White Folks: Do Something

White people, we have a problem. And it’s not a new problem that’s come with this blight of a presidency. It’s always been rippling beneath the surface of our country—many of us have just been privileged enough to ignore it.

Not anymore.

So, fellow white folks, we need to do something about white supremacy. Because—and I never thought I’d quote an ex-skinhead (see Life After Hate below)—”White people created this problem and it’s our job to fix it.”

I’m no expert—just an average cisgender gay white guy in Seattle trying to rail against white supremacy and white patriarchy (and yes, I still fuck up plenty).

Here’re some suggestions for white folks:

If you barely make ends meet like me and have no extra money to donate, try:

AND/OR

  • Taking time to march, wheel, or virtually march with POC-led organizations, Solidarity Against Hate marches, or counter-protests to various white extremist rallies.

AND/OR

  • Participating in free workgroups or meetings to educate yourself about/better understand:
    • White privilege and white fragility (If you’re white, you have privilege. Period.).
    • Equity versus equality
    • Intersectionality
    • Microaggresions
    • Power and power-sharing
    • Mass incarceration/the prison complex

AND ALWAYS

  • Shutting up and listening. Don’t take up space when people of color are talking. Listen. Learn. Repeat.
  • Calling out racist shit and being prepared to be a buffer, especially if a person of color is being harassed in public. And then calling the police.
  • Recognizing that racism lies at the heart of all of the other -isms. Center racism and race in talks about gendered violence and bias. Trans* women of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than any member of the LGBTQ+ community. Women of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than white women. Men of color are harassed, assaulted, and murdered at a higher rate than white men.
  • Voting…in LOCAL and NATIONAL elections. Help unseat career politicians who serve the (exceedingly white) one percent to the detriment and continued disenfranchisement of people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and women.

If you have money left at the end of the month, start:

  • Doing all the things above.

AND

  • Becoming a recurring donor to POC-led organizations, and organizations working to combat hate—especially small community organizations. (Seriously, you’ll make some Development/Fundraising staffer’s day—recurring donations help small nonprofits more than you know.)

AND

  • Talking to your affluent friends about race. Don’t let your wealth or your friends’ wealth insulate you/them from these systemic problems. Get them involved in organizations you’re passionate about. And if you have oodles of money, pool some of your resources for multi-year grants for organizations like those I mentioned above, and others fighting against hate and for civil rights.

AND

  • Unpacking “gentrification,” and how it often displaces people of color and other marginalized community members. Educate yourself about how to combat gentrification. (And please stop acting like you’re some sort of pioneer. I guarantee most folks in your neighborhood already don’t like you and give you side-eye all the damn time. So you should probably start doing something worthwhile to build community and counter your gentrifying effects.)

AND…

…plenty of other things.

***

The point is this: Each and every single one of you white people can do something. Don’t give in to fear or apathy, and for the love of the mother goddesses, do not check out, thinking this will “blow over.” Silence is complicity.

Acknowledge that you’re going to say some stupid shit and embarrass yourself. But get over it, apologize, and learn some more. We don’t have time for pity parties. We only have time for action and for building momentum. Are you tired yet? You should be. You will be. Because you will always be learning. But an educated resistance is a stronger resistance.

So, white people, it’s past time for us to do something. Get up. Speak out. Educate yourself.

Be one more body of resistance against white supremacy.

Hand in Hand

Joanna stared up at me with her marble-like eyes as I folded my emergency contact list and shoved it into my pocket. I finished a duplicate sheet and put it on my kitchen counter, with directions and arrows pointing to Joanna’s food drawer.

Along with many others, I was going to counter-protest a nazi rally in the heart of downtown Seattle—and given the tragic events in Charlottesville, I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to my anxious dog in case I didn’t return.

Part of my preparation was recognizing that my ability to anticipate potential violence was a privilege—one that people of color never have.

***

Walking to the bus, a young white woman noticed my sign and asked if there was a protest happening today. Her breath smelled of beer, and I answered that, yes, there was.

