Sometimes, if you have a platform, there’s only one thing you can write about. Even if you don’t know what to say, even if others have already said more poignant, important, meaningful things than you ever could. You have to say something. The thought that even one person might interpret your silence as you not caring is unbearable. So, I’m sharing my thoughts (no “and prayers”) here. They have nothing to do with New York clichés but everything to do with America. From New York to San Francisco to Orlando.
I was born in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS crisis. Born, raised, and came of age in the heart of Gay Mecca. Rainbows shaped my heart, my soul, made me who I am today. Though I can’t claim to be a part of gay culture, gay culture is a huge part of me. For that I am forever grateful Blessed. Indebted.
I waved a rainbow flag long before I had any clue what it meant. I don’t know who gave it to me, where it came from. The symbolism was certainly not explained to me. The flag was just a part of toy collection. At age 6, it was the flag on a ship made of pillows and sailed by teddy bears. Severed from its pole at age 7, when I decided I needed a rainbow cape more than a flag. Sewed onto a backpack at age 8, when I felt a rainbow better represent my personal style than a Radio Shack logo. That’s how LGBT culture was in my youth: it wasn’t explained, it was just a part of life.
I never thought of asking why Tommy and Russell, our neighbors downstairs, didn’t have wives or girlfriends. My family were the weirdos of the apartment building I grew up in, no one else was married with kids. Bert and Ernie happily lived together, so why on earth would I give two men living together a second thought? They were amongst the first people to hold me when I can home from the hospital. Tommy, an opera singer, later gave me voice lessons. I don’t think it was until high school when I finally had the realization, Oh they’re gay! They’re a couple! Duhhhhhhh! They were just my really cool, lovely neighbors. And last summer, after 35 years together, THIRTY FIVE YEARS, they were finally able to get married. I know no better love story.
Mine was a blissful childhood, I realize now. So lucky to be spared so much of the hate that creeps into people’s minds just from walking through this world. I had none of that in the beautiful bubble of the Bay Area.
But even in beautiful, open-minded San Francisco, you can still find places filled with fear of being anything “other”. Middle schools. That’s so gay was the put-down of choice amongst pre-teens in 1998. It reverberating through the halls of my public middle school. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon and just saying what everyone else was saying, I actually looked up “gay” in the dictionary. There’s an entry about this in my 6th grade diary. I literally wrote out the definition GAY: slang for “homosexual”. Then I wrote out the definition for HOMOSEXUAL: Sexual desiring of the same sex. I was baffled, “No one knows what the word “gay” actually means! Why the hell is everyone saying it? They’re so DUMB. DUMB, not GAY.” I finished my exploration with the true thoughts of a 11 year old girl, “SEX IS YUCKY.” It was not a discriminatory exclamation, I firmly believed all sex was gross. Yes, I was a HUGE nerd. But hey, I can proudly say: never have I ever used “GAY” as a pejorative. That’s way cooler than being cool in middle school.
My best friend in high school came out to me some time before senior year and I hardly remember it. It just wasn’t a big deal to me. You’re gay? Cool. Hell yes, tell me able the amazing girl you have a giant crush on. Maybe she remembers it clear as day, maybe she was riddled with fear that the information would change our friendship. I’ve never had to come out to any one, I can’t imagine what it’s like. I’d like to think she felt safe telling me, that she knew I love her no matter what. But I won’t assume that. Even if you’re coming out in Gay Mecca, it’s never easy. I never had to make such a declaration of HEY, THIS IS WHO I AM as a teenager. In fact, I’m confident I didn’t have the confidence for that. Any one who does I find truly impressive and inspiring.
Me? I didn’t know shit about my own sexuality all through my teens. Honestly, I was scared of it. I’m talking alllll through my teens. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I would admit TO MYSELF that I was sexual being. Coming from an extremely liberal city, attending an extremely liberal college, I sure questioned if my fear of my sexuality because I was gay. My conclusion: there are other plenty of other reasons to be scared of sex. I never assumed I was straight. I realize what a insane luxury that is.
I vividly remember being in a car with my mom and her friend, June, and my friend Selena. June said something to us girls, “When you meet the right man” and my mother immediately added, “Or woman.” How many people have a parent who just does that!? I’m insanely lucky.
I’m so familiar with love. My life has been entirely spent in a liberal, tolerant bubble of love. How am I so lucky? I’m aware that most people aren’t so lucky. But I’m aware of it in the way that I know there are starving people in Africa (and all over the world). It seemed so far away, so removed from my life.
And then the massacre in Orlando happened. Suddenly it feels very, very close. Painfully close. So I’ve been thinking. About how much I owe to the community who is feeling the horror and the loss of those 49 lives more than I can imagine. About on my White Straight Privilege, that will never feel unsafe for loving who I love. Thinking about those 49 people who were slaughtered because they didn’t have that privilege.
But thoughts aren’t enough. Putting them into words here is something, but it’s not enough. Expressing love in the face of overwhelming hate is important. It’s DOING SOMETHING. It’s a mild tonic to this overwhelming feeling of helplessness: NOTHING CHANGES. It doesn’t matter how many people die, America refuses to change! Children were shot down in Sandy Hook, nothing changed. Republicans and Christians love children! I fear driving myself to despair even entertaining the thought that this tragedy will bring about change.
But that’s another thing about growing up in San Francisco. We were taught to speak out. I marched to City Hall countless times in high school. Did my protesting do anything to bring about the end of the Iraq War? The only answer I have to that question is that it did infinitely more than staying at home. So I’m speaking out as a straight ally. Speaking out that this was a massacre caused by American homophobia and lack of gun control.
If there’s anything I can do, or any place I can be, to support the LGBTQ community: I’m there. Starting this week with getting over my needle phobia and giving blood. There, I put it in writing. Now I have to (or at least pass out trying).
It’s the least I can do. As I’ve realized in a way, I owe them my (charmed, blessed, lucky-ass) life.
A rainbow as seen from my fire escape. It’s still Pride Month. Hate can’t stop pride. Or the beauty, hope, and LOVE in the world.