Another mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado overnight. Multiple dead and injured, and here we are again. Thoughts and prayers and hand-wringing will be offered up, but no solutions, no changes, no progress. Again. Politicians who are responsible for the rhetoric will “condemn” the violence and get all huffy when people point out their hypocrisy. Again.
Casual homophobia is a reality for lots of us. Maybe you’re guilty of it and aren’t aware, or maybe you’re perfectly aware and don’t care. This bullshit is poisonous to me and everyone like me. It emboldens people who *aren’t* casual about it, and gives their hatred room to grow and thrive, and eventually another incident will unfold. It’s basically a math equation at this point.
I once had an old friend say to me directly, “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” I asked if she was serious and she said, “Yes. But I love you!” She was on her second marriage (I saw her cheat on her husband with my own eyes), and her fourth child, from three different men. That’s certainly her business and none of mine, but that’s exactly the point. Her choices had nothing to do with me and didn’t affect me in the least, but she got to vote on whether or not *I* could get married. Her vote was no. She was perfectly comfortable saying this to me, without irony, and felt she was being generous in telling me she loved me.
That’s not love. I don’t want or accept whatever feeling that is, nor do I accept the spirit in which it was offered. The friendship ended at that moment, and while it happened several years ago I’m still angry and offended. Congress is working right now on legislation to protect gay marriage (and interracial marriage as well), and the fact that they have to do this at all angers and offends me. This is casual homophobia, and it reminds me how fragile my safety is, and the safety of my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.
For every person who is uncomfortable around gay people, there are a hundred gay people who feel real, actual fear. We have every reason to be afraid, even in the year 2022. For every ally I have, and for every person who loves and supports me unconditionally, there is an entire ocean of people who would deny me the right to live a full life. There aren’t a lot of places gay people can hang out and make connections and be ourselves. We don’t really have safe spaces, as the tragedy in Colorado proves. This is particularly true in small towns, or towns in red areas. Redding’s only gay club closed down months ago, with little warning but even that “safe space” was constantly being invaded by members of a powerful local church who came to tell us what terrible and broken people we are. They used nicer words, but let’s be honest about what they meant.
A few months ago I was on a first date with a guy and we went bowling. It was a perfectly ordinary thing to do, but I was acutely aware that we might stand out too much. The guy who rented us our bowling shoes was friendly and polite, but I could see he took notice of us. We ended up at a lane next to four teenagers, two boys and two girls, who were obviously on a double date. This made me really nervous for a while and I was preparing myself for comments, snickering or whispers, but I gradually realized they weren’t paying us any attention. Occasionally they clapped and cheered when we got a strike, and we did the same for them and for an hour and a half I wasn’t self conscious. However, my date and I were as affectionate as two colleagues at a business meeting. I know my place. We all do. We don’t invite scrutiny from strangers because we might not make it out with all our teeth. That’s not being overly dramatic, because there’s a bar in Colorado where five people didn’t make it out at all.
This has been on my mind a lot lately, even before these murders, and I am really, really done with other people’s opinions on the rights of gay people to exist at all. I know when I’m being fake-tolerated or quietly judged, I know when someone is pulling the “…but I love you” bullshit. I don’t say anything, but I see it and hear it and feel it. I’m well aware it’s happening. It’s all the more painful when it comes from people I love. I told almost no one about my bowling date because I knew even something so boring would make people feel awkward. Casual homophobia made me keep it to myself and that sucks, especially because I bowled a really good game.
The families and friends of five people in Colorado are waking up this morning to the reality that they will never see that person again, five days before an important day of thanks and gratitude. A million tiny things led to this tragedy, and many of them started with “…but I love you!” There’s a direct line from one to the other, and a thread ties them all together. People can clutch their pearls and deny it, but it’s true and I’m fucking done with pretending it’s not.
This was a hard article to write for lots of reasons. It’s hard to write about something scary and painful, and it’s hard to write about something that draws attention to my life. I cringe when I imagine the comments or the person reading my words who scoffs or laughs, and I have seen the fire that’s unleashed in such a volatile community of well-armed and vocal citizens. I’m certainly no threat to any of them, I’m just a guy who wants to go bowling and have a beer and not worry about some random person who thinks I shouldn’t have those things.
And yet here we are.