TW: Graphic imagery (written)
Something broke in me today.
The past three days have been really rough for me. I keep thinking about all the victims in Orlando. I keep thinking about how under different circumstances I could have been one of the them. All of Sunday and Monday, I felt like there was this pit in my stomach. I had no motivation. I had no drive. I just wanted to sit in a dark room and just be. I felt numb.
Today I cried for the first time. My best friend called me crying as he was trying to process things. He apologized for not calling me sooner because he was trying to wrap his head around what happened. He apologized because he could never understand what it’s like to live in a QPOC body. The fear that comes with it. The reality that as a Queer or QPOC individual you are always negotiating your outness in terms of safety. You are always second guessing the way you dress, the phrase you use, whether or not to hold your partner’s hand or steal a kiss in public. My best friend will never understand that because he is straight.
Then he said it.
He said the exact thing that had been going through my mind: “I keep thinking that it could’ve been you in that club. I keep thinking about you being in a club and that happening.” That broke me. I cried. I cried for him. I cried for myself. I cried for victims and survivors. It could’ve been me. 18-year-old Ronnie was a club kid. I found solace in the Gay club scene in Austin. It was the first time I could truly be out and surrounded by other Queer people. Every week my Italian professor would ask us about our weekends. My response was always the same: “Ho ballato nella discoteca” (I danced at the club). It got to the point where my professor would even finish my sentence for me.
In thinking about myself as an 18-year-old, I keep seeing the faces of the Orlando victims. I keep finding myself in their shoes. I keep thinking about the night the victims were having before the massacre began. I know what it’s like to dance, be a little bit tipsy, singing, being carefree, not having to hide who you really are and feeling safe. It’s an ethereal experience. To have that stripped away in a matter of moments is terrifying. I can vividly imagine the scene. People panicking. Running. Hiding. Hearing the screams. Seeing blood. Watching in terror as people fall to the ground. Minds racing wondering if they’ll ever see their loved ones again. Losing track of their friends and partners. Praying that they are safe while you hide for your life hoping and wishing that the shooter doesn’t find you. Hoping that if you are hit, you could survive it. Wanting it all to be over. I see that when I close my eyes and feel it. It’s traumatizing. It’s surreal and numbing.
At this moment, I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know if the next time I’m at a gay club I’ll be able to reach that ethereal place. I don’t know if I will be hyperaware of my surroundings and checking for every possible exit. I don’t know if I will be able to enter the club with a slight hint of fear. I move through the world as a Black Queer/Gay man. My reality is difficult. Currently I’m afraid, worried, anxious, and sorrowful. I’m not ok. One day, I will be able to dance, sing, and reach that ethereal place again. I have to for those who lost their lives in Orlando. I have to for the generations to come; those 13-18 year olds barely discovering their identities. At this moment, I am not there yet. I will be one day. Until then, I will take it one step and one day at a time.