“You know, with all this shit going on, sometimes I just have to pull back, you know?”

She semi-slurred and I nodded.

While I, too, understand the importance of self care, I also recognize that a lot of white people default to that whenever there’s a call to action where their whiteness suddenly doesn’t buffer them as much. And there’re always strings of caveats and “I would but…” statements. But I’ve grown tired of comforting fellow white people. We should all be exhausted and uncomfortable. Because we should all be leveraging the privilege we possess to fight back.

On the bus, an older woman smiled at my shirt and sign, and I watched out the windows as droves of sports fans flooded toward large arenas. I stepped off the bus, recognizing that the nazi rally was a few blocks behind me at Westlake Park; the counter-protest was set to begin in Denny Park, and wind its way through downtown streets to Westlake.

I passed brunch-goers and tourists confused by the road closures, and spotted plenty of police congregating in bicycle groups. As I walked toward Denny Park, I glanced down momentarily and snapped my head back up when I heard a man’s voice outside an Indian restaurant I was passing.

“Give’em hell. Don’t let those bastards win!”

I looked up long enough to meet his gaze and smile, even though my face had been screwed up into a grimace all morning, thinking, We’re fighting nazis again. In 2017.

As I crossed the street, an older white couple stopped me.

“Is there a protest happening?”

“Yes. I’m headed to a counter-protest to the nazi rally happening over there in Westlake.” I motioned behind my back.

He leaned in, and she kept looking around—eyes wild, darting.

“It was really unnerving. We just saw these three guys wearing all this horrible stuff and Pepe shirts. It’s just terrible.”

I nodded, and said something along the lines of, “That’s why we all have to fight back.”

They appeared slightly surprised that I didn’t feed into the echo chamber of white privilege. I gave them a wave and turned, noticing them quickening pace as they headed up the street. I doubted they would’ve stopped me if I’d been black or brown.

At the park, the group began growing larger and larger. There was, of course, one person carrying a Russian flag, doing their best to garner attention for themselves. Anarchists congregated in a fairly large group, with each member wearing black bandanas. Over megaphones, organizers underscored the importance of being respectful. Signs with various messages were raised aloft as the chants started and we began marching. Looking around at the sea of faces—black and brown, trans* and queer, people with disabilities, elderly people, pastors and union workers—I was again reminded that intersectional solidarity is crucial in this fight.

Several blocks in, after passing many streets cordoned off by bicycle police, we reached a relatively un-policed intersection, and began moving in the direction of Westlake.

Suddenly, police swooped in on their bikes and on foot, pepper spraying the closest marchers and sending everyone running. There was no apparent provocation—just a hair-trigger response to marchers moving down the road. People screamed at the white mist speckling their faces and others rushed to their aid, dousing their reddening faces with water. I couldn’t believe it was happening. And then the chants started.

“Cops and klan hand in hand!”

“Who are you protecting?!”

Slowly, we moved on. Many more blocks later, people began realizing we weren’t being allowed to reach Westlake. Two blocks away from it, we stopped at an intersection where more bicycle cops stood waiting. Folks flooded into the intersection and began sitting down in protest, at the behest of the organizers.

“Until they let us through, let’s hold the intersection!”

Chants began again as the police force grew behind their lines. Someone started spraying silly string near the police barricade; people began laughing. And then, it happened: police fired pepper spray and blast balls into the completely unarmed, peaceful crowd. People stampeded in my direction, and when I turned to run, someone slammed into me, pushing me into a barricade. Other people fell; others screamed from the spray. The air smelled of burned hair and smoke. My ears rang.

People hollered about civil rights and protection and that the police serve us. But in that moment, I recognized I was more afraid of the police than the nazis.

As people rebounded and stood back up, we filled the intersection again. About twenty minutes later, an organizer came over the loudspeaker and said that the nazis had left—and a chorus of cheers resounded down the street. Another organizer announced that we’d be backtracking to Denny Park in a show of continued solidarity. And then she added something that made my arm hair stand on-end.

