I never got a Pulse Tattoo.
June 11th of last year, I went to sleep in my bed tired and weary. I was defeated, emotionally exhausted, I had been involved in a very dark situation whose time to be spoken of has not come yet. My personal tragedy hung on my soul like a lead blanket. I went to sleep hoping things would seem less bleak the next day.
When I first saw the reports, the whole world dropped away. Stillness filled the morning. It was surreal. I remember feeling like I had after the Paris club shooting, survivor’s guilt of an event I wasn’t even present for.
But the show must go on and I had to go to work that Sunday. I had to put on black BDUs, dark sunglasses that obscured my face, and I had to carry an AR-15 into audience theater. The exact same weapon the shooter had carried. I thought of all the training I had to go through to be allowed this weapon. All the checks and balances I had to go through when handling the weapon. All the safety procedures and contingencies I had to learn. All he had to do was have enough money.
In the following days I vowed to do something, to get involved. I was going to go to the vigil but I felt like I would be out of place, I wouldn’t belong there. This wasn’t my club, this wasn’t my social scene. When I heard about the crowd size, I was relieved to know enough other people would be there and I could stay at home. I was going to go help make care packages, but I didn’t because I had to pick up a shift. My own personal trauma was an expensive one and I was going to have to dedicate my time to making money first. When I heard the Westboro Church was coming to make one of their ghaustly scenes. I went to the first funeral, to take a stand and show those rotten bastards their message was not welcome. They never did show but a mass of people did. It was quite the scene. There were experienced protestors and their lawyers there to make sure we were in no way endangering ourselves or disturbing the family. There were honest members of the community who had come out for the same reasons I did, to be on the front line. There were the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and they were fabulous as they could be. There were those who were there to satisfy their ego, to pat themselves on their own backs and to be seen.But hate never showed up. The funeral home was on a busy road and I remember feeling overwhelmed with a sense of connection and community everytime a vehicle honked in support. A lot of people honked and it was the first time I saw Orlando as a community and not just a collection of very separate tribes.
In the weeks following, my facebook feed was a wash of rainbow and pulse rate symbols. Every tattoo shop in town had back to back appointments of people trading money to be donated in exchange for permanent ink. Everyone had a tshirt. But it didn’t have the gross feeling of people trying to capitalize on the event, you knew it was all to raise money and to show on which side you stood. Orlando came out to say this aggression will not stand. Love shouted and hate could not be heard.
I never got a Pulse tattoo. I felt like I didn’t have the right to. While I know so many people in the LGBT community and I love them and support them, I am not one of them. From what I’ve observed, that particular tribe has some deep connections to each other, shared experiences I could never hope to relate to. I have not been rejected or oppressed in any fashion close to what they’ve experienced. I am a welcome guest in their world but I have not formed the bonds that they have with each other.
Press fast forward. Tonight I witnessed an expression of the mark this event has left on the artists. I attended “Stolen Thieves” a performance of the constantly evolving show, Varietease. The show’s creator, Blue Star, is the unofficial leader of the community, she has been a powerful voice for all the queer folk of Orlando and was brought into the national spotlight because of her position when the media descended on our town. If you’ve ever met this woman, you know she is a true queen but at heart she is an artist. She pours herself into her shows, her dancers become extensions of expression, each show represents a chunk of time in her world. I had been told she touched upon the Pulse event in the event, I wasn’t prepared for what she had created.
In the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sure of her message but I found the place I go to at the Venue where I stop trying to understand and capture everything and just experience it. The themes of loss, of fear, of anger became present. I became aware of how we are perceiving time throughout the numbers. We come to the moment of June 12th. The tone becomes aggressive as the dancers perform technically precise classical ballet movements to driving industrial metal. The dancers had worn black veils over their face, now they’ve come down to reveal just the eyes of each dancer. The all black costumes, flowing layers with utilitarian belts and buckles and straps have an oddly militant feel. For a moment I am reminded of the image of a middle eastern villain and I wonder if that is on purpose or my own conditioning showing. Interspliced throughout all of this comes the words of great leaders reminding us that we mustn’t cave in to fear and we must all continue to believe in the dream that all are created equal.
I’m crying. At first I don’t know why, then I decide it doesn’t matter. If I want to cry, I can cry and I don’t have to explain it to anyone. In the show I see the message I’ve been looking for. An understanding I’ve been coming to. It no longer matters what tribe you are a part of. If we are to heal, then we all must come together and stand against those who wield hate and fear as weapons. We cannot allow violent actions to spur us on to further violence. There are no easy answers now so what is the point in making things more complicated with lines in the sand. At the end, Blue announces to the audience this was about democracy, and it absolutely was. We mustn’t conform, mustn’t give in. We must be heard, but we must also listen. If we are every to stop atrocious acts from happening, we must stop holding animosity in our hearts. We make our enemies. It’s time to unmake them.
I realize now I’ve gone off in a bit of a rant. Sorry, I’m all worked up defending the Pepsi ad (that story to follow another night.) The point is, be the change. Get involved. Do more than pass around the same snarky articles about what an awful job the president is doing or how we’re all doomed. Democracy only works through participation. Those who participate make the rules. There’s a lot of different ways to participate, you just have to do it.
Sorry, this is a weak conclusion. I’m exhausted and loosing wind. Goodnight, offworlders. You know who you are.