By Jeanette LeBlanc
It has been almost two months since the massacre at Pulse Orlando. Two months that has seen more death and devastation and violence than I can possibly process. Almost two months of communities ripped apart, here and abroad. Almost two months of divisiveness and unimaginable pain and the rumblings of revolution.
Perhaps it is always this way — it is just that it takes events like this — events that hit us hard, and close to home and personally — to fully get our attention.
Still, there are some periods in this world where it all seems to erupt, all at once. And the grieving and the hurting and the righteous anger and the protests and the memorials and the demands for reform eclipse all else. As they should. As they must.
That week, much like this last one. I could not look away. Not from the news stories. Not from my social media feed. Not from the political response. Not from the attempted erasure of the color or sexuality of the victims. Not from the names and faces and stories of those lost and those who survived and those who were there to do the saving.
And most of all, not from the eyes of my fellow queers. My LGBTQ community. My family.
One week after the attack I went to a bar. My bar. My home. A lesbian honky-tonk with it’s weathered wood dance floor and the bartenders who are like friends and the people that know me the best. The place where my muscle memory knows the music and my own feet have done their part to wear the floor smooth. The space that had sheltered me from the earliest days of my coming out. Of course we would be there.
We were afraid. We were hurting. And more than anything, we needed to be together. To be there. To defiantly claim this space. As safe. As our own.
And there, on that Saturday night, there was a time of silence. And in that moment, my friends and I hugged and we held each other and we took very deep breaths and we closed our eyes and opened them and just took it in. This crowded Saturday night gay bar, completely silent in memory of what had been lost just a week before. And then the music began again and we did the one thing that we could do. We danced. We danced and we danced and we danced — just like those 49 souls did that night at Pulse. We danced in safety and we danced in celebration and we danced in defiance and we danced in revolution.
I got home very late that night. Wet with the sweat of a night of spinning around and around and around that floor. Gritty and heavy and light and hurting and healed. And when I woke the next morning — it was with the words of a letter filing my head and right on the tips of my fingers. And this came out — one of those times that the entirety of a piece has been gifted in the liminal spaces between sleeping and waking, and the only challenge to capture it all it before it is lost into the ether. And so I lay there in bed, and furiously punched out letters on my phone until my thumbs were aching, because to get up and get paper or computer was to risk losing what needed to be put down.
I recorded an emotional audio to send to a friend and later that day recorded a much more composed video version. I intended to share it right away. But I couldn’t. For some reason, I just couldn’t.
It was all too much. Too fresh. Too vulnerable and exposed. My queerness is not a secret, not by any means. As a writer with 15 years of online presence, when I came out, I did it publicly and wide open. My queerness — though often invisible unless I purposely call it out — is personal and political and refuses shame.
But this? This was raw-edged grief right on the surface of my skin. Grief mingled with gratitude and knowing and solidarity and a new awareness of what was possible. This was as wide open and bare as I could get. This letter was everything I was feeling, laid out in audio and video. No filter. No hiding.
And so it sat on my hard drive, and I wondered if I would ever share it. Today I woke up and sat down to work — and immediately saw that a month had passed. I knew it was time.
Two weeks after the Pulse massacre I was in San Francisco for Pride. That morning, I wandered The Castro on my own. I stopped by the Orlando Memorial. The candles, still burning, and wax spilled all over the sidewalk. The pictures and the names and the flowers and the scrawled messages of love and support. I had my own moment of silence there, with the giant pink triangle on the hill above, feeling the echoes of Harvey Milk’s footsteps and the history — my history — heavy in the air.
That afternoon, in Delores Park, I melted into the crowd — this mass of jubilant queer bodies — claiming their celebration and their space and their pride. And later, in the company of two women I had only just met, sunburned and glittered, hands and lips sticky from the sickeningly-sweet Smirnoff Ice grabbed from the slim options at a convenience store and carried in a ripped paper bag, I joined the Dyke March. And with thousands and thousands of others, we spilled into the streets.
And yes, there must have been hate somewhere in that huge city. There must have been. But there was no room for it that day. And there were people on the sidewalks and leaning out the windows and yelling from the rooftops. There were signs and chants and hugs from strangers. And there were bodies. Queer bodies. Transgender bodies. Bodies of allies and families and friends. All of us pressed together and moving as one.
When the march ended, back in The Castro — and the whole place was body to body to body of queer life, I looked again toward the memorial, now made invisible by the crush of humanity.
And I thought — this is how we survive. This is how we know that it will be okay. This is how we go on.
And so this, almost two months later — is a letter to my queer family.
Thank god that you are you. Because if not, I could never have found the courage to be me.