My Orlando


This has been my experience as a gay man in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings. I cannot, in good conscience, stake claim to any relevant sense. However, I also don't wish to be silent on this matter which has impacted me very powerfully.

I know my heart throbs in pain. If I let it speak for itself—testify to my personal feelings alone, no presumptuous attempt to ascribe universal wisdom—perhaps it will contribute its one narrative thread to a fabric of meaning we collectively weave.

I awoke that sad Sunday morning alone, my partner Ricky having just departed the evening before on a three-week adventure. Uncharacteristic of me, I'd had a terrible night's sleep. I logged onto my Facebook, and was immediately hit by the news from Orlando like a hard punch to the stomach. I burst into vocal sobs, repeating out loud to my empty home, in distressed whimper, 'No… no… no… no… no…'

After my first of many rounds of tears subsided, I made my first-reaction social-media post: I just cannot even with the stupid fucking violent hatred in this world.

But I could barely stomach the relentless procession of other gut-wrenching status-updates, made even worse by the dissonant interspersion with typical trivial posts by those apparently less personally affected by the shooting… callous kneejerk responses by gun-rights activists… pontificating politics-watchers debating whether to label it 'an act of terrorism' or 'a hate crime'. I logged out of my electronic devices, and kept away from them for much of the rest of the day. I took the dog for a walk in the canyon.

That afternoon, I was supposed to meet up with friends at The Eagle, an SF gay bar with an every-Sunday gathering that's a local-community favorite. I wasn't sure what it would feel like to be in a crowd at an explicitly queer social space that day… affirming or overwhelming, empowering or scary. One friend wasn't quite so ambivalent: He definitely wasn't up for The Eagle that day. I didn't press him for more emotional specifics. Instinctively, I changed our plans. I invited him and our other dear gay friend over to my place, where we ordered pizza and watched the shallowest non-news-related TV we could find. (Real Housewives, duh.)

In many ways, Monday was harder. There was work to return to doing. I re-immersed myself in the flattening cacophony of social media. The first-person recountings, the names and faces of the victims, the details began trickling forth. I couldn't be sure which photo or headline would rouse my next breakdown. I intently bore witness to my LGBTQ friends' confessions, testimonies and hurts, going out of my way to add as many love-notes and heart-emojis to their posts as I could.

I also had to face that cruel outside world for the first time. Miraculously, I made it to the gym. In the locker room, I briefly locked eyes with a twentysomething gay guy I'd never seen there before. I had to look away when my eyes started filling with tears. I wanted to embrace him. I wanted to protect him. His face reminded me so much of one of the faces I'd seen countless times online earlier that day, young queer victims, any of whom could've been one of my casual pals from around town, a familiar face. It could've been his face on the Orlando list. It could've been mine.

I felt an intensified solidarity with my LGBTQ family, a shared awareness of the oppressive dynamics we've all endured, from that tenderest age when we begin to comprehend our glaring difference, at the hands of a heteronormativity-policing system that enforces our underclass status under constant dehumanization and, yes, violence.

By now, scattered accounts had begun to materialize which mentioned how the shooter had been a regular at Pulse, used gay dating apps to meet men, was perceived as likely gay by former classmates and an ex-wife. Please notice: This angle has since largely disappeared from mainstream reports, in favor of the much-more-politically-expedient-for-the-ruling-class narrative that deems this an attack on 'America' by 'radical Islam' (though the shooter was apparently an American who didn't even know his Sunni from his Shi'ite, let alone his al-Qaeda from his Hezbollah).

But we already knew all this before these accounts came out. We knew this was an attack on us, through every calculated attempt to erase the obvious anti-gay flavor of this crime. One does not stumble into a gay club with an assault weapon—a GAY CLUB, of all places!—in order to 'attack America', not without some deep-seated issues about your own sexuality you can't come to terms with.

I felt quietly self-conscious about how I'd adopted such personal ownership of this attack… as if it was critical, in my grieving process, to claim it as mine. Why should I feel more upset about the Orlando shooting because it happened to queer folk? Because so many of the shooting victims were also Latino, maybe this attack wasn't 'mine'? Should I feel shame for not having been this moved by other injustices, oppressions, senseless acts of killing not so directly connected to me? They'd affected me too, but not quite like this... with the daily weeping when I least expect it, like I've lost an intimate loved-one. Am I guilty of bowing to pernicious tribalistic impulses which, by definition, keep us hopelessly divided?

I wonder how the grieving process might differ without those divisions in place. Could one feel this personally impacted by every unjustly violent event and still function? Where do we draw the appropriate line between open-hearted compassion and unboundaried overwhelm? Should there be one? It seems to me an essential spiritual awareness that when one of us suffers, we all suffer. But from what I've also thus far learned about the human experience, we shouldn't ever expect injustice, violence, or suffering to cease. I suppose it's understandable, then, to balance our compassion-responses against what we feel we need to successfully survive as individuals, protect ourselves from danger, and pursue our personal version of happiness.

Among my many emotional responses, fear has not been one. By Friday night, I was ready—no, I was exceedingly eager—to return to a gay bar and surround myself with other queer folk. I arrived with a desire to beam loving-friendliness from my energy-field. I gave the bouncer at the door a big hug (while quietly reflecting on how the duties of his guard-job must have changed somewhat over that week). I shot friendly grins at everyone as I did my first pass-through (while taking careful note, for the first time ever, of where all the emergency exits were located). I affectionately lingered with one of my favorite casual bar-friends longer than usual… and when he dispensed the perfunctory 'how's it going?', I looked him straight in the eye and told him, You know, it's been quite a week. As video screens filled with the image of Stevie Nicks, spinning as she opened her lacy wings wide to us like our most-beloved divas do, those synthy chords and fierce vocals of 'Stand Back' never sounded more triumphant.

Back outside, I walked past the massive Orlando memorial which had sprung up at the corner of Castro and 18th, the spot where we San Franciscans mourn our queer dead with makeshift monuments. Each victim's name was chalked on the ground, filling an inordinately large section of sidewalk. I sobbed again.

This weekend is San Francisco's annual Pride celebration. I am proud, grateful, and blessed to be a gay man.