“And whatever you do, stay together! We’re not going to let them pick us off one by one.”

I suddenly felt like the sickly gazelle in a National Geographic special. And what was more concerning was that I didn’t know if the predators to which she was referring were the police or the nazis. I shifted uncomfortably, and turned as an older woman—another organizer—came up to me, her brow furrowed.

“And just where is your buddy?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Well, find someone. We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re alone.”

She reversed course, motioning me back into the larger group as she did. As we wove our way back along our route, the police followed, occasionally showing force by using their bicycles as a makeshift wall and chanting something all their own as they prevented folks from going down side streets.

As we neared the park, I realized I was flanking a large, blocks-long version of the United States Constitution—which I learned had been created for the Women’s March. Someone called for help supporting it.

I stepped in, raising the heavy canvas just as someone yelled, “Don’t let it fall! Don’t let it touch the ground!”

As I literally helped support the semantic crux of American democracy and wiped sweat from my brow, I noticed my shirt and rainbow cape reeked of gunpowder from the blast balls.

Behind us, police stood in a line, batons in-hand, ready for engagement. On our sides, anarchists began castigating marchers for not facing down the nazis.

***

Dispersing from the park, I folded up my cape and shoved it into my back pocket. I stuck to main streets, and watched my back on the occasional side street. When I got to the bus stop, I reached into my back pocket for my wallet, and grazed my contacts list.

Unlike so many people of color who are murdered every single day by gun-toting racists and poorly trained police—Charleena Lyles, Desmond Phillips, Armound Brown, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile…— and unlike Heather Heyer and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best, I was able to return home.

This is America. In 2017. We cannot afford to lose any more ground.

Shadowlands

Fighter jets tore lowly through the sky, their thunderous ruckus reverberating off the walls—leaving the open windows’ wavy panes shuddering in their weathered mullions, and Joanna cowering in my bedroom’s darkest corner.

Minutes later, my car heaved uphill as another jet maneuvered directly overhead, splintering my thought process as white contrails crisscrossed the hazy, smoke-filled sky. A large water container rolled in the passenger side foot well, and my bag sat shotgun, bloated with all the essentials. In the rearview mirror, I caught the top of JoJo’s head peeking above her crate’s sea of towels, her buff coat shivering from the skyward clatter.

“It’s like the beginning of a siege…” I murmured into the fractured air.

I felt as though I was living Red Dawn‘s opening sequence.

But it wasn’t an invasion, just Seafair—an annual event in Seattle that should be renamed “The Day When Your Pets Think the World is Ending.”

Still, coupled with the intense heatwave across the Pacific Northwest, and the smoke from Canadian wildfires hovering over the city, the jets’ presence kept triggering my evolutionary inculcated flight response. And as I continued glancing back at JoJo, I recognized that what we had spread over the dirty carseats would be the remnants of our life should we ever actually have to flee.

***

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been thinking about the what-ifs hourly. And how can I not—what with tweets being parlayed into policy, or threats of nuclear holocaust; speeches emboldening violence by those sworn to protect; civil rights abuses committed daily against historically marginalized groups, especially people of color and trans* people; threats of censorship hurled against the fact-based free press; acquisitions of broadcast channels by propaganda juggernauts like Sinclair; climate denial being twisted into curricula; and our country’s place within a world of nations falling precipitously into a darkened, ignored void. I often feel that it’s horrifyingly rational to want to leave America to smolder in its own ruined ashes.

And while I try to combat the negativity—the ceaseless welter of chaos dripping out of the latest headlines—and exercise self-care, it’s becoming all the more difficult to see how this country will survive this blight.

I feel the constant specter of a dictator, and I wonder if the America that showed some semblance of a promising trajectory is now out of reach. If perhaps the ugly origins of this country—springing from genocide and subjugation and exploitation—are reclaiming it, circumventing the governing processes and legislators meant to prevent utter societal collapse. I wonder how united our states will remain as the ground beneath us, upholding our democracy, continues to shake, crumbling away into the shadowlands of this budding dictatorship.

