one year on: a reflection
I’m processing out loud here.
I don’t think the people I knew who weren’t queer quite got it.
I remember testing conversational waters, the queer girl placing a bloody hand in the ocean and hoping that it’s people who notice. At work, offhandedly mentioning the shooting the next day, the news still coming in. A colleague says that the facts have not been verified yet, and not to worry; another says “well you know what America is like”; like how sometimes I forget that Transgender Day of Remembrance is going to be just another Monday to some people.
At home it’s not much better, I raise the subject slightly louder, my parents heard that it happened and that the killer was “targeting gay people”, but not that many of the victims were people of colour. They asked why I’d been so affected by it, and when I point out some of the details that have come to light I’m again reminded that I’m on the other side of the planet, but also that I’m so very white.
And I am, my whiteness exists like a power tool for constructing the Ikea kitchen of being safe in public. I labour at length with the need to publicly point out that it’s transgender people who don’t look like me who are most at risk of violence, while simultaneously holding a quiet internal fear that I’ll be killed on a date, or in the home of someone who I’ve fucked a few times already but has started thinking about it too hard, or in a club. Not queer as in fuck you but queer as in ‘anyone for whom I don’t harbour a deep-seated fear of being murdered by’, and it just so happens that that looks a lot like being a lesbian these days; just not enough like a capital L lesbian for me to swipe right on people with ‘I only date women’ in their Tinder bios, just in case. Who knew complexes were so complicated.
I mean, I’m just thinking out loud.
I had a lease ending June 14th last year. I’d moved my furniture the Sunday prior, and the Monday was a public holiday spent alone in a house once occupied by a now estranged found-family. I spent half the day on my hands and knees, scrubbing bare cupboards and shower tiles, only stopping to read the news trickle in, details being slow-drip revealed through the afternoon and into the night. I remember cotton-wool steaming out the stains my ex-fiancee and I left in our bedroom carpet, and I remember texting my not-quite-girlfriend “hey, have you heard? how are you?”. I remember feeling numb.
I don’t believe in coincidence, but that house had felt safe while I was in it, and now I wasn’t any longer. I had been buried in suburbia, like I knew my neighbours well enough, and the kid working at the corner bottle shop knew my name, and now here I was still blinking the sleep out of my eyes from some kind of assimilatory white-picket wet dream into a world where people just can’t stop killing queer folk. Like just stop already, maybe. There’s an idea.
And this isn’t all pointed directly at the men who kill their trans partners because of a deep interior homophobia, or men who enter gay clubs armed with (as Wikipedia kindly over-informs me) a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol, but governmental figures who slash funding for school programs and shelters and health initiatives knowing full well that their austerity measures and ideological enmity will result in dead queers and just not giving a single fuck.
I don’t remember the exact details of what I found out that day, and I read down the Wikipedia page for the shooting, finding more detail than I could possibly have wanted. I do remember mopping the floors to the door, and locking it behind me, and catching a bus to drop the keys in the estate agent’s weekend letterbox, and I remember caring. I remember crying and needing to be with people who got it. Not giving a fuck feels like such a luxury.
Still thinking aloud, it’s just how I think.
I do remember standing, freezing, at the vigil held in Newtown that evening, holding the hand of my not-quite-yet-but-that’s-unimportant-right-now-partner and their sister, our friends huddled together on a brick rise so we could see the proceedings. I remember a deep solemnity. I remember thinking of Maggie Nelson, “the moment of queer pride is a refusal to be shamed by witnessing the other as being ashamed of you”, and not feeling ashamed for our public intrusion of a gathering, but also not feeling pride — like a modern and cosmopolitan sense of pride only had room for joy and glitter and ripe half-naked arses.
In ‘Pulse, and the Beautiful, Sad, Joyful Tradition of Queer Grief’, John Paul Brammer writes:
It seemed that grief had activated in us a dormant gravity. It pulled us to our nearest gay bar, or community center. It inspired a flurry of texts and calls and objectives — How do we help? What now? It brought us together so efficiently that I wondered if perhaps loss was our original creator, if queer culture itself had been shaped by grief.
Seven months after the vigil I’d be researching for an essay and come across the subheading ‘Memorialising Loss’ in the Sage Encyclopaedia of LGBTQ Studies, and fall into a rabbit hole of how our community has always mourned, has always dealt with loss and death and the silence of loud voices that speak a different history, but it’s not seven months later yet, it’s still a cold night in June and every corner looks darker than it did yesterday. I try and explain this to some straight friends and they just give me a look; yeah, that one.
I first heard about the AIDS crisis when I was 17, and it took me entering adulthood and being online to learn it wasn’t just this historic thing that killed a few gay people. Our sexual awakenings occurred post Ellen, mid-Willow Rosenberg and with a vague sweaty awareness of The L Word, but with so little context. I remember helping run a queer history treasure hunt for a camp of teenagers and watching their faces as they learned about their forebears — our forebears. Part of the preparation for that was editing an hour-long interview with a man who marched in Sydney in ’78 down to a six minute clip, and crying as I transcribed his words for the edit.
His vigil ended with police brutality, with wagons being loaded full of queers and then being hastily unloaded while the cops’ backs were turned. Of the crowd at Kings Cross police station divided by a set of hard metal bars, the ones inside screaming out, the ones on the outside screaming in. Of names published in newspapers and lives ruined; for pride, for love. Of being asked to march in the same parade as police officers 39 years later, only 23 floats apart.
Our vigil ended in relative silence, with a distinguishing of candles and a seeking out friends and exes in the crowd for soft hugs and check-ins, before dissipating lawfully. A small group of us went back to a friend’s apartment nearby and drank tea and whiskey and talked about how we were all feeling and coping and then just… didn’t stop. We’re still here today, this community, that group of friends, checking in and realising the importance of finding each other in a recklessly unfeeling world.
A year later and not much has changed. I don’t have much more than that at the moment, my privilege leaves me with days alternating between numb and just consciously ignorant. The world is so big and sometimes it’s the best we can do to screw our eyes up and remember that time I held a lot of people’s hands and everything felt calmer, for just one moment. We find respite, but the one thing I can’t do is forget. We can’t forget.
I’ll probably just be processing for a while still, is all.