Arrhythmia

The vigil. A self-selected showcase of sorrows and serenades. A call to action, an inactive advertisement for hearts and minds, but what about tomorrow?

I counted the seconds, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… and told myself I would go up to talk if no one else said anything, but my feet wouldn’t move from the concrete. I looked around, somebody must say something, it can’t end without any speakers, somebody please. And I’d count again, insisting, this time would be it, but it wasn’t.

And four speakers stood before me before I finally said, this is it, I can’t wait any longer, but I didn’t know what I’d say, what could I say? I got to the mic, opened my mouth, and all the words left me. I said, I’m sorry, I took notes, and took out my phone for reference.

I decided not to come out at Institute when my CMA (corps member advisor) told us this school wasn’t particularly open and other corps members have struggled for saying too much about themselves, and I was afraid if I came out it would get in the way of building the meaningful relationships I need to be the best teacher I can be for these kids.

But when I heard about Orlando, I realized I was just trying to keep myself safe, and if I stayed safe, my students wouldn’t have the safe space they deserve. So I added a brave space slide to my introduction, affirming that everyone in this classroom is loved and embraced, and I put a brave space sign on the wall, but I never told them I’m gay. I wasn’t brave enough for that. I wasn’t ready for it. I don’t know how I’ll ever be ready–it was easier a few weeks ago, when I was engaged, there was a ring to start the conversation. Now there’s nothing. I feel invisible again.

I said I went to the TFA 25th Anniversary Summit in DC back in February and Tim’m West said in the LGBTQ affinity space that “safety is a pretty low standard to set.” And I said, safety isn’t enough anymore. Marriage equality isn’t enough if being married can get you fired, if being married can set you up for hate crimes. Marriage isn’t enough when our trans family are murdered every day. Marriage isn’t enough when HIV continues to plague our community and access to healthcare only gets harder. Marriage isn’t enough when children are unable to come out of the closet without getting kicked out of home. Marriage isn’t enough when the queer community remains one of the most racist and marginalizing communities: we cannot celebrate marriage while we still ostracize our queer peers of color, when a Latino I’m talking with tells me he’s always been attracted to white guys and can’t even identify why. Marriage isn’t enough, because there is still too much equity to be earned–equity to be fought for and won and claimed by blood, flesh, and bone.

The same blood, flesh, and bone being lowered into the ground. Their graves must not be an ending, but a beginning. We–as a community–have become complacent and complicit, perpetuating the same oppression delivered upon us. The oppressed are now the oppressors. We can blame the media for erasing the fact it was a gay nightclub, the fact that it was Latin night, the fact that trans artists were their featured performers–but until we as a community embrace them, we are no less to blame.

We can spew fire at the politicians who champion anti-LGBT legislation, who offered their hypocritical hearts and prayers in condolence and then took this tragedy as another opportunity to spin their Islamophobia and stir up the electorate. But until we open our arms to our Arab and Muslim allies and family, we are no better than any of them.

I said, as I stood before the crowd, the mic now dead, exercising my teacher voice so everyone could hear me, I said we’ve settled for safe spaces for far too long and it’s not enough–safe spaces are not enough when safe spaces are daily infiltrated and desecrated, when our brethren in blood and spirit are shot down for who they are. It could have been you. It could have been me. Safety is no longer enough.

I said thank you for attending, for coming out to reflect, but reflection alone isn’t enough. We need action. And because my CMA told me I need to practice giving clear directions, let me practice my MVP (movement, voice level, participation) statements.

We’re going to get up and with our loudest voices, we are going to make sure that everybody knows they are embraced in our community, and whenever we hear hatred or bigotry, we’re going to call it out and invite them into the conversation, because if we push them away, that conversation will never be had, and that change will never happen.

I said I didn’t feel sad when I first saw the news, because I’ve seen so many headlines about so many shootings. I said I feel desensitized, dehumanized.

Don’t make us feel this way again.

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Pulse

Last night I was on the rooftop of our residence hall here at Rice University, sharing drinks and dancing and laughing with friends from the Milwaukee Teach for America corps. A few of us had gone to Rainbow on the Green, a family-centered LGBTQ celebration here in Houston, and since I hadn’t been able to attend, I eagerly listened as my friends shared their thoughts on the music, the atmosphere, the same-sex couples walking hand-in-hand with their children (“Life goals, right there,” Sean said, his hand on his heart, his eyes closing ever so slightly, and all I could do was smile and agree). And Houston Pride is two weeks away, so we’re already making plans to attend as a group.

Then this morning I was sitting at breakfast, and another friend said, “I’m kinda scared after Orlando,” and I didn’t know what she meant (my first thought was, “I haven’t been on Facebook lately” since that’s where I tend to get my news), and when she told me last night had been the largest mass shooting in US history–with more dead and injured than at Virginia Tech–and that it happened at a gay nightclub, I was stunned speechless.

It’s easy to rationalize different places and different spaces as a series of overlying Venn diagrams, here there is inclusion, here there is not, and here is that region in the middle full of tension and bated silence and awkward encounters at the bar, leaving everyone uncomfortable. But such drastic dehumanization forgets the fact that while we were celebrating our queer identity in the middle of a college university in Texas, the lives of hundreds were impacted by the bigotry born and raised in Florida.

We may be in separate places, but this space is shared: the sudden fear that all our years of visibility and changing hearts and minds has brought us nowhere, that the hatred against gay and lesbian and bi and transgender (and all other sexuality/gender-non-conforming) people is as paramount today as it was in the nineties when DOMA was passed, when Matthew Shepard was slaughtered, when Harvey Milk was assassinated.

Earlier this week someone told me that I “don’t really look gay,” and later this week I had a conversation with peers about a presenter who we all had thought was gay, and isn’t, and it only pushes to the forefront of our minds that sexual orientation and gender expression are not purely inherent, individual identities, but faces that can be inscribed upon others through the lenses of ignorance and assumption: I can move through the world being assumed straight, and that demands my authenticity even more. That privilege obliges me to be open about my sexuality and speak about all of these issues.

Because even when we speak openly, even when we keep to our own and stay in our own spaces, outsiders can and will and have come inside to shoot us down, to end our lives.

I will not be held silent. I will speak, and I will sing, and I will stand against hatred in each of its forms, before each of its faces, because if I cannot live bravely, who can?