I’ve talked a few times on here about my attempted suicide when I was 19, so I won’t go into detail about it again. It’s the reasons that I want to talk about. I’m not religious. I wasn’t religious when I was 19. But I was pretty clear on who I wanted to be and on who I thought I would have to become in order to fit in with the LGBTQIA culture. My view at that time was admittedly very narrow. All I knew about gay culture was what I’d seen on television and inside the few clubs I’d been to. I thought, in order to fit in, I’d have to act a certain way and talk a certain way and like a particular kind of music. I thought men would only want me for sex and that I’d never find love. I was living in a world that I thought hated me. The government had passed DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, making the statement that my life was worth less than those of my heterosexual counterparts.
What I read on the internet and heard on television was that, as a gay man, I would never have a normal life. I would never have the same rights as my peers. That I was different and hated and worthless. And while I later found my way into the LGBTQIA community and discovered the love and support it offered, at the time I felt a loneliness deeper and more vast than anything I’d ever experienced in my life. Who I wanted to be was at serious odds with who I thought I was allowed to be and with who the government and religion and my parents and the whole fucking world said I was. How could I accept myself when, everywhere I turned, I found someone telling me that who I was was sinful, perverse, an abomination?
And so I attempted to take my own life. I thought it would be easier to die than attempt to prove to the world that I was just a normal human being who wanted to live a boring life and fall in love and get a job and do the things everyone else did, with the only difference being that I was attracted to members of the same sex.
I know now that my feelings and my suicide attempt were exacerbated by my depression, but they were also deeply influenced by the hatred and condemnation I felt everywhere I turned.
After my attempted suicide, I found the community I’d been looking for. I found love and acceptance in the gay community. I found and surrounded myself with people who didn’t care that I was gay, that didn’t care I was a book worm or a nerd. I found people who loved me for who I was, and though it took a long time, I learned from those people how to love myself. I found a home in the clubs and bars in West Palm Beach and Orlando and Providence, RI. I found a diverse queer community to dance and laugh and sing karaoke with. I learned that it didn’t matter if the people outside hated me, because I’d found people who loved and accepted me.
Many people aren’t so lucky. They struggle with the hate that comes at the LGBTQIA community from all sides. From their families and their government and their religions and their friends and from strangers on the internet. They struggle to believe in their own self worth because there are a million million voices telling them that they’re worthless and broken and wrong. And even when they find their way to the gay community, they continue to struggle with how they fit into it. Their own self-loathing is so strong that they hate the thing they desperately want to be a part of. They seek to tear it down while simultaneously wanting nothing more than to be embraced by it.
I turn on the news and hear that transgender individuals are second class citizens simply for wanting to use the restrooms that match their gender identity. I read the comments of a news article and hear people saying that the world is better off without the men and women murdered in the Orlando LGBTQIA club last weekend. I read statements from a presidential nominee suggesting that he would roll back the rights of same-sex couples to marry, implying that our lives are worth less than our heterosexual counterparts.
We think they don’t, but they matter more than we could ever imagine. When politicians speak up on television and try to erase queer folk from the tragedy in Orlando, what they’re really saying is that the LGBTQIA community doesn’t matter. That we’re not important. That our lives are not important.
Every parent who has kicked their child out of the house because of their sexuality or gender identity, every person who has supported the denial of basic human rights to the LGBTQIA community, every politician who has condemned the tragedy in Orlando but who supports not granting equal rights to gays and lesbians, every religious leader who preaches tolerance but calls queers sinners…you are the problem. Your words matter. Your words dehumanize LGBTQIA individuals. Your words and deeds tell the world that it’s okay to see queer folk as less than human. And once people can see us as less than human, it’s easier to treat us as less than human. It’s easier for us to treat ourselves as less than human.
