It was the kind of day where, from top to bottom, there was little light to be seen. You woke up, you got some bad news, the news got worse and worse and worse and you had to somehow find yourself as a functioning person through it all. The lenses of your glasses had so many fingerprints on them: all you could see was what happened in Orlando. Although we on the West coast were on the opposite end of the country, it felt like it happened down the street (and it almost did). Yesterday was a day we will not forget because, in some ways, the entire world’s LGBTQ population was attacked so viciously, in a safe space, in our home. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, yesterday felt like the LGBTQ version of 9/11. We’ll never forget yesterday.
But, we have to soldier on. Those people who died would want us too and we need to push ourselves forward too, to memorialize them. Yes, we need to ban guns but we also need to band together: we’re a family. Being LGBTQ is more than being a part of a community: we’re an intimate group of related people, bound by a unique set of experiences and persecutions. I don’t have any connection personally to those who died in Orlando nor may I have ever known them—but their deaths and what happened felt like something was taken fromw me. Why? Because they were everything that we all hope to be as an LGBTQ person: out and proud and living that queer dream. When that queer dream is attacked, it’s devastating because all of us are attacked. It was a reminder of what it means to be out in public.
This all took me back to when I came out in 2009 and what happened in my family. My Aunt Sharon has been the queer constant in my life: she’s always been an out lesbian and, despite nineties language trickery where her wife was referred to as “her roommate,” she was living the queer dream that she could given the constraints of the time. I never really understood her gay life until I got much older and have been able to see myself in it.
When I came out, news rippled through my family with a lot of nods and, “Yeah, I already knew that.” No one was really surprised. Still, Sharon took the opportunity to do something that every queer person should get: she welcomed me into the family, to be embraced for difference by another who is different. While visiting my brother in 2011, I finally saw Sharon for the first time as an out adult. We went antique shopping in rural Washington, which is maybe the gayest thing imaginable. She carried around a strange tote during the visit and, over beers, I finally asked her what was in the bag. She coyly said it was nothing and tried to hide this thing that was so obviously following us around all day.
After a quick back and forth on why she should share, she did: she took out a hand carved, hand painted rainbow tray. She handed it to me, mentioning that this was a gift to welcome me to my other family. She had made it after learning about my being out and had been meaning to gift it. She had hesitations because she thought she had done a poor job in executing the idea and mentioned the tricky process of decoupage, how the poem on the front came from a photo she took, and that her handiwork was much shakier than she thought. She was slightly embarrassed to share. I thanked her and gave her a hug. It was so sweet and, in the blinders of being younger, it felt simple, just a folksy offering from aunt to nephew.
The tray has been in my apartment since, its charm displayed on a shelf for years now. Yesterday, the tray seemed to vibrate and glow all day as this connective tissue through queer family: it was a reminder that, even when we lose someone, we still have each other. As the tray poem reads, “Coming out—loud and proud, standing up to be counted, sharing our strength—to reclaim our lives, revealing our power, to command our future, rallying our visibility to abrogate hate.”
It felt so timely. It was a reminder of how there is always hope and that we are a family and we have each other. As we all try to process what happened in our own way, stories like this, of LGBTQ connection and intersection, stand out in the mind. It was a personal reminder that there is a lot to be done—but we can’t forget that we have each other to turn to in these hard times. That’s what what family is for.