When I was a boy, I would sometimes have thoughts about oblivion. I bet many people would never guess that a ten year old would even think about death in this way, but it’s true, there are some who do. I remember wondering if there could be a way for me to hold my breath so that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning, or if somehow I could stop going to school. But fortunately, and by the universe’s grace neither of those things happened, and I woke up the next day as if it was any other ordinary day, and then I was soon in class pretending everything was fine. This was the first time I started to weave a disguise around myself to hide those parts of me that I knew made others (including myself) uncomfortable. I’ve known I was gay since I was ten years old… I had an inkling before then, but I knew for certain at ten years old, and I’m sure that the other boys around me, although they couldn’t name it, knew that something was strange about me too, and so as some little boys might, they began to call me names and to beat me up. This went on for years, and although the physical abuse stopped, the verbal and mental abuse continued throughout high school. The pain and thoughts of oblivion continued as well, and as I continued to create this invisible armour around me, I wished that this armour could make me invisible too. And so, I started to change the way that I walked and talked and moved my body. I was told that I looked, sounded and behaved like a faggot, and so those words were enough to convince me to want to disappear even more. Eventually I started to cut and clip into myself with scissors, knives, and nail clippers, and I remember feeling during those moments, a kind of intense concentration that made me feel as though I was disappearing for a brief moment. The stings from the first cuts would eventually mask themselves by the stings of other cuts, and this went on for years. But this was over twenty years ago, a lifetime for some of those who were murdered in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday morning.
I went to the Orlando vigil in the West Village on Monday evening, and as I walked up the stairs from the subway onto street level, I was met by a mass of people who were there to show and share their love, solidarity, sympathy, empathy, anger, knowledge, and strength with each other. There were individuals who were screaming for the politicians and speakers to say the names of those who were murdered… and as the names and ages of those who were killed were finally said out loud, they felt like gun shots sounding off one by one.
I don’t want to wholly admit that this tragedy has pushed me to become conscious about being more overt about my sexual orientation in public, but it has made me think a lot about how much of my life has been wasted trying to hide it from the world. I know there are so many issues that are currently being unpacked and discussed (I’ve found myself signing yet another online gun control petition) but I also find it strengthening to read friends’ and strangers’ posts about the importance of being visible and standing proudly and firmly outside of the closet.
There’s a quote by Harvey Milk that I’ve kept very close to me. I honour the spirit of it, and him, but I also understand that not everyone can behave his words so outwardly. Still, as utopian sounding as it is, I feel it’s an important thought to share during this time.
“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better” – Harvey Milk