My Sweet, Wounded Queers: Keep Kissing In Public

By July Westhale

Dear Gentle Queers (Allies: This is Also a Letter for You),

This weekend we’ve been dealt a tremendous blow.

Understatement.

This weekend we’ve been dealt a sucker punch, a surprise attack, a million violent expressions that can’t even begin to describe all of the ways we’re devastated. How do I say, I can barely get out of bed in a way that captures our collective trauma, our collective consciousness?

I log onto social media, and I see how much we’re all hurting. It’s hard to take in. It’s 50 dead and 53 wounded (as of right now, as of this moment when I’m writing this), but it’s also 103 people with families and communities of their own, with children in their lives. And the gunman, he too had a family and a community, and they too are likely hurting and unsure where their hurt belongs in all of this.

All of those I know, including myself, including my partner, have asked for sweetness and kindness. Have asked their allies, What are you doing to reach out to the queers in your life? How are you helping to field the hateful propaganda and terrible news so your queer loved ones can avoid, as much as possible, being re-traumatized by this?

We’ve asked for this. Importantly, we’ve also asked our allies to hold off on comments about guns, we’ve asked that an act of terrible homophobia not be an excuse for Islamophobia, nor be an excuse for the American Agenda around ISIS to continue perpetuating hateful myths about Muslims and terrorism. We’ve asked those who quote Trump’s asinine and disgusting hate speech to cool their jets.

In short, we’ve asked that the shooting at Pulse be allowed to be what it is: an act of intentional violence against a community of people. A hate crime. We’ve asked that we be allowed the space to mourn publicly. We’ve asked for the space to feel safe being vulnerable. We are collectively grieving. Please let us have this time to collectively mourn those who we did not know but who looked like us or loved like us or played like us or celebrated Pride like us. Those who were us in past lifetimes or us in future lifetimes (because this will not stop here). Those who felt themselves safe, celebrating late at a club — or perhaps those who knew they never were safe, really, and were proven right.

And once you’ve reached out and you’ve done the work and you’ve done the caretaking, we ask that it not stop here. Effect change. Keep being kind. Raise your children — especially your boys — to be on the side of allyship and love, and not on the side of rage and hate. Teach your children to celebrate Pride, and teach your children to question an agenda that pushes hate against an entire people — Muslim, queer, people of color, etc.

For my sweet, wounded, battered queer community: Stay tender. We have a long history of fighting with love and grit, fighting flamboyantly and all up in the face of hate. We are well-equipped, and, unfortunately, extremely prepared for the moments like this when we must pick ourselves off the ground, full of splinters and asphalt and boot marks. We have been making bandages out of torn t-shirts for generations. We have been kissing in public for generations.

Stay open, stay kind, stay compassionate. Don’t let this harden you. Don’t let this act be an excuse for racist behavior. White queers, reach out to your communities of queer and trans people of color to ask how they are doing in the wake of this. Remember that being white provides more visible safety, and remember that this was a club full of people of color. And while it affects all of us, maybe there are those among us who are more familiar with walking around always expecting to be hurt and harmed. Allow yourself to grieve and mourn, and extend whatever capacity you still have towards being an ally — our allies are not the only allies here.

Please, please keep kissing in public.

Recently, my partner and I were at a drag brunch in New Orleans at a place that used to be a gay bath house, but has largely turned into a campy location for bachelorette parties. As we were leaving, I heard a straight woman say to her gay male friend, gay people used to be so hated, but now everyone loves you! I mounted my bike in anger and hurt — how could I tell this woman how off the mark she is?

It shouldn’t take something like this to show people how off the mark the idea that we are past homophobia and racism is.

That trip was our honeymoon.

Yesterday when we woke up, the shooting was the first thing we heard about, how we woke up on a Sunday morning, in our bed with all of our animals piled on us (we call them and ourselves, collectively, the romp of otters). It was a harsh juxtaposition, to be in such a cave of love and to hear something so awful. We clung to each other. Since then, I have a hard time being apart from them. I can barely leave my bed. I don’t want to close my eyes to sleep, because to do so would be to accept more darkness into my body, to rest when I feel like I don’t deserve to rest. To be vulnerable.

What I really want to say to you is that vulnerability is a strength. Vulnerability in the face of obvious threat is an even bigger strength. “I’ve been hurt so badly,” a friend said to me once as we were crying over girls we’d loved. “But I still love. I love myself so much for that.”

Being vulnerable is not something I want to lose, here. Especially not during Pride month — which is not necessarily a time when I feel even more proud, but is a time in which I am allowed thoughtful and intentional space to think about my queer lineage, where I come from, who came before me and who will come after me.

Keep kissing in public, I said on Facebook.

Keep kissing in public, I said on Twitter.

Keep kissing in public, I messaged to friends and loved ones.

My partner responded to their deep grief by baking. By cooking our favorite foods. By pressing strawberries between blocks of pink salt in order to sweeten them later. By sewing new name tags onto the collars of our dogs. By making homemade bread, which I was then brought this morning in bed with a cup of coffee prepared exactly the way I take it, because I couldn’t get out of bed to get it myself.

We went to the sea yesterday, to some San Francisco urban ruins that used to be bath houses. The sea was gray and green and particularly swollen. Let’s never break up, my partner said. It had taken me years to find this. To feel this safe and loved. I’d forgotten for a moment that we could be hurt for this, and worse.

Those whom I love, and those whom I have yet to love, and those whom I love but no longer talk to, and those whom I love who are no longer here, and those whom I do not know but love as an extension of myself: Keep kissing in public. If you can go to your Pride celebration, keep going. And if you cannot, I do not blame you — if you cannot, I do not blame you. I see you, and I hold you, and I hope for you.

Keep dreaming of the day when you feel safe enough to kiss in public, and do it deeply and do it kindly and do it like you’ve always dreamed the world would embrace.

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