But then I remember that people-powered resistance has held us together through this presidency’s horrendous, protracted infancy—has reminded me that even in the darkest of times, there is, and must always be, hope.

And hope is certainly worth the fight.

Yes, We Can

It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions I felt today.

Albeit a day filled with immense hope and indescribable optimism, there was an undercurrent of something else – of mourning. And as I marched down Seattle’s glutted streets with over 130,000 other peaceful protesters – staring up at rooftops to see firefighters, window-washers, and apartment residents waving on and screaming in solidarity – I recognized that this is a strange new nation. We are fractured. And no matter how hard anyone tries to pick up the pieces and painstakingly rejoin them, they will never fit back together again.

This farce of an election has cracked something inside us all, and we have a duty to acknowledge it, name it, and rail against that which threatens the safety and security of this great nation, and the world. We owe it to ourselves and the citizens around the world who raised their voices in solidarity with us today.

My hope is that this mantle of justice is taken up and shouldered by us all, and that we don’t chalk up today as some kumbaya moment. This “moment” must keep going far beyond today – in rhetoric and action; in everyday practice, we must always push forward. We must remember our humanity, and the power we wield when we band together.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Today, I’m thankful for my fellow marchers across the nation and globe, especially my awe-inspiring mother and sister who trekked to DC; they’re the two strongest women and role models I’ve ever known.

For the knitter at the bus stop who gifted me a beautiful pink scarf.

For the new friend who pulled up at the glutted bus stop and gave three of us a ride.

For the friends I bumped into and texted with throughout the march.

For every single child I saw filled with hope, and screaming at the top of their lungs for change.

For the seniors walking arm-in-arm, holding signs aloft reading, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.”

For signs calling out all the -isms, and the importance of understanding and recognizing intersectionality.

For the blind marcher wearing a sandwich board reading, “I will not follow along blindly.”

For the great-grandmother who confided to me, “I like all the pink. But I don’t know about the pussy hats yet.”

For the eagle that flew overhead just as the sun beamed down.

Yes, we have much work to do to fix this country. But after days like today, I’m more certain than ever that, yes, we can.

When the Ink Dries

Other than a cone of lamplight over my shoulder, the remainder of the sunporch sits in darkness. Occasionally, I hear Joanna pitter-pattering here and there, rediscovering another partially deformed toy plush to pull apart before jumping up on my leg and smacking my sweater with her paw. It’s nearly 9:00, and it’s closing in on her bedtime. She’s anxious to get to dreamland, but I have another page on the application to complete.

With surgical precision, I carefully spell out my name with the ballpoint pen – making certain I’m not bleeding over into a neighboring field, or smearing the ink with my hand. I angle the 2×2″ photo just inside the designated box, and accidentally staple right through the paper and into my index finger.

FUCCCCCK!

Joanna scampers to her bed, poking her head behind a finless Dory doll. Nursing my blighted finger, I finish the stapling exercise, infill a few more fields, and write the check with all the add-ons to get the critical part of my “just in case” plan returned before the white nationalist fascist takes our country’s helm.

I’d imagined reapplying for my passport would be much more enjoyable – with visions of scenic countrysides to explore dancing through my head. But instead, I’m siphoning the necessary funds from my “maybe I can actually save this at the end of the month” account, rationalizing the expenditure as vitally necessary.

While I’m not a catastrophist, I am paying close attention to the growing warning signs that the coming sadistic “administration” plans to act as judge, jury, and executioner – without any care or concern for the Constitution, much less the Bill of Rights, or human morality. I fully intend to fight and defend what I know to be good and true in this country, but I’m also incredibly terrified of what could come to pass, as well as the violence incited along the way.

Every single day when I leave for work, I envision a time in the near future when the final straw becomes dangerously heavy – when I’ll have to race back, scoop up Joanna, vital documents, maybe a keepsake or two, and just go, leaving my mended home and garden to the coming ravages.

