Pride is one of those things that it is hard for me to find words for. This year more than any other, especially. I've been to NYC Pride (and any Pride march, period) three times in my life: 2011, 2015, and 2016. In 2011 I went with two friends for a couple of hours — it was the year that marriage equality became New York State law — and I loved it but I didn't feel it. Last year I stumbled across the parade semi-accidentally while running errands. This year I went with purpose. My friend Sophie texted me a couple weeks ago and asked if I wanted to come with her. My work planned an afterparty with an open bar. The Orlando shooting happened.
49 of my family, killed in a nightclub. 49 people killed for who they loved, who they had sex with, who they danced with in the night. I have experienced homophobia before — ask me about my high school! — but never violence. Never personally. Never on this scale. And it hit me harder because although I have known for years I am bisexual, queer, whatever you want to call it, whatever I want to call it at the time, last fall was the first time I began dating another woman. Suddenly things shifted. What was theory became reality. We broke up in the spring, but while my relationship status shifted, my place in the wider world and community did not.
Then Orlando. I was numb all day. I logged out of Facebook. I checked Twitter, full of my LGBTQ friends, intermittently. My friends and I texted each other: I can't believe it. I can't cry. I don't think any of my fellow early-20s east coast friends were capable of conceiving of ourselves as able to die in the first place. Suddenly, the paradigm shift. You could probably call it privilege. And I don't mirror the people who died in Orlando exactly; I'm queer, but I'm white, and I have never needed to seek refuge and survival in a bar or a club.
That day I thought about Jenny Holzer. I first studied her work in AP Art History, attached to it like I was to my best friend, who enabled my coming out in the first place. Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman — artists who guided my subconscious in how I experience and define the world. That day I absorbed Jenny Holzer's SURVIVAL truisms. DANCE ON DOWN TO THE GOVERNMENT AND TELL THEM YOU’RE EAGER TO RULE BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU. TRUST VISIONS THAT DON’T FEATURE BUCKETS OF BLOOD. WHEN SOMEONE BEATS YOU WITH A FLASHLIGHT YOU MAKE LIGHT SHINE IN ALL DIRECTIONS. IT’S HARD TO KNOW IF YOU’RE CRAZY IF YOU FEEL YOU’RE IN DANGER ALL THE TIME NOW. YOU CAN’T REACH THE PEOPLE WHO CAN KILL YOU ANY TIME SO YOU HAVE TO GO HOME AND THINK ABOUT WHAT TO DO.
IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY
I nearly burst into tears so many times at Pride. Listening to Tegan and Sara. Seeing two women kiss. There was so much joy and there was so much sadness. We were, we are, mourning 49 people. It is hard for me to conceive of it.
But I saw a way to survive. I see it. I am surviving. I am full of sadness, and I am full of joy.