Cherish Us: black, brown, white
sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014
When I say that our community has known the sting of homophobia, I mean all our community, every single one of us who identifies somewhere in the LGBTQIQ2 label, has experienced transgressions against us dozens or hundreds or thousands of times (dependent on locale/our age/our circumstances/whether we are POC and other variables). There have been the community ones–the massacre in Orlando, arson in New Orleans in 1973, bombings at Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver, and countless murders, lately especially of trans people. These events end up in the news, are discussed and analyzed and mourned. But there have been indivdual encounters with hates, too: street harrassment, times we have lost our housing, our jobs, our dignity, been disowned and disinherited, beaten, spit at, been followed and stalked, lost our kids, been harrassed online, had our weddings boycotted by loved ones, been scared, horrified, appalled, nervous, anxious, terrified, paid more taxes. We’ve been told we should be lowered in cages until we drown; we have been told we should all be dead; we have been told that we’re immoral, illegal, unethical, disgusting. We have been shunned. Religions and politicians have called for our deaths time and time again. Called from the fringe, calls from the zealots, sure, but the same policies and ideas exist in a watered down version in our offices, our schools, our policy makes, our homes. Being queer has cost us so much, cost our children so much: our families, so much income, our mental health, our courage, our resilience, our tears. As I write this, our lives and loves are still unbelievably illegal in 77 countries. Not counties. Countries. We have been hung, we have been decapitated, we have been stoned, we have been imprisoned, we have been thrown from cliffs, we have been flogged, we have had to hide for our lives. We have been slaughtered.
All of these things that have happened to us as queers for the years I’ve been out (since 1982), and before, all of those things are cumulative. Did you know that? Sometimes they are the microaggressions that we’ve been hearing of from the intelligent Black Lives Matter fight, and sometimes they are bigger, more florid, and tragic. But it is always death from a thousand paper cuts for the LGBT+ community. It is always a rolling, increasing snowball.
There are as many ways for queers to cope with harm as there are for straights, and we find them all. But we also learned to celebrate our survival. The blows have made us strong, very strong. Our knitted back together bodies and minds and spirits are resilient. Our spines are concrete, most of them.
These dead children were our babies. These were the babies for whose rights we fought–those of us who were activists. We fought so they could forget their world used to be dangerous. We fought because we were mothers, and we could not bear the idea that our own children, and our children’s children, would have to know even a smidgeon of the pain we had known.
You’re so upset, people say. It’s like you knew someone there.
We did know someone there, whether we had met them or not. We knew everyone. We counted the dead, the animated, dancing, celebrating dead, as family because we know so much of their experience–that experience of living in a world animate with homophobia–intimately. Yes, there is less hostility now. Yes, we won some battles. Yes, those battles made real differences in our visibility, our access to safety, our babies’ access to safety. But it is not over. It is so far from over. That the kids were slaughtered in one of our havens–one of the places we seeks out when we’re in Orlando, just as we go to similar places in Paris, in Cartagena, in San Francisco, in London, in Montreal, in Nashville–only makes us feel the agony the more acutely. We go to bars to find our people so we don’t feel so alone in the world. We go to bars to be visible. We go to bars to forget. We go to bars to dance the hate out. We go to bars to celebrate sound and life and gaiety and company.
But although we have been schooled by prior losses to be vigilant, we still didn’t expect this. I can guarantee that every one of the people mowed down this weekend had recently been thinking about America’s gun rage. Every one of them. Every one of them had recently been considering the epidemic of hate in America and its body count, because it is impossible to miss the news with a mass murder there every day of every year, with every murderer trying to up the number of slaughtered. Every one of those dancers with time to react figured out that a man with an assault rifle was targeting them.
And they knew why.
And they told their moms that they loved them. They told their moms they loved them before they were gunned down.
It gets better, we say, hoping to help suicidal teens make it to the adulthood these 100 mostly young adults were enjoying the beginnings of on Saturday night.
Over the years since Stonewall, we’ve forced heterosexual policing units to stop raiding our spaces. We’ve forced hetersexuals to change some laws in some countries around the world. We’ve forced you to leave your prejudices at the door and actually see us all fully human.
And you have, a lot of you. Thank you for every time you open your arms, every time you stand up for us. Pass it on and ask your friends to pass it along, too.
But if you still hear It’s so gay used as a slur and you don’t act to stop it, you’ll know we have a whole lot further still to go. If you hear about the death of yet another transwoman, especially of colour, you’ll know we have continents still to go. If you care who uses your bathrooms instead of that a man is pointing an assault rifle over the stall to kill our babies, you’ll know we are, still, nowhere.
Mourn, we are. We are heaving and weeping and screaming and holding candles aloft and considering action plans to increased safety.
Let me ask you–will you stand up for us?
Let me ask again–will you stand up for us?
When you hear a joke, a comment, a slur against us, will you act to stop it? A slur against brown or black people? Will you act to stop it?
Will you help us, please, feel safe? Will you nurture us, hug us, feed us, give us back rubs? Will you help us change unprogessive laws? Will you fight for our community’s right to immigrate from unsafe countries to yours?
Is it any wonder that we leave your community and make our own? We’ve had to count on each other because you weren’t there for us.
Remember that what happens to one of us happens to us all, and until we are all safe, none of us is safe.
We haven’t heard about ourselves from birth, or kindergarten, the way you have. So talk about our wonderful lives–single and married and parents and children–to every youngster. Find an age-appropriate queer book and read it to your kids. Tell them, “There are many kinds of families. They are all great. Some of your friends at school will turn out to be gay and they need to feel just as welcome as you do.” Say, “Gay is good. Gay is very, very good.” Ask for curriculum changes to include us. Ask for anti-homophobia training for teachers, for textbooks, for kids. Make sure you don’t have a hierarchy of gays–good queers and bad queers. Make sure you include us all. Make sure you tell your kids about the massacre and our mourning in the same light you would talk to them about other massacres. Make sure you talk to their teachers so they know it’s important to you that an assembly is held, that the classrooms do projects. Make sure you make a point of saying how critical it is that bathrooms are inclusive (the heartbreaking stories of little kids forced to pee themselves at school after being kicked out of both genders of washrooms are dunning).
There are pragmatic ways you can help. Volunteer for us on crisis lines. Join PFLAG. Dismantle systems of oppression wherever you discover them. Fundraise for our causes.
We have hated ourselves and hurt ourselves because we grew up bathed in your aversion. We have swallowed homophobia until our guts were swollen with it. We have shit it. We have burped it. We have vomited it. We have bled it. We have fucked it and fucked it and fucked it out of us. We have turned a million incidents into literature, into art, into film, into theatre, into the frocks you wear, into science, into medicine, into law, into jokes and a million other wonderful, generative, productive things that straight people consume, count on and cherish.
So cherish us, too, will you?
So true and so powerfully told. Thank you.
Thanks for writing this, Jane. And for all the writing you’ve been doing since the killings in Orlando. I am in Provincetown, where last year we celebrated the US Supreme Court’s decision on marriage. Now we mourn. I see the pictures of the men and women killed in Orlando, the joy in their faces, the love. I find myself remembering Montreal, December 6th, 1989. Still and again I am shocked.