I hope beyond hope that sensible, smart, dedicated, compassionate people will unite and push back against this scourge and his minions. And I fully intend to play a part in it – even if the story’s epilogue ends with me and JoJo in my Toyota, speeding north.

***

Rain cascades down in sheets, and a few shingles fly off the dilapidated roof. Boards above in the attic pop from the dry air and sudden moisture co-mingling, and heated air pipes through the vents – resembling the sounds of the open sea.

I sit and watch the moonlit branches dancing in the wind, and listen to the creaking of the makeshift garden fence just outside the windows. I rub my socked foot along the painted floor, recognizing how important this place is to me, and how much I want to grow here.

As I tuck all the documents into the large envelope and seal it tightly, another hearty gust blasts the windows, making the panes shudder.

I stare past the envelope on the tabletop and into JoJo’s marble-like eyes, and quietly murmur.

“We’re in this thing together. And while the storm may rage and weather us, with hope, we’ll still be standing when the sun rises.”

Forward-effacing

The long, expansive access ramp juts out from the midcentury rambler’s facade like a metallic tongue, beckoning me and the other circling vultures inside.

Nearing the front door, I hug the railing as a white-painted headboard bursts across the threshold, followed quickly by the footboard. The couple shuttling the bed frame makes their way to a battered Chevy Silverado as I scoot past the mattress and box spring leaning idly by the door.

Just inside, the hallway is plastered with signs reading “50% off!” My eyes dart to every fixture and shelf, each of which sports a peel-off orange price tag. This is the first estate sale I’ve ever been to, and I’m struck by its emotional heaviness.

I’m so used to seeing antiques and keepsakes wholly divorced from their context; but here, scattered among bedrooms and basement nooks, along patio edges and kitchen counters, everything is laid bare with trace amounts of significance. A couple stands behind a cash register in the living room, and I soon learn they’re part of an auction house group hired to sell off as much of the contents as possible, before the rest is donated to charity. They suggest I check downstairs in the basement, and I wind my way past other oglers coming in through the front door, and down a narrow carpeted staircase.

In the basement, tables upon tables are stacked with tools, drill bits, cigar tins, and every other sort of appliance part imaginable. I’m immediately overwhelmed by the smell of oil and leather, and make my way to an open patio door. Outside, three large wheelbarrows and massive metallic tubs are lined up like prize cattle. In a nearby shed, a few boxes of broken parts sit among an old push mower from the fifties; I briefly entertain the mower, but then counterbalance it with utility, and exit – flies swarming in the dank air behind me.

Back inside, I find a small dinette chair covered in oil-soaked slip covers, a handful of old stoneware pickling crocks, a lamp, a handmade rolling cart, and a hanging bamboo tea light holder – all of which I pile upstairs near the register.

On my last circuit around, I stop in the bedroom farthest from the center of the house. There, in a corner, stands a potty chair walker; the only other furnishings in the room are a partly deconstructed twin bed, and a Kmart shelf with old hat boxes piled on top. I don’t know whether or not I’m supposed to be in here. For a moment, it’s just me and the potty chair, and the bright pink shag carpeting.

I delicately remove one of the closest hat boxes, peering inside at the crumpled tissue paper forms shaped into half-spheres, having cradled spherical glass ornaments for decades; two lone ornaments wobble on the shelving unit below, residual glitter flaking off. Along the interior box rim, I can barely make out a name  – something with a “G,” maybe George.

Suddenly, one of the register operators pokes her head around the doorframe, and I shove the hat box back on top of the unit, give her a slight smile, and cast my eyes down to the shag carpeting – away from the walker in the corner as I shuffle out the door.

After paying, the auction group hands me a receipt, a bright stamp reading “Please Call Again” – ever the reminder of death and endings coming to pass. On my last trip out, I notice a mirror hanging by the door – reflecting so many memories and lives and futures as the past collides with the present, fleetingly out through the door.

