I haven’t written any words about Tyrone Unsworth until now. That is unusual. I respond to things with words. I express humour, I get angry, and I process both excellent and terrible events using words. In this case, I think it was because I didn’t have enough. But I also think it’s because I have had far too many. I didn’t have words at first because what happened to Tyrone, what he must have felt, and the hopelessness that must have enveloped him — it was too overwhelming to think about, let alone have the capacity to put sentences together in order to talk about it. And I have had too many words because for the past year, the past five years, all of the years, I have been overwhelmed with them.
There have been my own words, and all of the words from people in my community, voices blending into a chorus of rising up and shouting out. Not as one, because they have come from every perspective you can imagine, but all with a similar pursuit. A diverse community forced to reason, goad, justify, explain, bargain, plead, protest and demand that they simply be given the freedom to live as they are. A community full of people who have had to fight to be allowed to live. Not live as in Laugh, Love, Live. Fight to literally live. To survive in a world that has made it difficult, if not often impossible, to exist in. And with each concession, with each tiny step toward the place we should have already been from the start, with each ‘victory’, we have had to keep fighting, mired by the world around us.
But we cannot stop, because if we stop, we make no progress. Maybe things even go backwards. And the result of that is that we lose more lives. Then have to come many more words. To explain our struggle, words to try and make sense of how this can keep happening to us. The words to process the immense grief we keep being forced to endure. The words to plead with those who harmed us, and those who keep harming us.
And it is their words that have overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter how small or harmless or coded they are, or how they disguise their hatred with false equivalencies and convoluted arguments, it one day becomes an avalanche of that can no longer be fended off. It doesn’t matter how many words we say together, how loud we shout, how many words of encouragement and support our allies and loved ones have for us, it is theirs that are insidious, worming their way into minds. This is especially true for those of us who are vulnerable, those who don’t yet have a community to protect them, those who don’t have people around who are the same as them, reassuring by presence and by the existence of their thriving lives that it will all be okay one day.
Tyrone was one of these people, and he assumed life would never become okay. At least, that is what he was convinced of. And that was enough. It was too much. When the rest of us heard about his death, we were shaken. Yes, because it was an unspeakable tragedy, but also because many of us understood. Not only because we may have experienced homophobic bullying or attacks that made us feel repulsive, inherently hateable, forever broken and destined to never be fixed or happy, but also because we understood the feelings of hopelessness and the exhaustion he must have felt. We have felt it too. We felt it keenly after hearing of his death, another impossibly hard moment in an already impossibly hard year.
Words are not abstract to us. We do not have the luxury of debating theoretically. These are our young people, these are our vulnerable people, this is literally life and death. When our politicians stand up in parliament and imply awful things about us while tearing down Safe Schools, the sentiment trickles down to the real-world ways we are thought of. It changes the way we are treated by others; emboldened by the permission they have been given to make us feel less than. When newspapers publish articles dehumanizing our families, we feel that effect when we are in the streets with our families.
When a country debates for months and months over whether they should be allowed to vote on our rights, it is not only hurt and anger we feel at the things that are said about us, but it is complete and total exhaustion. Because we are not only battling to make strides, but we also have to somehow overcome the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and bleakness that we must still be here, having this fight. Yet here we are still, burying our children, because the world has made them feel like leaving was their only choice.
I was exhausted by all the words we’ve spoken and had spoken to us and by the unending fight before I heard the truly devastating news about Tyrone’s death. He was thirteen years old. A thirteen year old that was worn down, broken by society in the few short years he was here. I am even more exhausted by all of this after Tyrone’s death, like many of my comrades. But I am also even more certain that our presence is needed, our persistence is crucial and our words, if we can find them — they are everything.