Did I Touch the World?

I posted the following on my FB page on Monday morning:

I thought waking up today, it would be easier to deal with the horror from yesterday, seeing all the news stories about the shooting in Orlando. I was wrong. I’m heartbroken. I’m angry. I’m defiant. I’m desperate to understand (and that one will never be answered, because there is no way it will ever make sense). And I am bereft thinking of those who died and the ones left behind. I’m a mess reading about the victims and their terror, their loved ones, their happy lives cut so short.

I spoke with my mother last night, and when she learned Kate and I still plan to attend Pride at the end of the month, she said, “Be careful. Be safe.”

How can we possibly be safe? How can we defend ourselves against people who grow hate like a crop and call it religious virtue and then hold up their hands in innocence when something like this happens, asking how it’s possibly their fault when they didn’t pull the trigger? How can we watch out for ourselves when any fool with enough money can fill out a form (if that) and get an assault rifle or three? How can we push back against a culture where the media is already straightwashing what happened in Orlando (and not just in this country, but abroad, too https://t.co/IsXvzuJWuE) and some people are actually PRAISING the shooter because the victims were gay?

I don’t know. I don’t know how to be safe or careful anymore. I already watch my every move in public when I’m with my wife. I don’t hold her hand unless I’m absolutely certain there’s no danger. I certainly won’t kiss her in public, no matter how much a quick peck would feel natural to me. And now, the idea of letting those guards down in a place that’s supposed to be safe for us, a gay club or at the Pride parade, scares the everloving shit out of me.

Why do they hate us so much? Why? What have we ever done to them besides ask for the dignity to live our lives in peace with the person we love? We aren’t hurting anybody, and yet we’re the ones getting hurt.

And in the conversation with some in the comments, I posted this:

I’ve been arguing with myself all day: don’t let them win. In fact, if my careful public behavior with my wife still won’t stop these people’s violence, I should behave how I see fit and it’s their problem to deal with, not mine.

But I have kids and I owe it to them to be as vigilant as I can. There’s not much of a safety net for them if something happens to me.

Then again, I’m not responsible for other people’s actions and I shouldn’t live as if I am. If someone’s going to beat me, bash me, shoot or knife me for my same sex relationship, they’ll find a way to do it no matter how I present myself in public.

My fear is their victory. I can’t let that happen. Or rather, I should be who I am despite the fear. What lesson am I teaching my kids by hiding? It’s not like I’m going to jump Kate in public. It’s hand holding. How is that wrong?

I want my kids to be confident to be themselves and the best way to do that is lead by example. There’s nothing shameful about who I am and by hiding I’m acting like there is.

And around and around.

That’s what it comes down to: safety vs identity. Which is more important? Do you know? Because I certainly don’t. The fact that I’m a mother makes safety weigh a lot more than it would if it were just me.

I’m out everywhere, or so I thought. To my family, on my personal facebook (that I frankly never check and honestly only keep around to see the fun stuff my kids get up to when they’re with their dad on camping trips and vacations and such), obviously I’m out in my job, and I was out in my former job in the corporate world. It was a good company even though it was about four interstate exits down the road from the company who fired me for my writing and orientation. I’m out everywhere.

Except in public.

I’m happy to be seen with my wife, and I rarely leave the house without her. I sometimes study the people around us and wonder if any of them have guessed our relationship or if they think we’re just friends. We don’t have the same last name and our wedding rings are similar but not matching. But if I want to reach across a restaurant table to hold her hand, I look around first. I wonder if I’m sitting too close to her in waiting rooms. And forget an arm around her waist or a peck on the lips. I’m too paranoid.

Some of that is because I don’t want to have some homophobic dick make a comment and ruin our dinner out, especially not if my kids are with us. But a lot of it is fear. Coming out doesn’t just happen once. It happens every time I introduce her to someone new. It happens when I have to explain to the customer service person on the phone that I’m calling on behalf of my wife. It happens when I make us doctor’s appointments at the same or back-to-back times.

Each of those times, there’s a chance to be met with sneers and derision. When Kate was in the hospital a couple months ago, especially at the one she was transferred to, which had references to God painted on the walls, we got a LOT of double-takes when I said I was her wife and could speak on her behalf. Never had it mattered more than when she was sick that people accept who we are, first and foremost because she needed the best care they could provide regardless of her orientation, but also because she’d been in this country a sum total of five months and had never been in the hospital before. Hell, until last year, she had never had her blood drawn before. This was all new (and scary) to her. The last thing she needed was someone not okay with her being gay or me being her wife.

It matters. Seeing people in everyday (and not-so-everyday) situations able to be themselves. I doubt we’d have gotten half the stutters and pauses at the hospital if they were used to seeing a same sex couple out and proud about it, holding hands over dinner or sitting close enough to touch in a waiting room. That’s not to say I think Kate and I should be all over each other in public. I’m talking about the same touches and gestures I was free to make in my first marriage to a man, the ones straight people don’t even realize they make. The hand on the small of a back as one guides the other through a door. The arm around the shoulders in the checkout line. A quick kiss on the cheek or temple or lips when one drops the other off for some reason or another.

That’s what I’ve been hiding, glancing furtively around to make sure the coast is clear before even something so small as brushing knuckles with Kate.

In the first book of my favorite series, The Lost and Founds by Edmond Manning (link if you’re interested), there’s a quote that is so simple, and yet so profound it stops me in my tracks whenever I think about it.

“Did I live? Did I touch the world?”

Eight words that give me pause every time I think of them. I cannot keep hiding, and in the wake of the Orlando shooting at Pulse, I am done doing so. The more people see we’re just like the rest of them, the less spectacle it’ll be, the less cause for pointing and sneering. Less cause for hate.

It has now come out that Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, had been a regular at Pulse for three years prior to the shooting, and that he’d been on three different gay dating apps, exchanged messages with gay men about meeting up (though I’m not clear on if he ever did meet up with anyone). He told police he was killing people on behalf of ISIS and Hezbollah, two groups who are sworn enemies. That, to me, sounds like a man clinging to any reason for his hatred other than his sexuality, which maybe he was unable to reconcile. It seems to me like he was gay and hated himself, and therefore every other gay man, for it. What fosters that feeling?

Derision. Scorn. Public shaming. Persecution by religious and political figures. Things that come about when someone is publicly out, holding their partner’s hand, or otherwise obvious in their couplehood.

To counter that, despite how scared I am for the potential resulting discomfort and danger, I’m going to be out in public. This is the way in which I will do my part to touch the world.

Liked it? Take a second to support AJ Rose on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!