Tragedy and Queer Healing Through Eggs
The night of the Pulse shooting, I went barhopping with a genderqueer friend I’d become flirty with. I went out as my full gender-nonconforming transfemme self for the first time in a while. Pink dress with an accompanying subtle pink pop of eye shadow. I looked good.
Sitting in bars and walking the streets of our New Orleans neighborhoods, I instinctively raised my situational awareness, as I always do anywhere when I’m looking femme or particularly GNC. As per usual, nothing too terrible happened. We were together, so we were confident. A random strange cis man interrupted our conversation by tapping my shoulder and smiling at me creepily. I gave him a death stare. We were catcalled by cis men on the street a few times, and we taunted them back. My friend made noises of disgust loud enough for them to hear, and I mustered up a sarcastic and loud, “Oh, thank you!” in my deepest voice. We laughed at the ignorance, we talked gender, we talked sex.
We ended up back at my place, and for the first time in roughly six months, I stripped myself bare with another person. Another trans person. Someone who gets it. Someone who could value the vulnerable desires we only show to each other, because only we understand each other.
We bared the parts of ourselves and our longings that we were so often taught to be ashamed of and hide. And we revelled in them together, through words, through touch, working our bodies to that place where everything else drops away but core desires and self.
It’s easy to forget how essential intimacy is to our well-being, our survival. Not just sexual intimacy, but some sort of connection with people who experience the world the way we do.
The next morning I woke to the news of the massacre. As the events of the previous night unfolded for me, queer and trans people (predominantly Latinx and other people of color) were enjoying similar moments of connection during Latin night at Pulse. I laid in bed with my laptop, not knowing what to feel, or even how to feel. It’s sad to say that I know from news of past killings and attacks, that this is a standard reaction for me. It usually takes a few hours or more before any sort of emotion surfaces in response to tragedy.
I scrolled past all my friends posting about the tragic news, making political statements, offering condolences to each other, expressing frustration. Its presence was inescapable. Interacting with my friends, even online, was supposed to keep the shit of the outside world at bay, not reiterate it. I refrained from adding my voice to the mix. Even in trying to say something positive, the prospect of it felt somehow tawdry. What could I say about this that people aren’t already saying? If I posted anything it felt like it’d be solely for attention. Everybody look at what I think about this. This is a motivation for writing I try not to succumb to, but sporadically do. Critical political posts are a habit of mine. Someone I don’t know messaged me that morning to say she was eager to hear what I had to say about it all, even though we’re not even social media friends — she just anonymously follows me. That made me want to write some breakdown or offer thoughts even less.
What I did do immediately, however, was start thinking more about the previous night. I usually refuse to succumb to the fear-mongering regarding walking around at night in major cities. Some of my most cherished memories are of long late-night walks home through my neighborhood and its surrounding areas. I reassure myself that yes street and police violence is high here, as it is in many cities. It could happen, but if I mind my own business and use common sense, the likelihood is low. Even so, it still might happen. Especially if you’re not white, especially if you’re trans or queer. My friend and I enjoyed ourselves, but in the shadow of this morning it suddenly felt like we had tempted fate.
I started intellectualizing. Drawing parallels and thinking of related events and situations … A few days earlier, Goddess Diamond, a black trans woman killed in New Orleans, only the latest in an epidemic of violence at the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, and class. The date of this massacre at Pulse coinciding with memorials for another terrible day in queer and trans history, the New Orleans’ Upstairs Lounge fire, where 32 people died locked inside in a massacre that all signs say was arson deliberately targeting our community. The news of the other man arrested the same day as Pulse heading to L.A. Pride armed to the teeth. Endless stories from friends of job discrimination, inaccessible/incompetent health care, verbal and physical attacks on subways and streets, suicides …
These attacks and threats happen all year long, but the spike in their visibility during Pride month is particularly unsettling. This is the time of year when we all come out of the woodwork, encouraged to gather, connect and reconnect, and be our full selves. When we try to create some safer space for ourselves to exist, together and unafraid.
