pride & prejudice: scattered thoughts on orlando.

by Michael King

1 year. Nearly a year ago, the Supreme Court made its ruling on marriage equality, and celebration erupted. Facebook burst into rainbows, emotional declarations of love and pride, and a door seemed to have opened. Inspired and stoked to action, I published an entry called ‘into existence,’ in which I spoke myself out loud. Finally, I thought, I had the courage (and a safe enough world) to be myself, fully and authentically.

2 days. Two days ago, I made my way to Indianapolis Pride. I donned a rainbow headband, hugged my people, and celebrated beneath a gorgeous summer sky. What a vital, important thing, I thought, to celebrate the wild courage we’ve found. Held hands, wide smiles, drag queens in 95 degree weather. An utter expression of freedom.

1 day. Waking up to news of the Orlando shooting, a massacre that cut short the lives of fifty – fifty – human beings, was a punch in the gut. Throughout the day, updates grew increasingly grim. What a stain, this massacre. I held my breath; I waited for words from my family. But none came.

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The cost of coming out. A year ago, I found the courage to profess myself, to speak myself into existence. I am often quick to endorse authenticity, but it is perhaps also important to lay out the costs. The things we give up. What must we leave behind to move forward as ourselves?

  • The comfort of our walls. For LGBT+ people, life before coming out often feels restrictive and dishonest. We find ourselves unable to answer some questions, uncomfortable in our own skin, uncertain of the future. But still we often hesitate to share ourselves with others. Behind walls, we do not have to worry we will be rejected, left behind, murdered.
  • The simple, dishonest relationships. Whether with family or friends, relationships prior to coming out are established, simple, and predictable. The moment we come out, we open the door to honesty and complexity. I don’t know a single person who’s come out and hasn’t felt at least a partial loss of a significant relationship.
  • The weight of living more than one life. There is a specific burden to maintaining two versions of ourselves. Perhaps most of all, our true life experiences become increasingly unknown to the ones we are working to protect from ourselves, and the distance between us quietly grows. Before coming out, I remember looking in the mirror at home, a stranger to myself. You fake, I thought to myself. You utter fake.
  • Safety from hatred. Because, the moment we begin to live as ourselves, we open ourselves up to a world that has, time and time again, shown us that hatred is present (sometimes hidden and other times not) and ready to violently erase us. The world may be moving forward, and we may carry with us wild courage and optimism and hope, but small acts of being – holding hands with our partners on the street, donning symbols of pride, attending safe spaces designed to let us be ourselves – require some surrender of safety from hatred.

What I think people most misconstrue about LGBT+ people. Pride is, in and of itself, a wild celebration. It is a declaration of the self, and it is the long-restrained exclamation of a people often urged to repress, to silence, to hide. The images of Pride, I think, are often society’s default images of LGBT+ people: men thrusting on floats in Speedos, drag queens kicking and pirouetting on stages, rainbow paint and confetti and balloons, condoms thrown onto the streets.

I’m not here to denounce Pride celebrations; in fact, I think they are essential to the survival of a deeply human group of people. We are so often told to silence our declarations of self, or perhaps just to whisper them behind walls, that the annual opportunity to profess ourselves with an exclamation point is freeing, validating, liberating.

But who we are cannot be reduced to confetti and rainbows and floats on the street. We are not simply The Golden Girls and bitchy one-liners and drag shows and gay best friends. We are more than sex, pulse music, and diversity presentations. To see us this way, in two dimensions, is to deny us the reality of our authentic, deep humanity.

We are brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. We aspire to love and be loved. We are poets, accountants, scientists, and dental assistants. We pray and we struggle and we look at the stars at night, just like you, and we wonder at the universe we’re a part of. When we find love, we can’t believe it, because we thought for so many years that we’d always feel alone. We hold one another in long, tender hugs, resting in each other’s arms and helping one another through challenging times. Our hearts break and they heal, and we dream of building families and watching our dreams become realities. We grow older, we grow braver, and we continue working to unravel the mystery of ourselves. We are spectacular collections of stardust, given life and the absurd miracle of humanity, and we aspire to leave our handprint on the world we inhabit. This is it, our human dimension.

Don’t you dare reduce us to anything lesser.

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A reminder. It is not the mark of love nor wisdom to react to a tragedy by reducing an entire group of people to the actions of one. The Orlando shooter was a radical, yes, and he would have been likely to attribute his actions to Islam.

Blood donations have been sorely needed in Orlando since the incident, and lines have appeared out the door. Lest we forget, gay men are still prohibited from donating blood (unless we are willing to claim celibacy for a year), opening an old wound as a community tends to a new one.

A group of young Muslims stepped forward to donate blood, denouncing the actions of the shooter and giving literal life blood to a community in need.

That is what it looks like to push light into the darkness, to paint over hatred with love. That is what love looks like in action.

Love letters. The shooting in Orlando brought to death fifty people, cutting short their deeply human stories and hindering the greater collective story of humankind. These people were killed, by all accounts, for being who they were.

I wonder, of those fifty, how many of them remained a mystery to the people in their lives. How many parents are now regretting squandering the opportunity to know their children? To fully embrace them? Before they died, did they regret their courage? Their authenticity?

It is my philosophy that, whether we want them to or not, our lives will ultimately serve as love letters to one thing or another. When we die, and others gather to reflect on our lives, the true nature of our love letters is often revealed. He lived for his family, perhaps, or She loved nothing more than to see communities improve. Faith, love, addiction, travel, adventure… there are many candidates for love letter reception.

If ever it comes to pass that I am killed for being who I am, I want my life to serve as a love letter to courage, authenticity, and love itself. I want to live so that others around me are emboldened to be themselves, to reach new heights, and to know and feel love.

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