Thursday, June 16, 2016

SAFETY UNDERMINED


So young. It’s reprehensible and sickening that forty-nine people at a gay bar succumbed to a savage, violent killing spree. Every single one of them younger than me. So much life ahead, so much potential, so many experiences and connections. Stolen. Shot down.

Only the day before I’d noticed a photo on Twitter of two men kissing, one gesturing a defiant middle finger. I found the action was unnecessary. We’ve come so far. We are safe now. At least in North America.

Wishful thinking.

Yet again, I had become complacent. Or maybe I’d grown tired of living life with an undercurrent of worry.

The first gay club I went to on my own was in Dallas. I feared I’d lose my teaching job if I were seen. I walked a little faster to my car when I left, partly taken aback by a man who unexpectedly moved in to kiss me—I think his lips caught my nose—and more out of concern that someone was lurking behind a car, ready to pulverize me just for kicks. It was 1989 and I still had an article from Texas Monthly in my mind about vigilantes who made it a practice to beat up fags.

I moved to California that year, choosing to go to law school at Pepperdine instead of Southern Methodist because I didn’t feel I could come out in Texas…and, hey, I’d be living in Malibu. It took a month before I dared venture to West Hollywood after dark. My hands shook as I maneuvered the steering wheel. It took more attempts than usual to parallel park on Robertson several blocks from the clubs. I race-walked to Rage. The return walk was even more frantic. Keep your wits about you. In all the times I went clubbing, I never stopped looking over my shoulder and surveying my surroundings. A bashing always seemed like a possibility.

The fear was always out in the open, on the streets. In Rage or Micky’s or Studio One, I was safe. The dance floor was a refuge. It represented freedom and a chance for me to stop monitoring my mannerisms. I could Vogue with abandon.

No basher would come in. He wouldn’t dare. He’d be outnumbered. In my mind, bashers would get ambushed. Someone would lend his handcuffs for the cause.

Sunday’s shooter shook our sense of safety. I imagine that club goers will make a new habit out of surveying the exits when entering a bar. If we aren’t safe in a gay bar in a gay-friendly city, can we ever let down our guard?

Recently, I’d been thinking how fortunate young gay men are. The struggles were supposed to be in the past, little history we older gays try to impart on a younger generation. Stonewall. Harvey’s Milk’s assassination. The AIDS crisis. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Matthew Shepard. Marriage bans.

And now there’s Pulse or Orlando or whatever this disgusting takedown of forty-nine lives gets referred to as in the long-term. I’ve heard LGBT leaders repeatedly state this week that we will be strong. We will support one another. We will not go back in the closet. Of course. But that sense of freedom and abandon that can be found in a gay club as the bass pounds and Rihanna belts a vocal in a wicked remix while a shirtless wonder flaunts a six-pack that should only be achieved through PhotoShop has been compromised. It’s back to look over one’s shoulder. Inside our safe haven. It’s more than an inconvenience. Hate remains. And so does a tinge of fear.

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