I started thinking about all the upcoming Pride events. Do I want to go to those still? With the recent frenzy of violently hateful rhetoric against trans people in the wake of bigoted bathroom panic laws, how safe will I be? How safe am I in queer places when it isn’t Pride? Cishet people are increasingly bolder in appropriating our spaces — believing their cheerfully vague “I’m OK with gay people” attitudes excuse ignorant and entitled behavior within, as well as the displacement their unwitting presence perpetuates. I started thinking about how I present when I leave the house. Always somewhat gender transgressive. How safe am I going anywhere looking the way I do? Truly queer and trans friendly spaces are hard to come by. One could argue they don’t exist anywhere. Attacks like the Pulse massacre are proof of that.
That is what terrorism does. Those are thoughts terrorism inspires. But it also dawned on me that these thoughts of mine are not new. I live with them every day. As do countless other trans and queer people, Black and Latinx people, women, immigrants, and Natives …
What makes this scary is not that it’s senseless and random and out of the ordinary. It is scary because it’s a reminder that this happens all the time. A fact of life.
A barbed reinforcement of how we all know the world works. Just in case you forgot for a moment, most people don’t give a fuck about you, in fact many of them want you dead. If you’re not a cis, white, male American — you are targeted. Sometimes in an attack like Pulse, which prompts a media spectacle and hype machine of fear. Sometimes in an epidemic of singular attacks that add up to the long lists that compose trans murder and suicide commemorations. Sometimes in the innumerable anonymous cost-of-war casualties in war campaigns across borders. Sometimes in systematic criminalization, discrimination, and violence with which our criminal justice system disproportionately destroys and incarcerates black and brown bodies, trans and queer bodies. Sometimes in the prohibitive cost or denial of health care. Sometimes in displacement from homes, via colonialism or gentrification.
The Pulse massacre is terror. So are the rest of these things. Against black and brown people, against immigrants, against Muslims, against foreigners, against Natives. America is the culture of terror, fed by the consolidation of profit and power. And we live in its midst every day. Merely hours after the attack, U.S. corporate media and politicians already began using the shooting to justify their own violence, be it firearm proliferation and the police state at home, or violence against immigrants and abroad in the Middle East. We resist this violence through anti-racist movements like Black Lives Matter, through anti-war efforts, legal reform, demilitarizing civilians and law enforcement, environmental conservation, feminism, queer/trans liberation, indigenous liberation, as well as on so many other fronts and in solidarity with each other.
We can identify these tangible problems, reforms, and advocate for them in the present and future. But how do we do these things, move forward, and keep living? Not just with the political goals we will fight for, but emotionally, culturally, as a community, and between communities?
What do you do with scars like these?
Not just from Pulse, but with the terror we all experience in daily life as marginalized people — harassed, targeted, discriminated against by bigots, systematically denied life chances. That’s the harder part. Probably because nothing can make it better. That’s what tragedies are. Horrible things that can only be carried and never erased. What do we do with it? What do we do with our anger, our frustration, our sadness, our grief, our exhaustion? How do we carry it? Are there ways to lighten the load?
That’s what makes the Pulse massacre particularly painful. Because the people there, predominantly queer Latinx and people of color, were trying to do exactly that by congregating with each other, in their own space, on their own night. And that’s what makes the response to the shooting painful as well. Ignorant officials, often cis, straight, and white, without even the language to respectfully address our community, further hijacking our healing spaces and conversations in media, draping themselves in our tragedy to further their own image and agenda. Police, our past, current, and future enemies, the perpetrators of violence we fought at the first Pride riot at Stonewall, now monitoring our attempts to publicly heal while carrying firearms that reap just as much death as the AR-15 at Pulse. We need these spaces and we need connection to heal, to get by. How do we respond when they are being taken from us?
