Hi. Usually when I do a video, it’s meant to explain and help viewers better understand various important topics. But right now, I’m the one trying to reach an understanding of something that happened in my life. Right now, I just really need to be heard, and I’m hoping that you can listen and extend me your own understanding as well.
Many of you might not know this, but Gender Analysis is based in Orlando, Florida. Heather, Penny, and I all live here. On the Saturday night before the shooting at Pulse, we were deciding where we should spend the evening downtown. We were looking into getting a hotel room near Pulse and going out to the club that night. Heather has been there many times before – it was the first gay club she went to after she came out as a lesbian, and prior to our wedding in 2014, she had her bachelorette party there.
The booking site ended up giving us a slightly lower price for a hotel near Universal Studios CityWalk, so that’s where went on Saturday night. If we’d had even a slightly stronger preference for going out clubbing that night, if we’d been just a little more willing to pay extra, if the booking site had priced and sorted its listings differently, if we’d looked 10 minutes earlier or later and missed seeing the results reorder themselves right before our eyes, there was every reason that we would have been at Pulse that night. That is how close this came to me, to Heather, to Penny. Death came that close to us.
Instead, we went to a karaoke bar and came back to our hotel and had some Jager, while dozens of people in our community were being murdered just 10 minutes away. We had Facebooked some photos from a club that night, so everyone knew we had been downtown. The next morning, we were woken by frantic phone calls from our family members. We turned on the news to hear that 20 people had been killed at Pulse, and half an hour later, we gasped in shock at the latest report: that 50 people were dead.
I didn’t know how to process it at the time. It seemed almost unreal – mass shootings were the sort of thing I was used to hearing about in other cities. It took a minute for us to realize that we needed to find out if our friends were okay. As we tried to check in on everyone, we were packing up and leaving downtown Orlando as quickly as possible after a state of emergency had been declared.
We spent most of that Sunday not knowing the whereabouts of a handful of friends we couldn’t get in touch with. For hours, we waited for the list of casualties to be updated. Just going to the grocery store was so disconcerting, as employees cheerily asked me, “Hi! How are you doing today?” Well, I didn’t know if my friends were still alive. I am still surprised that all of them turned out to be okay.
The next day, I accompanied Heather as she went downtown on writing assignments from Playboy and The Daily Beast. This is just what she and I do: when these things happen in our lives, we cover them for the world. We attended the vigil in a park surrounded by skyscrapers – helicopters circled overheard and we could clearly see a number of police snipers positioned on rooftops. We later attended a funeral service and listened to a man who was at Pulse break down sobbing as he eulogized his mother, who had helped him get to safety before she was killed. Everyone Heather spoke with had either lost someone at Pulse, or knew someone else who did. This is what those outside the queer community might not understand: we have only 2 or 3 degrees of separation. This was so imminent, so present, there was no way to turn away from it.
I want to point out that throughout this, there was no cessation in the constant stream of YouTube comments and tweets telling me that who I am is wrong, or that I’m in the grips of some sort of delusional illness, or that I’m somehow a threat to society. Instead, many more people now made sure to wish that I had been at Pulse that night.
I’d like them to know that I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. No one should have to feel what it’s like to wait out the seconds as you refresh a web page, knowing that you might be about to find out your friends are dead. No one should have to wake up crying from nightmares so close to reality that you can’t dismiss them as absurd. No one should have to bear the brutal knowledge that they are a target.
There are people in this country right now with the motivation to follow through on killing me and Heather and Penny, on slaughtering my community by the dozens. I look for the exits everywhere we go, whether it’s a club, a theater, or even a bookstore. I think about where we would take cover, and tell Heather and Penny that if anything happens, they need to run and not wait for me. I shouldn’t have to do this – I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to have to think of what they would do without me or what I would do without them, every day, everywhere I go. But I can’t wake up from this, because this is my reality.
I’ve struggled to find any sort of purpose and direction after what happened, because in all of this, nothing of it has any ultimate meaning or lesson for my life. Whatever silver lining we might try to extract from this, there is still no way that it can add up to the value of 49 human lives unlived. It is nothing but a random boiling void of death and senseless annihilation staring me in the face, it took so many of us already, and every day it still threatens the people I love. Nothing has changed that would make this any less likely to happen again. And I am just so, so tired.