Fifteen years ago, my mom and I had an interesting discussion about the repercussions of being out. I came out the year before, just before graduating high school, and in the intervening time, had come out to my brother, my grandparents, my co-workers, my friends. Mom and I had danced around the topic a lot, but after my initial coming-out conversations with her, we'd essentially swept it under the rug. When things finally came to a head, I asked her why. Why, of all people, could I not talk to her about this topic?
"Because there are mean people in this world. There are people who will want to hurt you because of who you are, and who you love, and that scares me."
I took a minute to digest this information. "You work at a bank. If someone robs that bank tomorrow, and decides you're not moving fast enough for them, they could shoot and kill you, and it wouldn't matter to them that you are married, or that you have two sons at home. I could be afraid of what might happen to me, but if I let that consume me, I would never get out of bed, let alone leave the house." I'd like to think that my response was a good, honest one. My logic was sound, the statement true enough, and at the end of the day, the conversation did bridge the growing gap we had between us.
But I wasn't honest with her. Not completely, at least. Because there is, and always has been, fear. When my ex-husband and I were first dating, I wouldn't even hold his hand in the car, because I was afraid someone might see it. I softened my stance over time, but I've never been one for public displays of affection, and while I say it's just not my thing, it is most certainly in part because I am afraid of someone hurling insults, or worse. Fast forward a decade, some promising LGBT rights legislation, and a stunning Supreme Court decision or two, and I've finally begun to feel safe. I'll touch my boyfriend's hand in public, maybe give him a quick kiss when he's visiting me at work, call him "babe" without much thought as to who is nearby. But I'm always scanning the room at the back of my mind to make sure we're safe.
In the last month, I had an angry guest at work who threatened me over something I had no control over. "You're lucky I don't punch you in your fucking face and lay your ass out. Cut your hair, you fucking faggot." If you know me, you know I have a hair-trigger temper, and little control over my mouth when it goes off. You might expect that I would have lost my cool faced with something like that. It was much the opposite. This man was at least a head taller than I am, and military (having mentioned that in conversation with other guests earlier). I was frozen to my spot as he walked past me. I didn't even breathe. All I could do was hope that he didn't make good on his threat, because I was completely defenseless. I told the story to several friends and mostly, I tried to laugh it off, because doing anything else meant admitting that I felt unsafe.
And, of course, the bathroom bills. I've debated this off and on with friends and family who support them in the abstract, and don't understand the impact they would have on actual trans people, and not just the mythical pedophile or pervert pretending to be one. And that man is entirely mythical.
And then, someone bombs a Target bathroom, because of their trans-inclusive policies. My boyfriend is trans. He works at Target. Not the one that was bombed, but what about next time?
And then, Pulse in Orlando is attacked by a shooter. Fifty dead, fifty-two more wounded. Pulse is a gay nightclub. Say what you will about gay bars, and I certainly have some less-than-pleasant thoughts on the topic, they are a safe space. They were. They were supposed to be a safe space. But fifty cell phones rang Saturday night for owners who can never answer.
And then, a man in LA is found heavily armed and about to enter a Pride festival. He was stopped, and a friend of mine has it on video. She was there, and had he not been caught, it might have been her cell phone going unanswered.
I could spend all day debating the merits of gun legislation, or arguing with those who try to tell me that he could have done just as much damage with a knife had he been so inclined. I could remind those that say, "if only there had been others there with guns," that there was armed security on the fucking premises and fifty people are still dead. It isn't about the shooter's religion, nor his heritage, nor his allegiances. And it isn't about the guns. I'll say it again. It isn't about the fucking guns. The people who died were lesbians, gay men, bisexual, trans men, trans women. The target is us. I have spent the last two days cycling between sad and angry so many times I've lost count. One minute I want to scream, the next cry, and under it all I am afraid. I am thirty-three years old, and I have never in my life been so afraid to be who I am, nor so afraid for those I care about.
There is a vigil being held in West Side Park in Champaign tonight. I am going, as are many of my friends. And even as I decided to go, a horrible thought crossed my mind. What if someone shows up with a gun, or a knife, or a bomb? What if, tonight, it's my phone that is never answered again?
"I could be afraid of what might happen to me, but if I let that consume me, I would never get out of bed, let alone leave the house."
Tomorrow. We will worry about the solution tomorrow. But today, though we are afraid, we will stand together. Let us be seen. I will not back down again. And if your call rings to an empty home, you will know I did not let fear consume me.