Dan came home Saturday night before I went to sleep, so when I woke at 6:30 and saw the push notification on my phone about the Orlando terrorist attack on a gay club, he lay beside me. And yet even then it became a crack across my heart, cutting in deep.
That could have been my husband. That could have been any number of our friends. That could have been me.
Yesterday was a busy day for us because we had a family outing planned, a day with Dan's friend from childhood and Anna's godfather, with his girlfriend and another family friend. A day of watching Kimmie Schmidt and swimming in their backyard pool. Of presenting Dan with his birthday present surprise, tickets to see Barbra Streisand in August. The latter involved Dan's friend and I dressing up as different incarnations of Barbra Streisand and singing (oh so badly) "People" to him as we gave him his tickets. It also ended up involving watching the Tonys with that same group, even though it hadn't been part of the original plan. It was a great day. And yet all day everyone of us was hyper-aware of the events in Orlando. Social media, the news, the Tony broadcast. We thought about how it could have been us or someone we know. We thought about how that could still happen.
Social media became hard for me, but I couldn't look away from it for very long. I don't know what I was looking for, but I never found it. Usually I was made upset by new information or by a random back-and-forth. But there was this deep chasm all day, and it remained overnight, welcoming me as I woke this morning. And I'm realizing it isn't going to go away anytime soon.
This attack feels strange, I think, because significant portions of the country and of our elected officials speak as if they wouldn't mind shooting up gay clubs every now and again. Some literally, but most want to harm us psychologically when we go to the bathroom or order a cake or dare to have happy life with those we love. This attack and the echoes we can see in every city and all around us online from other Americans at all levels of power and influence is the sort of thing all queer people worry about in the back (or front) of their minds. It's what inspires the Pride festivals and parades. And it's what lines the walls of the closets, the ones conscious and subconsciously crafted to keep out that fear and pain.
My own closet was, for almost forty years, the latter. I buried my queerness so deep I didn't see it myself. I made jokes about how I didn't find women attractive. Self-depreciatingly apologized for being straight. It took falling in love with a non-binary person to begin to crack open that seal, and sorting myself out has been an odd journey. It's odd because I'm most out publicly, not privately. I'm out sloppily, with random blurts and comments that are probably confusing to most people. If the friends I was with yesterday know about me, it's because they read a blog post or tweet where I casually dropped it. Ditto my parents or in-laws. I've never even thought, until yesterday, about how I'd fix that or whether I ever would. I told myself I was too busy dealing with my health stuff. That it didn't matter.
Then yesterday happened.
I could feel the closet reinforcing itself. It's still trying to now, making this post take forever to write, making me erase words and lines and playing the voices of self-policing over and over in my head. It's playing out a few swipes I saw on social media yesterday, friendly fire from a few people essentially telling allies to stay in their lane. Maybe that isn't even what was said, but it's what I heard. It wasn't said to me, and it wasn't meant for me, and yet I heard it. I felt the fork in the road, heard the whispers that have plagued me for years louder than I've ever heard them.
Go back in the closet. What does it matter how you identify? What does it matter who knows who you're attracted to? You're married to a man, and you have no intention of divorcing him. They'll always think you're pretending, that this is some kind of act. Nobody will ever understand. You barely understand it. You have enough to deal with right now. Just put this whole business out of your head and go on about your day.
Had I heard those voices in my youth, I would have listened. Well, I did hear them, actually, but so powerfully I never allowed myself any consciousness about any of it. I was left instead to wander to fiction to work out my own shit, and to gay romance instead of lesbian. Why? I have no idea. I can't explain any of this, and I've given up trying.
But I'm not a youth anymore. I'm still afraid, but I'm afraid of different things now. I'm afraid mostly of death, of it happening before I'm finished or done. I keep telling myself I'll get going with the things I want to do in life as soon as this or that happens, but I'm aware time is slipping away, faster all the time. And that closet keeps weighing me down.
Last night at the Tony's Lin-Manuel Miranda read a sonnet he'd written as he accepted his award. In it was a line that I've repeated over and over to myself, during the show, on the way home last night, as I went to sleep, as I woke this morning. It's my new mantra, my new signpost, my new headlight as I move forward.