With the backseat piled high, I adjust my rearview mirror and quietly assure the former resident that I’ll take care of all of their things, realizing in the same breath that everything on Earth is merely rented.

***

About 12 hours later, a liter of saline fluid drips into the IV plug at my wrist, the dancing light of early afternoon filtering between the slightly opened blinds. The room is dark and silent, and I fade in and out of shallow sleep, readjusting myself on the papery tarp cascading across the pleather examination room recliner.

Whenever a nurse or doctor comes in to check that I’m not dead, I rally both eyes to focus, and my speech to resemble something slightly more robust than a jellyfish slopping through a vat of peanut butter. Every single time I assure them I’m alright, and supplement my verbal affirmation with a thumbs up – the quintessential sign that things are not alright.

Later, in moments of hydrated lucidity, I startle myself awake reeling from the feeling of waking up in an alien place.

I catch my breath, and try to breathe.

In and out.

In and out.

In

and

out.

Life has gotten terrifyingly weird. No one really knows where they’ll be in a few days, a couple months, a year; everything I do now feels like it’s on borrowed time.

The week a KKK-underwritten demagogue was elected to the highest office in our nation, I was planning a fundraising party, and had to keep smiling. But It’s hard to be festive when you feel like your country is on the brink of collapse.

Even still, in the scary days ahead, we must rally and fight to build the brighter future we know is possible – that we’ve been fighting for all along. It’s hard to do – to push back. But, to pull out a Trekkie reference, “We will do what we’ve always done. Find hope in the impossible.”

Things will be getting worse before they get better.

And I must recognize every morning, that while I feel like I’m waking up in the middle of a dystopian novel’s prologue, I do have a voice, and can do what I can to rewrite the narrative.

“We’ll Get Through This” Isn’t Enough

If you’re like me, you woke up Thursday morning hoping the horror of Wednesday morning was just some sort of Inception-like nightmare within a nightmare.

You read through your newsfeed despite swearing off social media and/or human interaction for the next four years, and unfriended that one person you thought was pretty cool, but somehow turned into a raging insaneclownpants and voted against everything you stand for.

You were reminded that this isn’t just a nightmare; it’s a horrorscape, and everyone you care about is at risk.

***

Early Wednesday morning, a close friend called me from Raleigh. We vented, sat in silence, and vented some more.

“This is how fascism will take hold,” he said, trailing off. “And what’re we to do? They’ll control the House, Senate, and White House.”

After we hung up, I erased my blackboard’s grocery list and scrawled an escape plan: Save money; Renew passport; Research Canadian towns and pet travel laws. I wore all black and dusted off my LGBTQ activism pins; I had to get my armor on.

I ugly-cried most of Wednesday – at the bus stop, at work, in front of complete strangers. I joined other stupefied cohorts and rallied at City Hall, then protested that night.

And despite feeling exhausted, depressed, angry, lonely, and in complete shambles, I felt recharged by the energy of everyone around me; I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t curled into a ball. I wasn’t running. I was part of a crowd of strangers united by a common goal of letting our voices be heard, of refusing to be silent and complicit.

Wednesday night came, and I found myself back home, staring at my blackboard. My adrenaline pumped, and my eyes hung heavy. I took a deep breath and another piece of chalk, and added a line beneath my exit strategy:

Fight as long as possible.

***

I hope that the push against this vile dumpster fire will continue every single day – that we won’t let the spark and fervor of our rage die down.

We were on the cusp of a bright future, and we will not let it go. I still see it every morning, in every sunrise, and I have a painful longing for it. We must reach for it – our arms outstretched, fists clenched in solidarity. This is not about “being a sore loser.” This is about opposing authoritarian dominance of the most insidious kind. Being comfortable is a pastime; and if you are, you’re part of the problem. We should all feel a fire burning inside us – the drive to do something.

I am a white cisgender gay man in a liberal city; I’m afforded absurd privileges because of that, and I intend to leverage them every single moment I can – to speak and act up, and call out injustice against anyone this cadre of neo-fascists targets. I cannot and will not be silent – my friends of color, female-identified friends and family, LGBTQ family, and friends with disabilities deserve better.

