A lot has happened in the past week. I’ve had incredible highs; I’ve felt like a part of something much bigger than myself. And with that feeling of belonging comes a terrible price.
Last Wednesday, I had the great honor to be one of the hosts of Being Transgender in Indiana: Making History Past and Present. This was the second year we trans folks in Indiana got together to look back at where we’ve been, take stock of where we are, and look forward to what we hope to achieve in the future. The event was much bigger this year, having been more popular than Indy Reads Books could contain last year, we were given space in the Indiana Historical Society to hold a Transgender Health and Wellness Fair, followed by the main event, with many speakers representing many facets of the transgender experience.
I stood onstage, and lurked backstage as each of the speakers took the spotlight; I glowed with pride and validation. These are my people. They told their stories (and performed poetry) to an enthusiastic audience of supporters and interested folks. There was no animosity here, only a kind of shared energy and love. I cried happy tears a few times, I laughed at my own goofs (which I was assured were fine), and I felt lifted up by the friends surrounding me.
In my everyday life, I joke that I feel like a sparkly unicorn as the only transgender person in my building, and only one of two I know of on staff on my campus. Not so that night. I was surrounded by other trans folks, smiling and thriving and shining in the spotlight.
And then, on Saturday, I helped make another kind of history. The very first transgender contingent walked together in the Indy Pride Parade. I don’t know how we made it this far without trans folks walking together in this annual event, but we were the first, waving a dozen flags of pink, blue, and white: the transgender pride flag. The flags seemed to fill the air before me as I helped bring up the rear, waving a flag as well. Once more, I felt my cup run over with pride and love and empowerment as the tens of thousands in the crowd lining the mile route of the parade cheered us on. Despite the heat, and despite the hateful protesters at one point, we walked among the others at Pride, as part of the greater LGBTQI community. Instead of a minority inside a minority, we were a family within a family, feeling safe and powerful and valued.
And then I woke up Sunday morning to terrible news from Orlando. Some maniac had gunned down 20 people, with at least as many casualties in the wake. Within hours, the number exploded to 50 dead and 53 hospitalized. These people were celebrating in a predominantly LGBTQI club when they were killed in cold blood by a homophobe with a military grade assault weapon. His religion soon took first seat in the news outlets, which often didn’t mention that the victims were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. Queer folk.
Like me. Like my friends. Like the family I had marched among, the beautiful, wonderful sparkly unicorns who dare to tell the world they’re different.
I felt the sadness and anger as the news rolled in. I felt the ice form in the pit of my stomach. Not only could this have happened to me, it could have happened to my friends. What’s more, it had happened to that family I find myself a part of. I may not know any of the victims who were shot inside Pulse, but the injury was as personal as an attack on my home. We had been violated. Our safety has always been threatened by bullies, but never on this scale. This isn’t just a case of gay bashing, it was a massacre.
And so, this shared pain, this collective mourning in our community… This is the terrible price to pay. Not death. Not ridicule. No, the price is what you pay for being part of any family; you care. Once you feel that kinship, it matters more what happens to others in your extended, chosen family. And me, being the highly sensitive person that I’ve always been, I feel that pain intensely. I hurt, and I grieve, and I boil with rage.
A lot of anger and accusations have been thrown around over the past couple of days. I have to say I understand that. It’s not something that should be swept under the rug or explained away as just “our new normal”. We can’t just turn the other cheek on this.
We need to pull the family together as one, gather in our allies, those who love us, and those willing to stand up for us; we need to heal, and we need to be there for each other, and we need to be vigilant against further attacks. Lest anyone think this was an isolated nutjob or dismiss the attack as generic anti-American violence in the name of ISIS, another attack, by a white man from right here in Indiana was arrested on his way to L.A. Pride, with explosives and assault rifles in his possession.
And those of you reading this who aren’t part of our family, you need to ask yourself, will you stand for us if someone means us harm? Will you help put a stop to the hate, bigotry, and discriminatory laws being aimed at us? If so, welcome to the family. Love is welcome here.