These subjects and more swirled my mind as I laid in bed and morning went on. Through my own life experiences with transness and neurodivergence, I knew enough to try to compartmentalize this dissonance and just get on with my day. I had to get dressed. I had to eat something. I pulled on some jeans, and grabbed the top shirt in my drawer, which happened to be the one with a transgender symbol blazoned across the chest like a superhero logo. I popped around the corner to the bakery/cafe at which I am a regular to order something to go. My head was abuzz, but I was still pretty numb. Closed off and carrying, as usual.
I recognized the shortish woman with wavy blond hair behind the counter. We’d interacted a few times before, and I was pretty sure she’d flirted with me.
‘Good morning,” I said.
“Hey, how are you doing today?” She gave me the same sly flirty smile as last time.
“Oh, y’know,” I said. “Kind of a rough morning.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Well, what can I get you today?”
I ordered the same baked huevos rancheros dish I always get, and looked down to fish my credit card from my pocket. I heard her say something, but I couldn’t tell what over the air conditioner. I looked up at her.
“Sorry, what’d you say?”
She tilted her head and smirked again. “I said it’s on me today.”
“Oh … wow, thank you.”
“No problem,” she said as she headed back to the kitchen.
As I moved to a table to sit and wait, my emotions finally arrived. I felt my eyes well up, in need of release, but there were people around. I couldn’t just sit here weeping for 15 minutes, waiting for my food. I put my sunglasses on and blocked my face with my hand. I looked at the bathroom. They might still hear me sobbing. So I got up and stepped outside to the heat of the sidewalk instead. I stayed there silently crying behind my sunglasses.
Fifty queers die, fiftysome more injured, and I don’t feel anything. My walls stay up. Because they have to. One friendly queer buys me eggs and it all crumbles.
Because it’s only through my moments of connection with others like me that these feelings become accessible. They become something I can express and begin to work through in relative safety. That’s what her small gesture gave me.
Over the course of a few interactions, she and I had tacitly showed ourselves to each other. I with my unapologetically trans presentation, makeup, and trans/queer t-shirts and GNC fashion. She with her smiles and looks, the knowing interactions we all instinctively recognize as being authentically seen by one of our own. We’ve never exchanged names, but we’ve seen each other. Because of that, we were able to have a moment of kindness together on an overwhelming day, and I was able to start processing through the shit the world puts on us.
And that’s how we are able to heal emotionally — among our people with moments of kindness. The isolating, oppressive society that we seek to survive and change will not willingly grant us these moments and spaces. That is abundantly clear. It’s only with each other that we can create them, and be kind, loving, and patient. Whether that’s buying breakfast, in the solace of our sex, or congregating in the spaces we create. That’s why the ways we connect to each other in our communities is so critical. It’s how we heal, and keep moving forward in these battles together. When we get torn down, we have to love each other twice as hard. That’s how we resist the urge to turn against our own and others facing marginalization — how we resist conspiring with the same violent bigotry and ignorance responsible for such attacks as it masquerades as justice. A police state, incarceration, state violence, Islamophobia, racism, war across borders, the promulgation of militarized firearms. These are the causes of such extremist attacks, not the solutions to them. Our connection and solidarity alone won’t end these problems, but they are the foundation of our fight.
After about 10 minutes wiping my eyes on the sidewalk, I went back into the air conditioned cafe, a little more put together. Although, I still kept my sunglasses on. When my food finally arrived, I took the bag and stood up to leave. I looked behind the counter for my flirty benefactor and we saw each other again.
“Thank you,” I said once more.
She smiled and blew me a kiss.
When I got home I started writing. Not to assert my perspective, or even make some statement of political solidarity and understanding. But because this is how I begin to work through things. And because, while I can’t treat everyone to breakfast, if I am able to offer some words that might make my friends and my community feel a bit more connected, and a little less isolated and afraid, I need to try to do that. Encourage us all to keep filling our spaces, keep creating new ones, keep ripping them back from the people that try to take them away. Keep creating moments with each other when we’re outside those spaces. Keep finding each other, keep flirting, keep fucking, keep loving, keep fighting. We have no other choice. This is the fuel for our lives, and our collective liberation.