A Serious Thing

“It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.”
–Mary Oliver

I awoke this morning to the news that fifty lovely humans were murdered in a club in Orlando while I was busy answering numerous pages in the wee hours of the night. Dozens more were injured. These were my people, queer people, trans and gender non-conforming people, people who went out on a Saturday night during Pride month to a place where they could be themselves, even if they were not fully out to their families or communities. The vast majority were queer and trans people of color.

And a man offended by a gay kiss showed up and ended so many gorgeous lives.

I cannot begin to wrap my mind around it. I took my queer little broken heart to Cal Anderson Park tonight and stood with thousands of people from my community, including quite a large handful of friends and lovely humans from my inner circle. We stood there and listened to a chorus of voices sing “We Shall Overcome,” we lifted our candles high into the air while counting out the number of the dead (whose names we do not yet know), and we took turns holding each other as tears streamed down faces and sobs racked our bodies.

I cried because this act of violence is being and will be used to fuel further violence and Islamophobia against the Muslim community. I so appreciated Sonj Basha’s “I am Muslim. I am Queer. I exist.” speech at the vigil, drawing the two together in her own radical assertion of existence. “I exist in a world that is constantly erasing my fullest identity, in a society where living safe means denying my own margins.”

I cried because I know someone who had a friend murdered and another one seriously injured in that night club. Her friend who was killed was not out to their family; they had gone out to the club for Pride, to be themselves, to feel safe in a way that they could not feel safe at home. And they never went home again. And their families are left grieving and picking up pieces.

I cried because counting to fifty is such a mindless, easy task, until each of those numbers represents a beautiful queer human whose life was ended by a homophobic man with an assault rifle.

I cried because I know what it feels like to look for a place where I can be myself, where who I am and how I express my love and myself and my gender and my wholeness in the world is all welcome. They were looking for that, too.

I cried because I very recently came out of the closet even further than I did over a decade ago when I cracked that door open for the first time and poked my queer little head out. Claiming both my queer and my non-binary genderqueer self was a radical act of vulnerability and authenticity. Telling my family took an enormous amount of courage. Signing my letter to them with my full name–which I legally changed, in part, earlier this year to better fit who I am in the world–felt incredible. And I stood there in the park tonight with a candle in my hand and a rainbow flag wrapped around my shoulders, feeling my way into my name. The meaning of my new middle name–Jude–is “kindness” or “generosity” or “goodness towards others” in Arabic. I held close to my heart the idea (shamelessly borrowed from the Dalai Lama) that my religion is kindness.

I thought of the enormous percentage of queer and trans youth who attempt or commit suicide because being themselves in the world we live in is just too fucking much. I thought of the queer and trans people–especially trans women of color–who are murdered every year. I thought of the times when I have had to fight my way through depression that threatened to swallow me whole. I thought of the trans people who have been murdered in the country of my birth, and in my backyard here. I could just as easily be in a coffin now as at a vigil mourning others in my community whose bodies lie on cold slabs at a morgue somewhere in Orlando.

I thought of the massive need for blood donations, and the cruel irony that gay men were not able to donate blood to their own goddamn community because of outdated federal policies requiring a year of celibacy before they can donate blood.

I looked around at the sea of faces that surrounded me on all sides. I saw rainbow-striped costumes and colorful hair and tattoos and piercings and queerness everywhere. I felt the arms of my friends around me, and we held each other close as waves of grief swept through us. I saw the people who have become my family, and I felt their love giving me strength.

I felt the weight of our thousands of collective stories. Most of us have lost something by claiming who we are. Some of us have lost so much. We all have stories. I have some that I have only recently begun telling, because silence felt safer. But, as Audre Lorde says, “Your silence will not protect you.” And mine has never protected me. So I speak.

I had no clue when I chose “storytelling” as my word for this year how much it would ask of me, of me as the storyteller, how it would urge me to claim my name and my authenticity and my truest self. I could not have predicted what stories I would be telling, or what courage I would unearth to tell them. The year isn’t quite half over yet. There is so much more to say, and I feel a renewed commitment to speaking up. I feel so deeply tonight how stories have the power to remake the world.

As I walked back to the light rail, I found a heart-shaped chunk of gravel that caught my eye, and I put it in my pocket, marveling that love finds me everywhere. Even when my heart is broken and leaking out through my eyes, blurring my vision. Love still catches me by surprise.

heart rock from vigil

I’m sure I will have more thoughts as everything settles. For now, I want to put my energies towards kindness and compassion. My broken, queer little heart keeps beating. And as long as it does, I want to be of service. I want to bring more healing, to be more healing, to spread love around liberally in this broken world.

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