It was our government’s failure to recognise the rights of homosexuals that precipitated our decision to participate in a marriage equality rally yesterday. The date marked ten years since the Howard government amended the Marriage Act to state explicitly that legal marriage is ‘the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others’. Ten years. Why the hell are we still having to protest this discriminatory and archaic ruling?

In reality, I believe that marriage equality is essentially a non-issue. It’s a no-brainer. Why are we wasting energy, time and money on something that is a given – human rights, hello! – when there are children dying in Gaza, passenger jets being blown out of the sky, and Yazidis reportedly being killed in Iraq for refusing to convert to Islam? It’s ridiculous, frankly, and insulting.

Yet, this is where we are. Speakers at the rally yesterday told stories of getting married overseas and the sinking feeling of knowing that as soon as they disembarked from the plane on Australian soil they were longer married. A woman, our marriage celebrant, told of dedicating her life to bringing people together in love since her gay son passed away before fulfilling his dream of marrying the man he loved. An intersex person told of their experience of having to lie on official marriage documents in the past about their gender so that they could marry the person they loved, the only options being ‘male’ or ‘female’, not ‘both’.

I am fortunate enough to have a relatively simple gender identity and sexuality, my sexual preferences being quite fluid. It has always been about love for me – it’s the person, not the gender that I have been attracted to. Growing up with a gay dad and being exposed to ‘alternative’ sexualities in the sex industry has afforded me a healthy, well-rounded acceptance of who I am sexually. My coming out was non eventful, I have experienced little discrimination due to my preferences, and my family has always been accepting of my choice of partner, their only concern being my happiness. Even so, I feel marginalised and restricted (not just for being a little bit gay but also for being a woman, but that’s another post at another time).

Our decision yesterday to get ‘illegally married’ – as the celebrant put it – was mainly prompted by circumstance. At the rally, it was announced that any couple who wanted to make a commitment to each other would be given the opportunity to do so. As we were marching towards parliament in Melbourne, my partner turned to me and asked “do you want to marry me?” The decision was easy, given that I had already declared my intention to her in New Zealand, and quite simply, because I love her. I adore this woman, and can’t imagine my life without her. The act of getting married itself, grounded in complete acceptance of and adoration for each other, was a kind of protest. Our own protest against the friends we have both lost due to the circumstances of our relationship, against those who think we have moved too quickly, and against our stupid, myopic government who doesn’t think we have a right to share our lives as a married couple. Who knew a commitment to the person one loves could be so politically charged and powerful?

It has been a stupidly hard, yet wonderfully magical few months. My life during that time has been perfect in its imperfection. Every loss, every gain, every tear shed, every note of laughter has enriched my soul and made me love my life, myself, and my wife. We will wed legally, whether it be in the country of my birth or here if and when the law finally changes. Until then, love well, dear readers. Be as you are, be with whomever you choose, and trust that the Universe will always provide as it has done for me.

Be blessed.