Recent reports about the shooter in Orlando have suggested that he himself might have been gay. The sad truth is that we may never know. But it makes sense to me that he struggled with his own sexuality. Loathing himself and the queer community while desperately wanting to be a part of it. Dealing with feelings of worthlessness that he blamed on the community he wanted to be a part of because politicians and family and religion told him who he was and the people he wanted to know were less than human. I’ll never condone or apologize or rationalize the violence the shooter committed. But I can’t help wondering if it could have been avoided if the message he’d heard about being gay was one of acceptance and tolerance rather than one of loneliness and hate. If he’d found acceptance and love for the LGBTQIA community from his family and religion and politicians and random commenters on the internet, would he have been able to accept himself? I know the hate and condemnation I found when I was 19 contributed to my own attempted suicide, and I often wonder if things might have been different if I’d found love and acceptance sooner.
When I first read about the attack on the gay and lesbian club in Orlando and started reading Twitter and Reddit and other news sources, I was angry. I was hateful. Despite politicians and news reporters trying to frame the attack as an Islam-based terror attack, I saw it for what it was: an attack on the LGBTQIA community, and I was infuriated by all attempts to politicize it and erase the gay community from it. I’m still angry, but my anger solves nothing. Instead, we have to combat hate and ignorance with love. The world isn’t divided into Us versus Them. We’re all people. We’re all human beings. Despite our different beliefs, each and every one of our lives have value and meaning. And when we forget that, when we allow ourselves to devalue and degrade the lives of others, we create a world in which it’s okay to treat people as less than human. Muslims are not the enemy, fundamentalist Christians are not the enemy, Republicans are not the enemy, LGBTQIA people are not the enemy. Ignorance. Ignorance is the enemy. Hate is the enemy. Intolerance is the enemy. And the only way to fight ignorance, hate, and intolerance is with knowledge, love, and acceptance.
I used to work at the Sunglass Hut with a manager who was from South America. He didn’t learn I was gay until we’d been working together for a while. I don’t think he’d ever really known a gay person before. He was liberal with his use of the word “faggot” and dismissive of gay rights. When he found out I was gay, he couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t what he’d expected. I was a real human being and not the boogeyman he’d been led to believe all gay men were. We became very good friends, and he became one of my biggest supporters during a time when I desperately needed them. He stopped denigrating gays and lesbians. He began to see us as real, individual human beings. And maybe that wouldn’t have happened if I’d hated him for his views. He might have continued believing all LGBTQIA people were deviants. Sometimes all it takes is knowing one person to change your mind.
Words matter. Actions matter.
We lost fifty beautiful souls because one person believed their lives didn’t matter, and maybe because he believed his own life didn’t matter. I’ve read that he worked in my hometown of Jupiter and lived in Port Saint Lucie where I’ve lived for the past couple of years. I’ve read he went to the gay clubs I went to and that my friends and brother went to. It breaks my heart that he lived and worked and went to clubs in my towns and still felt LGBTQIA lives didn’t matter. That his own life didn’t matter. It breaks my heart that where I found love and acceptance, he found loneliness. I wish things could have been different.
I’m sorry for rambling. I’m a contradictory mess of outrage and hate and anger and sadness. I wonder how we could have prevented this and how we move forward from here. And as much as I want to rage and blame everyone I can point a finger at, I don’t think that will accomplish anything. I think the only way we really move forward is to continue living our lives. To fight ignorance one person at a time. To refuse to allow people to dehumanize us. We hug our loved ones and speak out about intolerance. We fight for a world where LGBTQIA lives are viewed as equally valuable as other lives. We refuse to allow people to erase the LGBTQIA people who died from the narrative. We offer love and acceptance freely, and hope people are willing to listen. And even if they aren’t, we offer it anyway. It’s the only way I can cope right now. It’s the only path I see to move forward.
Just a note to add that I’m taking a break from social media for a while. I need some time away to clear my head. If I owe you an email (and I know I owe a lot of people emails), just know that I’ve read them all and will be responding soon. And if you’re going to be at ALA in Orlando in a couple of weeks, please find me and we’ll have a drink and have a Hamilton sing-a-long, and there will be hugs for everyone.