It’s mind-boggling and terrifying how far this country may fall, and who may use this significant weakness to capitalize on our fragility. It’s going to be exhausting and heart-wrenching, but we must keep pushing this country in a progressive direction.

I will not flee. I will not hide. I will not change how I present myself to the world out of fear of persecution. I’ll have days when I’m tired, where I feel defeated.

But I will never be defeated. Because I will dare to be defiant.

And Darkness Comes

Like you, I’m numb.

I don’t have the words to articulate the deep sadness I feel in every inch of my bones. Personally, this year has been rife with mourning, and this election’s outcome has broken a part of me.

At 1AM, I woke up from a nightmare in which my house was being ripped apart along with people I love. But I couldn’t exhale, knowing it was a dream. I rolled into my pillow and screamed and screamed and screamed.

I can’t fathom what’s to come, but only know that we can’t cower in the face of such vile, contemptible evil. We have to lift one another up, even when it’s dauntingly hard and we’re racked with grief, and his minions dance with glee.

So much is legitimized by this power-hungry hobgoblin – and I worry for us all, but especially for people of color, women, fellow LGBTQ-identified people, people with disabilities, and our environment.

People throw their hands up in these moments and claim some deity’s divine plan. I can’t, and not just because I don’t believe in any of that. If you for one second think His or Hers or Their plan is for some racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, Islamophobic sexual predator to become Commander-in-Chief of the United States, you really need to get your head checked. Clinton was beyond the most qualified candidate. And my skin crawls when I think about the Obamas leaving the White House to these creatures.

So many people’s lives will be impacted by this horror, and I’m fucking terrified.

Children will grow up with that rotting sack of human garbage in this country’s highest position of power, and aspire to sit there; it’s going to change people. Education will continue to suffer, and normalize this behavior.

America has officially become a toxic wasteland.

My bank account balance is in the double digits, and savings nonexistent. I want to sell everything, grab the dogs, and run into the night toward Canada. But I don’t have a valid passport and, really, nowhere is safe with this lunatic in power. The claustrophobia of being trapped is suffocating.

I don’t know if I can pick up the pieces of what’s been broken inside of me. But I’m going to try.

And I’ll be right here for each and every one of you, ready to mend as much as I can – as we step into the darkness together.

Enough. Enough. Enough.

Everyone at work today remarked about how well I looked – how much more rested and less stressed I appeared. I replied with comments about the curative power of Alabama’s micaceous red clay, gave a fake smile or two, and inwardly rolled my eyes.

The past several days have been exhausting in every way imaginable – in many ways for positive reasons, with one notable exception.

The staggering toll of the Orlando hate crime seeps into the fore of my mind every other moment. The faces of the dead slowly begin to emerge; we learn about their lives, loves, passions, dreams – all cut short by the hands of a disgusting waste of human flesh. His selfied face becomes the one plastered across the subconscious of so many television viewers – not those of his victims. And it makes me ill.

So many of my LGBTQ friends are having a hard time with this one, which is a horrible thing to write – “this one,” as if the other tragic mass shootings are any less horrific. But the fact of the matter is this was a hate crime – a deliberate, calculated attack on the lives of LGBTQ people.

It is different for us.

***

A tiny bar tucked away in the far reaches of Tuscaloosa’s downtown, Michael’s was more than a bar; it was a haven for fledgling LGBTs, each like me – unsure, cautious, exhilarated, terrified. But despite those initial feelings of unease, I felt safe when I passed through the doors; these were my people.

It was one of the first places I felt comfortable in my own skin, and the first place I got groped by a crush and felt alive in a way I’d never felt before. I laughed and screeched along to horrible karaoke and stuffed dollar bills into a drag show performer’s nylons for charity; I started to transform into someone I felt could actually make a life and be happy.

And then my friends and I stepped back outside, into the cool of the deeply late evening.

