Before This Week, I Have Never Felt Afraid for My Life as a Queer Person the Way I Have Routinely as a Woman and as a Black Person

I highly recommend Staceyann Chin’s powerful, poetic response to the Orlando Massacre.

Staceyann speaks from her perspective as a black, lesbian immigrant, about the experience of coming to this country to evade persecution as a lesbian twenty years ago and being lulled into the false sense of security that so many of us have that things are getting better for queer people – and about what happened when we wake up and see how unsafe we are – and what to do about it – to wave our rainbow flags – to love and celebrate and take action to make change, because, as she says:

“After 20 years of safety, my lesbian body is awake to the terror of what black body, my woman body, my immigrant body, has always known. These barbaric ideologies are only getting bolder and bolder by the proverbial hour, as a whole.

As a whole person I have never been more aware of how race and class and religion and sexuality and hate can converge into some bizarre concoction of violence and rage and prejudice and the vulnerable target of an unsuspecting crowd.

These young men in a dance club, in a dance club in Orlando, were simply looking for a space to love and live and be safe and be celebrated inside the borders of a country whose history whispers the tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” ”

In that first sentence I quoted, she essentializes the truth that has so upended me for the past week. For 22 years, I have been aware of myself as a queer person and for 22 years, I have had the great good fortune and the extraordinary privilege to feel safe in my body as a queer person.

I spent most of those 22 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, so surrounded by queer community that I have had the privilege to feel safe walking down any street holding hands with my lovers, making out at intersections or across the table at restaurants or in airports or in front of kids or cops. As a queer woman, I have not felt afraid that to do so would garner anything more violent than a surprised or rude look or comment.

I have known discrimination as a queer person and I have feared discrimination as a queer person. I have experienced overt and covert homophobia. But, before this week, I have never felt afraid for my life as a queer person the way I have routinely as a woman and as a black person.

I am conscious of my blackness and of my femaleness as sites of past, future, and potential life-threatening violence almost daily.

What must it be like to go through life unlikely to be raped, shot by the cops, or massacred by racists or homophobes? What must it be like to walk down the street, entirely unconscious of your embodiment & what you are wearing & whose hand you are holding, because it is entirely unlikely to be a factor in your assault or your untimely death?

No wonder I and so many of the strong, brilliant, beautiful queer people I know and love have been losing our minds with grief and fear and anger over what has happened in Orlando. It didn’t just kill those 49 people and harm 53 others and those who knew and loved them. I hazard to say that it impacted almost every queer person in this country in a fundamental way. It obliterated our illusion of safety.

Taking away someone’s sense of safety impacts a person on a bodily level, as well as an emotional level. It impacts the physiology of the human being. It isn’t just a theoretical thing that happened; it isn’t just mental or emotional. How many of us are dealing with some kind of trauma based in the realization that our bodies are not safe and have never been safe and may never be safe again?

It is no wonder that queer people all over the country are losing our fucking shit over this. Something happened to each and every one of us, not just to the people who had the horrific misfortune to go dancing at Pulse on the night of the massacre.

I want to acknowledge that not all of us have felt safe. Many of us – maybe even the majority – have known very keenly that we might die for being queer or trans or gender nonconforming. Many of us have lived with that daily fear – the same daily consciousness that hatefulness might result in murder or assault – that I have known as a woman and as a black person. For the very many that have always known fear as queer or trans people, this event may have confirmed and validated the fear that has always been there.

But for many (especially those of us who are younger and cis – perhaps especially cis female – and living in liberal cities) it has been a horrible waking up out of an illusion of safety, a dream that things have been getting better and safer for queer people over the years. I want that to be true so badly that when the worst shooting on American soil in my lifetime targeted brown queer people, I almost lost my mind with the cognitive dissonance of it all.

I am in the center of a bullseye that too many different systemic forms of hatred are taking shots at.

A year ago, almost to the day, I was shaken and unsettled by a massacre that targeted black people. My embodied sense of vulnerability as a black person was renewed. Now it is my vulnerability as a queer person that is getting burned into my nervous system.

This is what intersectionality feels like in my black, queer, female body.

Today, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a white male stranger on the street hailed me and asked, “Do these pants make me look gay? She thinks these shorts make me look gay.” The “she” in question confirmed that she thinks he looks gay in those bicycle shorts and should get rid of them. I reeled. This is a question that a stranger might casually toss out to a person on the street? How socially sanctioned is casual, microaggressive homophobia in this town that you can enlist a stranger to participate in it, less than a week after a queer massacre? I felt sick to my stomach and my heart started pounding and my eyes lost their ability to focus as my fight flight reaction engaged. While I wished I had said, “Well, as a gay person…” and then launched into some succinct and powerful retort that helped wake them up to the impact of their casual homophobia, that is not what I did, because I am newly in fear for my life. Because I am more aware than I have ever been that homophobia is potentially life-threatening, my amygdala took over and I could barely think. I stammered something inarticulate and vaguely gay-friendly and I fled.

