The senseless massacre that occurred in Orlando on June 12 still has me reeling.
We live in a constantly shifting, ever-evolving 24-hour news cycle, but a small corner of my mind has been chewing on this event since I woke up that Sunday morning and felt a deep fear sink into the pit of my stomach.
Here’s the thing – this mass shooting hit the closest to home for me personally, of all the shooting sprees that our nation has watched unfold over the past 20 or so years. And, no, not because I might identify as a member of the LGBTQ community. Rather, because, I am a woman.
It is second nature for me to fear my surroundings. I have been taught since I was very young to glance backwards every few paces when walking alone, especially at night; to go in pairs as often as possible; to pack along mace; to learn self-defense. Ask almost any woman and she would agree: there is a persistent feeling of being watched when you walk around, even when doing regular, everyday things. We exist in a see-and-be-seen culture that puts women’s bodies on pedestals, and invites unwarranted praise or judgment from strangers.
But do you know where I have felt the most safe in a public space? The most free to let loose, have a good time and not be viewed as a conquerable thing? Gay bars.
Gay guys at gay bars are wonderful. I find that they are witty, easy to converse with, love to dance with you, compliment you genuinely and, most importantly, always smell nice. I have often felt safe, I think, because I know their kindness has no ulterior motive. They won’t have a paradigm shift in their personality and call me a prude when I won’t sleep with them just because they said my dress was pretty; nor will they insinuate sluttiness the next morning when I do. A gay bar is an escape from the omnipresent rape culture that seeps into the heteronormative bar/club scene.
Yet, they’re still guys. They’re physically bigger and stronger than me, for the most part, and there’s a feeling of security being around men you feel you can trust.
Some authorities have called the Orlando shooting a terrorist attack. It is also being deemed a hate crime just to cover all the bases. Hatred is a factor necessary to carry out terrorism, so I’m not sure where the line really stands between the two.
It’s just that, this time, it worked. I wasn’t in NYC during 9/11, so, though I felt sadness and compassion, I don’t remember fear. I didn’t have any children in school when Sandy Hook occurred, so I felt for the families, but I didn’t feel fear. I have wept for the victims of multiple campus shootings, those injured in Boston and the movie theater-goers who lost their lives. But somehow, I always convince myself that these events happen very far away, that I wouldn’t be in those states, those situations.
But on June 13, I felt exactly how close Orlando is to St. Petersburg. I imagined clearly what could have been if it had happened here instead, during Pride Weekend when I would be out celebrating.
I imagined the strong muscles flexing under all those tight shirts, and then could see them getting ripped apart. I smelled their cologne tinged with the iron tang of blood. I heard voices screaming over club music that doesn’t stop fast enough, to avoid forever brandishing the remix into the memories of the survivors.
Those were my brothers and sisters that the shooter killed – my fellow American citizens, my cohorts, my peers. It really brought into focus the gravity of the state of our nation. It forced me to go back and re-examine the other tragedies our country has witnessed. I felt more of a kinship to the victims of each and every mass shooting than I ever had before.
There are no safe spaces anymore. Realizing this is the catalyst we need as a society to begin making real change.