I am a Black gay cisgender man. I am alive. I like to read books and I like to write fiction and poetry. I like to go out to dinner with loved ones. I like to be alone. I like traveling and wish I could travel more. I consider my mornings sacred, and feel that if the peace of my morning is comprised, so will the rest of my day. I am a school teacher. I tend to overthink the small things in my life and tend to be oddly confident about the big things in my life. I love my family but struggle to make sense of them. I bite my nails. I love the smell of lavender and sandalwood. I am a Black gay cisgender man and I love myself. I am a story unfolding. I am my own narrator. I am dazzling, and I am minute. In many ways I am like you. In many ways I am not like you. I am a layered phenomenon, full of things both grand and inconsequential.
And so was every one of the 49 mostly Latinx queer people who were who killed in Orlando. Each individual was a nexus of emotions, ideas, contractions, and frequencies. I am sure that each of them was loved by someone. For many of them, whether they knew it or not, I am certain that their queerness emanated within them--giving them solace at times and chaos at other times. While I knew none of them individually, I can promise you, because they were human, that like me and like you, they were full and rich beings, thick in their complexities.
Such a shame then, that the country only makes room for them (us) in their death. An attempt which is odd when, this country, despite legal victories along marriage equality, just a week prior was seriously reducing trans* folks to a debate about bathrooms. Strange, how the outpouring of support comes for LGBTQ folks in a country where LGBTQ youth comprise nearly half of youth who are homeless; HIV/AIDS continues to run rampant among the lives of Black gay men and trans* women of color; anti-LGBTQ violence comprises the second largest reason for hate crimes; where there are roughly 100 anti-LGBTQ bills pending in state legislatures across the United States; and where the average life expectancy for a trans* woman of color is 35 years old. Where is the outrage, support, and tears for the everyday violence and oppression that queer folks face?
My heart shudders at the victims of the 49 people killed. That’s 49 funerals, 49 broken hearts, 49 smiles gone. And countless other sorrows will be born because of this tragedy. But it is imperative for people of color and allies to realize that this incident is not spectacular. In fact it makes perfect sense.
In spite of this, I am reminding myself every day that I am filled with all kinds of light. And so are my fellow queer folks of color. While tragedy is tragedy, I refuse to let this country only articulate my existence via death and suffering. I refuse to let this country make sense of me on uncritical heteronormative terms like marriage. I refused to be reduced to a trope or a narrative that you can embrace to make yourself feel better momentarily before throwing our existence back to the shadows. If you are going to mourn and celebrate me in death, then you must mourn and celebrate me in life.
I do not want to police anybody’s emotions. Nor do I want to police anyone’s traumas. But national sentiment is largely disingenuous when it comes to queer folks, especially those of color. The reality is that LGBTQ folks are still infinitely oppressed and discriminated against, and the only ones who really are fighting the battle to save our lives in a serious way is ourselves. Certainly the majority white straight community is not fighting for us, and communities of color, while acutely aware of the salience of racism, continues to have a weak gender and sexuality analysis--at worst outright destroying us and at best pretending we don’t exist.
When the news of this tragedy broke, several of my loved ones reached out to me to offer their condolences. It is appreciated. But, to them I would add that I hope that they don’t think that the entirety of my safety is circumscribed within the sanctity of a gay club. Are you doing the work to make sure that I don’t have to solely take refuge in club? Are you doing the work of challenging your friends and straight loved ones when they make homophobic and transphobic jokes and comments? Do you realize that every day of my life I could potentially be killed? Don’t just be outraged when we are killed en masse--be outraged by the fact that we are threatened by the very mendacity of everyday life.
Zora Neale Hurston famously said, “I am not tragically colored.” She was in fact, reminding the racist world that she loves being Black. That in fact, it was white people who were confused. I shamelessly riff off of her in saying that I am not tragically queer. I am not a tragedy. My queer siblings are as distinct as fingerprints and snowflakes. We are legion. I behoove you, and I behoove this country to not flatten us. If you are with us, always be with us. Do the work. Realize that we are fighting daily battles. But do not only articulate our existence via tragedy, we are much more than suffering, death, and rainbow inflected pomp and circumstance.
Aaron is a writer,activist, educator, graduate of the University of Chicago, and co-editor of the Newer Negroes blog. His work has been featured in Colorlines, Mused Magazine Online, the Feminist Wire, TruthOut.com, the Advocate, and the Black Youth Project. He currently is a member of the Black Youth Project 100 and teaches elementary school on the South Side of Chicago.
He is an only child, from Detroit, Michigan, loves RPGs and literature, is constantly envisioning a better world for black queer folks, and retains a deep and abiding love for his mother.
Follow him on twitter: @Talley_Marked