By Barrett White
“I think it was when I was 23, and 49 people were gunned down in a massive, senseless hate crime.”
I had moved out of my parents’ house a little over a year earlier, out of the suburbs and into the city. Not only did I move into the city, but I was blocks away from what they call “the Gayborhood.” After a life of uncertainty and confusion, I came out when I was 19, and no, it wasn’t easy; it took three years before I felt any sense of peace afterward. I think because of that, I kept my sexuality to myself, generally.
A vague Facebook post about something LGBT+ here. Share a quote there. Et cetera.
That was about the extent of it. I never said “boyfriend” on social media. Strictly gender-neutral things like “boo,” “bae,” or whatever, to keep from coming out to any more people who may not know already (extended family who have me on Facebook, but who don’t know me well in real life, to name one example of many).
I don’t know why I was afraid to be out to more people. Did I think it would change their minds about me? Make them think less of me? What was it? I don’t know. Looking back, if they had reacted negatively, do I want them around to begin with?
But I digress.
On June 11, 2016, I was downtown at Houston’s main city park, Discovery Green, watching out country singer Billy Gilman perform at a pre-Pride celebration, Rainbow on the Green, before leaving early to see a friend compete in a drag competition (which he won). We left the competition to go eat at a restaurant where the staff embraced us wholeheartedly. The staff—two Greek women, one lovely, sweet-as-sugar woman who looked like Meryl Streep and one who was deadpan funny and had a perpetual half-smile, sisters—knew all my friends and congratulated our beautiful drag-queen cohort, who still sported the full costume and winner’s sash. I was so comfortable in the presence of such a loving and tolerant part of the city.
It was a Saturday night, and we all went home discussing what we’d do the next day, because, after all, Sunday was to be the Tony Awards (which about half of us considered our annual go-to-church) and Game of Thrones (which all of us considered the highlight of every week). We planned watch parties and parted ways.
About the same time my best friend was dropping me off at my car downtown, 49 people were being shot to death 960 miles away, at a gay nightclub in Orlando. A further 53 people would be hospitalized. For no other reason than that they were non-straight or allies, and had a taste for nightlife. Some sides of the media are refusing to call it a hate crime, but the gunman’s father himself recalled an incident in which the gunman (whose name doesn’t matter) saw two men kiss in Miami, which infuriated him. This wasn’t random. He travelled to Orlando to do this.
Though nearly 1,000 miles from those Family members, I felt their loss so, so hard. James Corden and several winners at the Tonys expressed their grief in their speeches and with ribbons pinned to their shirts.
It’s 2016. The Stonewall Riots were almost 50 years ago.
I’m not necessarily going to blow up your newsfeeds with rainbow flags 24/7, but I also don’t feel the need to hide myself anymore. To give myself this grief anymore. To play linguistic acrobatics with every status I write when something wonderful happens with my boyfriend. This year we’ll be celebrating our fourth anniversary, but I’m sure a minority of my friends or distant family didn’t even know (for certain) that I was with someone.
I ought to celebrate my life, because clearly it is not promised to me. I ought to not let those who hate me for my mere existence dictate what I can or cannot do, with a life that does not impact them.
We flew after September 11. We went to the movies after Aurora, and we continue to send our children to public schools (or attend them ourselves) in spite of…everything.
I can and will live in this world that was taken from my Family in Orlando.
I am a writer and I will continue to write. I am a consumer of art and will continue to support that community. I am a Houstonian. I am a journalist. I am a storyteller. I am someone’s son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson, friend…and boyfriend. And I, like those 49 people and millions beyond these borders, have a life that matters and will continue to live it, regardless of what immoral hatred is out there against our culture of color, happiness, acceptance, love, and the struggle to survive.
Does posting this make me a target? Well, maybe. Would keeping quiet keep me safe? Perhaps—if not “safe,” maybe “safer” at the very least.
But I would rather be alive—literally living and not just existing—as an authentic human who has a complicated life of mountains, valleys, hills and creeks, triumphs and shortcomings, than be someone holed up in his own head, too worried about the world to experience it.
This is not a community you can knock down or beat. You’ve done it so often that you’ve taught us to fight.
We’re [still] queer.
Get used to it.”
Submit your own personal experiences surrounding the tragedy in Orlando by emailing [email protected].