Faggot. Homo. Queer. Cocksucker. These are but a few of the names you called me during my formative years, back before even I knew for sure that I was gay. Hateful words; words that caused me to live in constant fear. Not fear of physical assault. No, I was big; I probably could have taken most of you in a fair fight, had I been forced to.
But fear all the same.
Fear that you were right. Rogers, Texas is a small town, and the surrounding towns and cities aren't much bigger. I didn't know any gay people. I already felt, already feared, that I was different. I feared being alone. And then, on top of that, you made me fear being exposed before I was ready to admit it to myself, before I was ready to confess it to my family.
At first, college wasn’t much better. I still wasn’t prepared to be honest with myself. Your hateful adolescent vitriol had done its job, and done it well.
It wasn't until I accepted an internship in Orlando and escaped the boundaries of small town, conservative Texas that I was able to spread my wings and finally accept myself for who I was, who I always had been, who I am today. I opened the closet doors and refused to ever close them again. Orlando taught me to be proud of myself. It taught me that I could be myself and still be happy. I could love, and be loved in return. Orlando became home. It has been ever since, and always will be.
Before making the final transition from Texas to Florida, I confessed my newly accepted sexuality to the handful of you that I felt close to, and each of you responded politely enough.
Well, that’s not true. One of you ran home and immediately told your mother, who suddenly became very interested in my own mother and conversations about me and my wellbeing, despite my having begged you not to tell anyone because my parents hadn’t yet been told. That’s okay, though. I lied to you; I had already told my parents. They were ready when your mother came knocking, as your family always did, with Jesus on her lips but the devil in her heart. Much to her frustration, my parents deftly avoided her questions, forever denying her the satisfaction that such a conversation would surely have provided.
Still, that was certainly a more honest response than I received from the others with whom I had shared my coming out story. Despite being my closest confidantes in high school, you quickly fell into the category of the majority of our peers who simply found out after the advent of social media. After the obligatory “It’s okay, we’ve always known, we love you anyway” spiel, you all promptly lost interest in anything pertaining to my personal life. I have tried to faithfully perform the perfunctory social media responsibilities over years: wishing you a happy birthday, telling you that your children are cute, wishing you an enjoyable vacation, sending well wishes when a family member is ill. In response, I get nothing from you. I suspect that many of you unfollowed me after I posted one too many pro-LGBT memes, as one former friend has already confessed.
That’s fine. Believe me, I get it. I’ve unfollowed and unfriended many of you as well. We just do not see eye to eye on many things. Or anything. For the longest time, I’ve tried to convince myself that this is okay, that people don’t always have to see eye to eye to be friends, or at the very least respectful to one another.
But not anymore. Not after this weekend.
Between the hours of 2am and 5am on Sunday, June 12, 2016, the most horrific mass shooting in American history occurred at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. By the time the standoff ended, a series of events had transpired that would leave 50 dead and at least 53 injured.
People are still debating whether it was a hate crime or an act of domestic terrorism. I am here to tell you that it was both. Omar Mateen may have pledged his allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call from inside the club, but it was a gay club, and it could not possibly have been chosen at random because there are no other clubs in the immediate vicinity. Had he wanted a random club, he would have gone elsewhere. No, he wanted to target the LGBTQ community and its allies. And he chose this club to do it. A nightclub that is a mere five minute drive from my home. While work pulled me away from Orlando some six years ago, I still cherish that city and return there at every opportunity. I have memories from time spent at this club and, more importantly, still have friends that frequent the establishment.
And since the country awoke Sunday morning to this horrible news, there has been a noticeable yet admittedly consistent lack of concern for my life, as you neglect to ask how I am taking the news. Precious few of you have asked if I am feeling okay, or otherwise checked in to see how I am processing this information. Let me alleviate your concerns right now. I’m not processing it very well at all, but I am incredibly grateful in that, thus far, it does not appear that any of my friends were killed or injured. Thank you SO much for asking.
(To be fair, a select few of you did provide standard Facebook contact to include a “Like” or a comment. A rare one or two others communicate with me regularly outside of this issue. You know who you are, I love you, and this does not apply to you.)
Even so, I can forgive this. As they say, out of sight, out of mind. Other than the emotional scarring, I wasn’t even “directly affected,” right? (Wrong, but I digress.)
What I cannot forgive is the hate that some of you have been pouring out online. Meme after meme defending your Second Amendment rights (not once has anyone ever threated to take away your guns), or gloating that the killer was a Democrat (political affiliation has never been a speaking point for you before in times of terrorist activity), or denying that it was a hate crime, (because, in your eyes, it can ONLY be a terrorist attack if it was perpetrated by a Muslim), or applauding Donald Trump for his anti-Muslim diatribe (or anything he ever says, frankly). And even that, as disgusting as it is, could be overlooked. Except for one small thing.
None of you posting these memes have stopped for one moment to post a message of condolence for those impacted. Not one of you has offered a prayer (and oh, boy, do you love to offer calls for prayer instead of calls for gun reform in times of trouble) to those that are suffering. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because, this time, the victims were gay.
And I can’t take it anymore. I simply cannot.
I can accept you ignoring me. I can accept you ignoring the issue entirely. I can accept that in your personal life you do not at all care about the LGBTQ community or even the one member of it that you spent up to 13 years of your life studying and playing with.
What I cannot accept is that you are so filled with hatred and toxicity that instead of ignoring the situation with what little grace and dignity nature gave you, you must instead use the moment to push some misguided agenda that the liberals are trying to take your guns. I can assure you that, today, nobody is paying you any attention. Nobody cares about you. I certainly don’t.
I refuse to feel a tinge of guilt whenever I visit my parents and cloister myself at home simply because a part of me remembers that old high school fear. I will no longer feel that I should give you a second chance, that perhaps you are better adults than you were children.
Because you are not.
At least children can claim the ignorance of youth as an excuse.
You are just ignorant, mean-spirited adults. And there is no place for you in the future.
Or in my life.