Nothing here is promised. Not one day.
I can waste time being angry or fearful, I can wait to say or do something because I'm legitimately not ready. But nothing will ever change the truth of what he said: there is no guarantee of anything, and nothing is promised. That's the line that gets me. Nothing is promised. I think a lot of my anger and hurt over life is rooted in this idea I got somewhere, somehow, that maybe I'm not owed anything, but that I should get a chance. That I'm promised something. That there is a dream out there, and I can find it and make it mine. It's the sort of thing that sounds ridiculous as soon as it's out of my subconscious, but that doesn't change it from living there. And yet nothing is promised. Not one day. Not one vow, not one thing. Not safety, not love, not anything. Life is only what we bring and what we build.
I can't advocate "no fear," because fear sometimes keeps us alive. But fear can also keep us from life. I'm at the point I don't fear public censure as much as I am confused about what things mean or even what I think or believe, but fear does still keep me down, in my closet. I used to say I was bisexual, but I don't like that label anymore. I don't like labels much at all, for myself. I don't feel like I fit in an orientation alphabet assignment. I need something, though, and I think I'm going to stick with queer. For now, anyway. Because if I'm anything, I'm a lesbian who happens to be attracted occasionally to men, chief among those being my husband. Maybe I'm pansexual. I don't know. What I do know is I'm me, and I do not fit the heterosexual mode. It upsets me to be referred to as straight. I don't like being referred to as an ally as if that is someone outside the community, as if I'm an opportunist. I don't like being told what I have to write or what orientations I must or can't write stories for. I don't like being told any of that, and I never have. I don't like being told who I can or cannot be attracted to, who I can or cannot fall in love with or how many of those people I can love at once.
Yesterday was hard because it felt, more than any attack ever has, like an attack on me. On my friends and family, but also on me. I shouldn't say I'm queer. I shouldn't focus on that. I should stay in this lane everyone thinks I'm in, because it's safer. Because no matter how passionately I declare my orientation, even my community is full of people who would sneer and make snide remarks unless I divorced my husband and took a million selfies with new girlfriends. Probably even then it would still be dismissed as an act or delusion by people here there and everywhere.
I'm tired of being told I can't know I'm pretty much a lesbian but still be happily married to a man. I'm tired of being told how and where I can be and exist and who I must get permission from to in order to play. Because when attacks like yesterday happen, they do hurt me too. Not because I was there or know the city or even anyone who was in the attack. Because it could indeed happen to me. The night I feel good and decide to go out with my husband or group of friends to a gay bar might be the night the next guy thinks it would be a great time to take out some queers. And even if I never leave my house again or log on to any social media site, attacks like the one at Pulse reinforce the whispers that I should stop complaining about my lane.
But nothing here is promised. Not one day. I have things I want to do and truths I want to talk about, and one of them is who I am. I know--fuck, I write about--how being your authentic self can set you free. That it doesn't matter who loves you or hates you or stands for you or against you, if you die at 90 in your own bed or at 22 in a gay club, you only get this life to live your truth, and you aren't even promised one day of it.
I'm a queer woman. I'm not in the closet, but sometimes that's hard to see, unless you're really looking at me. I'm a lesbian in love with a man, who wants to write about gay men more than gay women, though I want to write about both, I really do. I'm a hot mess of confusion, and I'm pretty sure whenever I die, today or when I'm 110, I still won't really have my orientation worked out in my head. I went along too long in the dark.
Orlando breaks my heart. It also breaks me open. I don't want to die at the hands of a hate-filled gunman, but I don't want to die with part of me crouched in the dark, worried I might get shot.
I know some of you are out. I know some of you are not. You don't have to be out, you don't have to be in. Ignore anything you read or hear or fear that tells you how to be you. Just remember what Miranda said. Nothing here is promised. Not one day.
Go out and live this one you have. Share the light and love you have with the world. You are full of both, and you have shared them with me. You light my path, you help me to do the same. We are here. We are together. And while we will weep and sometimes be afraid, we will not let these people put us into the darkness. We will be our own light.
We will make our own promise.