After Orlando, Back on Stage

Pre-show in New York on the night of the Pulse Shooting

One of the bravest performers I know, and a dear friend, texted to ask me a favor earlier this week. He needs me to fill in for him at a drag show tomorrow. The gun violence has gotten to be too much. He’s afraid to perform during Pride. I said yes, of course. Anything. I’ll make it work. I started thinking about what I could pull together in time, but then I got distracted. I got distracted by an overwhelming and absolute rage.

I still believe love wins, joy overcomes anger, compassion beats hate. I do have compassion because anyone who could commit this level of violence must be experiencing such profound pain and violence within themselves, I can’t help but feel for them. But when I think about this shooting and all those that came before it I become infuriated. Because how dare these hateful, murdering, bigots take away my friend’s outlet and community and safe space? How dare they come into our world and murder us?

Two weeks ago, while Omar Mateen was on his way to murder 49 people, including a fellow drag king, I performed at a bar and paraded around the street outside it in a mustache and bustier. I was more obviously and happily queer that night than I have ever been.

When I saw the news in the morning my shock and horror was physical. I spent days online reading, sharing, and watching every story I could find, consuming every new detail. I continuously held back tears in the office and in the park on lunch breaks, flabbergasted at how other people seemed to go about their lives like nothing had changed. No shooting has ever hit so close to home.

Just as I was finally embracing my queer identity and building an LGBTQ community that accepts me as I am, my newfound feeling of belonging and being seen was tarnished by the threat of men with automatic weapons. Men who for some inexplicable reason believe I deserve to die for who I love, how I dress, or what I do with my body.

I don’t want to give these men power. I don’t want to admit that that they can taint the vibrant and versatile art form that is drag, the pride and joy of this weekend, the strength and love of the community we and all those who have come before us have built with blood, sweat, tears, and bodies. They don’t deserve the credit. But they have done it. When my friend told me he couldn’t perform this weekend I wanted to reach back in time and pull the shooters testicles out through his eyeballs. I wonder if this makes me a lesser person than all those who are able to rise above, spread only love. Perhaps. I’ll keep meditating.

On Saturday I am going to glue my mustache back on and stuff my jock strap with lace. I am going to expose myself for all to see my queer, playful, sexy, weirdness. I will not be able to help thinking of the people who have killed us, who want to kill me or deny me my rights. I will remember all the hateful tweets in support of the Pulse Massacre. But I will not for one second be afraid. Even if someone reads this, finds me, comes to kill me on the stage (because trust me, that thought is so goddamned real that I’ve made sure to tell my family how much I love them, just in case.) I will NOT be afraid.

You do not scare me. You can kill me. But you will never destroy what we have created here. You will never win. You cannot make a god damned dent in our progress. We will fight harder, do better, love more. You can’t stop us. Because even when you do have an effect, even when my most daring and fabulous of friends need to take a step back, there are always more of us. I will always step up. Each of us has an enormously strong, creative community at our backs, even if we don’t all know it yet. You cannot hold us down.

After attending the vigil for Orlando at Stonewall I wanted to write about my feelings. It came out as a poem, which is copied below:

People talk about ‪#‎tolerance

I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be embraced and loved exactly as I am

because there is nothing wrong with me.

I keep on reaching, seeking comfort, affirmation.

This isn’t about me, I don’t want to be selfish. But it is and I am.

This is about each of us, our freedom to live unhindered,

breathe on, breathe in.

I don’t want your hate I don’t need your prayers.

I hesitate to speak amidst voices more important, poignant, relevant than mine.

I am never enough.

But we can be, no one of us, but we are. We are.

On the night of the shooting I was mustachioed and corseted in the street.

I saw people stare, I saw people smile. It’s Brooklyn baby.

I thrilled at exposing myself thus.

Only later did the night take on a hint of danger, a threat.

That’s what this was, a threat. A reminder of the threat that’s always there.

Over sex, sexuality, color, or creed.

They will kill us if they can.

They will go about their lives. I will never understand.

And I fear still, I will never be enough.

Never hold sway, never stop this tide of violence, halt this divide.

But I’m not alone.

In the end, I have only to claim my place with my people.

You are not alone.

We are here, we’re queer. We’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us.

The cries ring out at stonewall,

across the country, across the world.

And still I’m unsure.

Still I watch friends use hate to breed hate.

I’m so tired. I’m all fired up.

525,600 minutes comes on and I cry, finally.

And I wonder, how many of my brothers and sisters and non-binary-isters

Have died in the violence since violence began?

What would that song be?

I love you. I’m sorry. I vow to do better, we can all do better.

We are not alone, we can stand against the tide.

It’s never over.