Tomorrow, I will figure out how to be brave. Today, I am still integrating the reality of just how unsafe I am.

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An Open Letter to My Straight Friend N. In the Wake of the Orlando Massacre of Queer Brown People Like Me

An open letter to my straight friend N., who wrote: “You matter to me. Sending you love from across this country and am mourning with you.”

N., thank you. That means all the world to me. You’re the only straight person who has actually reached out to me directly to make contact with me around this. The grief is so enormous that I barely know how to hold myself together.

I was on a plane yesterday, flying from San Francisco to Pennsylvania, going from my community full of people I love who are as impacted by these events as I am to a place where I don’t have any queer community or anybody who routinely holds me when I cry. It was the loneliest feeling.

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I was so so sad. I cried in every airport and in every airplane. I was full of grief about the loss and the death and the hatred and the homophobia and xenophobia and racism and Islamophobia and I was also profoundly shaken and scared about what it means for queer people and brown people and brown queer people everywhere.

I feel afraid. This thing that has happened reminds me of how vulnerable my body is, how vulnerable my communities are, how impossible it is to stay safe as a brown queer person. My mother keeps telling me things like, if I go dancing make sure to know where the exits are. She’s so scared for me. I keep telling her it is impossible to be safe. Those beautiful innocent people who died didn’t die because they didn’t know where the exits are. They died because this country breeds hatefulness and intolerance and violence. There is no set of rules I can follow to ensure my safety from the violence that comes with hatred.

I will be marching in the San Francisco Pride parade in two weeks. Who knows when and how my life will end? Maybe it will be then.

I have felt so isolated from community – it is scary to come home to the place I left literally because it was too homophobic for me to stay and to be here when I’m dealing with this kind of colossal tragedy. I want to be with all of my people and we are all scattered to the wind, in our separate places. As I talk to some of my queer friends, I notice that that is when we become most distressed, most grief-stricken, most afraid: when we are separated from the people we feel the safest with, when we can’t hold onto each other’s bodies for comfort or for confirmation of their continued existence.

Why isn’t everybody, everywhere in mourning? Crying with me in the streets, on the airplanes, in restaurants?

It feels relieving to hear from my queer friends and to know how they are coping with all of this, to share contact and comfort and to reflect back to them that they are not crazy and that all of their feelings make sense and whatever they need is the right thing to do – and it also feels relieving to hear from my straight friends who care, who get it.

The world is full of straight people. I need to know that you care and that you get it and that you feel it and that you are with us and that the most horrible thing in the universe to me isn’t trivial to you. That I’m not trivial to you. That our lives matter, not just to ourselves.

That helps me feel safer. Less invisible, less like the colossal impact of this horrific nightmare of a situation on queer brown people everywhere will go unnoticed. It helps me feel like there are people, maybe even here in Doylestown, Pennsylvania who might be feeling these things, too, and who might be safe haven or ally.

Feeling reckless, but needing to be in solidarity with my people even when isolated and far from home (especially when isolated and far from home), I put a big button that says “Queer” on the bag I carry everywhere. I couldn’t stand to be invisible as a queer person here, even though I feel more afraid, more aware that my outness as a black, queer woman could cost me my life.

I have been having trouble making words about this situation. I mostly make tears and snot and gasps and gulps of air and racking sobs. Thank you, N., for writing to me and helping me make some sentences, even though many tears were shed in the making of them.

I hope that straight people everywhere will reach out to queer friends and family and co-workers and neighbors to check in. (It is not too late for this. It will never be too late for this. It cannot be done enough.) Let them know that they are seen and cared about and valued, that their lives matter to you. Offer them support and safety and sanctuary. Affirm that whatever they need right now is okay, that their feelings are valid and make sense. Mourn with them and stand with them and activate your resources (of heart, of mind, of time, and/or money) to help make change in this situation. Love is needed and thoughtfulness and education and effort and activism and financial contribution to a wide variety of places. It’s going to take a lot of work to care for all of the people who have been impacted by this situation and it’s going to take even more work to make the changes necessary to transform the culture and change the laws so that things like this (homophobic/racist gun violence) don’t happen in the future.

Please let us know you’ve got our backs. We need you.