Saturday, June 18, 2016
We are Orlando
This has been a very emotional week. In the wake of the worst hate crime and mass murder committed upon gay people in US History, I've been numb all week. I know we've all been talking about it so much and this is likely just "another Orlando posting" but I feel compelled to write it anyway. If anything ever happens to me, I want my daughter and nieces and loved ones to have something written from me about how this week has felt to me. I joined the gay party much later in life than most of my friends. I was 27 when I got my first "boyfriend." This wasn't intentional and I never was hiding, it just took me longer to really figure out who and what I was. Even before I came out, I've been immersed in gay culture. At seventeen I showed up to the dorms at Webster University to meet my new room mate Cade with Powder Puff Girls bedding spewn about his bunk. He pulled me into the bathroom and immediately said, "I am gay. If that's a problem go see our dorm leadership and request a move now." I remember I hugged him and over that year shared some of my biggest secrets and created a friendship with one of the most incredible and honorable men I've ever known. Not only did I accept him, I immersed myself in it. The very first dance club I've ever went to was with him in East St. Louis and danced harder and freer than I ever had in my life. In our first year at Webster I helped coordinate the "Drag Ball" which was one of my University's biggest events. Cade hosted the event in drag as "Mariah Scary" that year. We laughed and cheered, and I remember celebrating that event just a few months after 9/11 and laughing so hard that I lost my voice for a few days. Over that time I met my other brothers-Russ, Stephen, Dave, and many others- and of course I can't forget my favorite first boss Nick who joined us from Tennessee as we all figured out life together. When I say brothers, I mean BROTHERS- men who go with you to pick up your sister on the side of the freeway on vacations to Florida. Men who put you in a NYC cab and carry you to your hotel room when you've had too much. Men who drop everything and fly to be with you in the midst of heartbreak and divorce. I literally don't think I'd have made it here without these guys. And I can't tell you how many times in the past 15 years I've been dancing the night away with them in a gay club at 2 am, JUST like Pulse. There have been "whispers" about me and my sexuality my entire life. The truth is, at least from my perspective, I've always been my true and authentic self. Even despite whispers or someone coming out and directly asking, what you see today is what you've always gotten with me. I was fortunate to grow up with a Mom that loves without boundaries. We've always had gay people around, and truthfully if you are reading this and don't have gay people around, YOU are really missing out! As a gay married man, I can tell you that despite living in and amongst a community that fully accepts and supports us (which so many gay people still don't have), My husband and I are still never freer or more like a real couple than when we go to a gay bar or club. When we are around our straight friends and family, almost out of habit we hold back. We don't openly show tons of affection as to not make people feel uncomfortable (even though most of our people wouldn't anyway). But when we go to WeHo and are surrounded by our gay brothers or sisters, we hold each other tighter, dance and kiss, love and laugh and connect on a deeper level. We are safe and we are home in places like Pulse, free from watching eyes or critical stares that we avoid in our regular daily life. THAT is why this week has been so difficult to bear. I can't comprehend what the 49 victims must've felt as they danced and held each other, but in a strange way I can also totally picture it too. I think it's why gay broadcasters like Don Lemmon and Anderson Cooper can't get through a broadcast because they too have been there. Gay bars and clubs are our safe place, and I for one will not let one person change that for me. Today and this weekend as 49 families bury their children, brothers, sisters, Moms and Dads I would encourage anyone reading this to slowly close your eyes and for one moment picture that this was me, because it very well could've been. I don't want this tragedy to at all be about me, but I know there are still so many people in "my circle" who may wince a little when they hear that this was a gay club. Or people who may sit back and hear Donald Trump say things on the news about "ask the gays." Or hear their preachers and religious leaders avoid the fact that this was a hate crime against gay people. Or worse come right out and show support for it. You can not ride the fence on this one. I can not ride the fence with this one. We are all in this together. Love will always win and I am Orlando.