I started going to gay clubs my freshman year in college. My best friend’s older brother was gay and we would tag along with fake IDs or we’d sneak a flask for the drive to Akron or Cleveland. We always sat in the backseat. Younger siblings trying to play with the big boys.
At the time, I had experienced one too many foggy nights with questionable outcomes. There were experiences that ached with grayness; heavy and important but I couldn’t face them yet. Where being a victim and being accountable for my actions intersected wasn’t something I would delineate for years.
But I did know this: The disrespect toward women at some college parties was palpable. And I was stunned that it wasn’t more progressive at college than it had felt in my hometown (or I just hadn’t found the progressive spaces yet).
There was a rage unraveling inside me about how women were treated unfairly, the ways we were taught different things from boys, how often we were relegated to object status. I was acutely aware of how we spoke of girls and boys differently. How we expected different things of them. That a little girl who was flirty was “going to be trouble” but the outgoing little boy was a “ladies’ man.” Girls were sluts. We were so frequently debased to one aspect of ourselves.
So I began to remove myself physically from these places. As a heterosexual woman deeply wounded by the effects of subtle and overt misogyny, gay bars offered me a respite. I know it was nothing compared to the sanctuary these spaces offer the members of the LGBT community, but these bars became a place for me to feel safe out in the world again.
A place where I could feel like my body was my own, dancing or drinking or just hanging out, with no fear of being touched without being asked or hit on or offered up as a target (gay men didn’t want to touch me unless it was to dip me in a faux waltz and lesbians seemed to be able to tell pretty quickly that I was not swinging for their softball team).
Members of the LGBT community, at these clubs and bars, respected me for who I was as a whole person. I sensed that they too knew what it was like to feel devalued to one, singular aspect of themselves. I never felt judged for anything other than my terribly thrown together outfits. It was exactly what I needed at the time. A safe space. A place to heal. A way to feel accepted without hiding.
I began to feel protective of these places.
I would get angry at straight bachelorette parties that would come in like it was some kind of freak show. How insulting to celebrate something most of the people at this club couldn’t do in the only place where some of those people felt safe enough to kiss the person they loved.
These women would take their shots and giggle at the man in a wig and go back home to get married in a church that says those human beings they surrounded themselves with the night before are damned to hell. Or a church that let child rapists get away with it.
A lot of those wounds in me have healed and the outrageous anger that accompanied them have become reference points for productive discussion about change. I recognize how nuanced so many of these situations and people’s belief systems are, but I feel that fierce desire to protect this community returning — always, but especially now.
Because the Orlando victims were innocent human beings killed because of hate. But for very personal reasons, too.
The Orlando shooting feels like someone came in and tried to burn down something in my heart that was the foundation for a recovery that made me feel happy and peaceful again. It feels like a hand trying to push me back down.
I am furious someone did this to people I consider part of my soul tribe. I am furious that there are 49 less people on this planet who would fight for what I believe in: love, respect, equality. I am furious that someone took advantage of our country’s freedom and the bumpy attempts to get human rights right once and for all.
I am furious that someone used religion and sexuality and a gun to make all of us feel fearful and small again, even if just for a moment. Worthless. Damned.