“FAGS!”

“COCKSUCKERS!”

“ASS-LICKERS!”

A bottle shattered in the gutter.

My mind stopped working; my self-esteem plummeted, and I reverted to my antisocial cocoon – all while humming to myself, “Get back to the car. Just get back to the car.”

The small group of fraternity brothers hovered on the side of the street opposite the bar door; they raised their fists, spat, gave us the finger, and made sudden, aggressive moves toward us.

Just get back to the car, back to the goddamned car…

I was sobering up fast. But then, the unexpected happened.

“OKAY! YOU WANNA ROLL, MOTHERFUCKERS? C’MON, I’LL DRIVE MY FIST SO FAR UP YOUR ASSES…”

Our self-described matriarch began crowing back, which is when I realized a few things.

 We’re not punching bags.

We can fight back.

We’re in much better shape than them.

We can be scary too.

We’re family.

We took up a cacophonous chorus, each of us stitching together our entire repertoire of obscenities, and watched the band of misfits melt back into their beer-soaked truck, disappearing entirely.

For the first time, I felt I had a voice.

I felt alive.

I felt I could make a difference.

I felt right.

***

A decade later, I know there will always be broken glass to dodge. But I do know something for certain: I am right.

And so were all the victims.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20

Kimberly Morris, 37

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Cory James Connell, 21

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Luis Daniel Conde, 39

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32

Frank Hernandez, 27

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Paul Terrell Henry, 41

Antonio Davon Brown, 29

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27

May they rest in power, their memories kept alive in the fight for justice, compassion, and understanding.

For our humanity.

Pulse

I don’t realize how hard I’m clenching the waded paper towel until I turn from the television to look out the window and lose my balance, my hold loosening as I re-center.

My parents’ dogs have just been bathed, and are rolling around in the sun-bleached grass. I try and lose myself in their simple revelry, but know I can’t. My mind is swirling with the news anchors’ voices, the phrases “domestic terrorism,” “deadliest mass shooting in nation’s history,” “lone wolf,” and, occasionally, “LGBT community.”

I can’t breathe, and start sweating; my chest tightens and face burns. I grab my camera and walk out, up the gravel drive past the dogs – the youngest’s plaintive cries to tag along drifting away as I quicken pace.

Every step on the gravel sounds like a series of crashing cymbals; everything is amplified. I snap a photo of newly bloomed flowers, and try to map on a heartening metaphor, but fall short. A turkey feather catches my eye, and I dissect it through the lens; it’s nothing special, and completely uninteresting – but I have to focus on something, anything other than the rapid-fire thoughts pounding inside my skull.

I wonder how frequently the lives of those lost will be glossed over, their identities stripped and tamed and drained of color to be palatable enough for mass media consumption; how frequently “hate crime” will be disjointed from the narrative of this horrible attack; that “domestic terrorist” will become the coward’s moniker, divorced wholly from his anti-LGBTQ bias and motivation; that the fuel to his sickening fire was never spurred by our own politicians’ hate speech and rhetoric, but rather from “over there,” from “The Enemy,” “Them.”

I worry about our future, and mourn those whose futures were ripped from them – taken in an instant that should’ve been filled with joy and laughter, part of a series of rhythmic vibrations to club music, to living. Each of them should’ve been leaving exhausted and hung-over and sore from dancing, not having their lives become part of a protracted national narrative about hate and guns.

But then I watch the lines to blood banks grow longer, and hear calls to action ring out from more than LGBTQ groups. Where ignorance inspires hateful action, hope springs like seedlings from the earth, ready to grow. We must be constant gardeners.

***

A few feet away, our childhood seesaw hangs broken and rotted, a testament to the passage of time. Behind me, the wind gusts forcefully, nearly blowing me from the molding deer stand’s ladder-like steps.

But instead of bracing against it, I turn and face it. Eyes brimming with tears, I look to the horizon, to the infinite space before me, and murmur, “Keep dancing. Keep living. That’s how we’ll prevail.”