Contains descriptions of VIOLENCE
On November 19th, someone tried to kill me.
Someone walked into a building where he knew I, and others like me, congregated and did his best to slaughter as many of us as he could in as short amount of time as he could. It wasn’t because of something we’d done or were currently doing, but because of the people we are. Because of how I identify as a human being.
As noted by another survivor of this devastation, we were doing everything our opposition claimed that they want out of us. We were behind closed doors, in an adult only environment, existing in our own space that was specifically designated for queer people. This attack represents yet another violent example of the fact that it was never about the children, or the sanctity of marriage, or traditional values, or any other thinly veiled explanation coughed up by our enemies to justify their worldview. At the end of the day, it is our very existence that offends them.
My part in this story started when my partner and I arrived at Club Q at 11:45, some six minutes or so before the shooting started. We paid the cover, got our drinks from the bar, briefly spoke to our friend for what would be the last time, and immediately walked out to the smoker’s patio. A few minutes later we heard a loud banging coming from inside the bar. We all looked back to the patio door just in time to watch someone burst through and scramble madly on hands and knees to get away from it. Everyone on the patio reacted at once. My partner upended a sofa that we and several others immediately put between ourselves and the open door.
I looked across the room from me to where I knew a door to the outside courtyard was, and saw several people crowded and crouched down in front of it. I darted for it, maneuvered around the people, and found myself at the door. I remember hearing someone behind me frantically whispering, “open it” so I reached down and lifted the garage door up and over my head, and whispered, “Go!”. We all fled out the open door and poured into the small courtyard, fully enclosed by a wooden fence with no door or gate. I ran across the open space, stepped up onto a long bench that backed up against the fence, and vaulted myself over it. I was standing on the flat side of a wooden cable spool that left the top of the fence behind me at my waist. I turned around and found my partner was standing on the bench below, still on the other side. I thrust my hand into his and helped him climb up and over. He turned back around and together we helped several other people climb over the fence. A short time later, I turned around and saw two women standing together in the alley. We approached one another and discovered that they had both been shot, one in the face and in the thigh, the other almost at the hip. We quickly hid in the snow together under the spool, and my partner and I applied pressure to their wounds until the first responders found us some ten minutes later.
First, I refuse to refer to the killer by the pronouns he suddenly chooses to identify with in the wake of shooting us. Until I see a shred of evidence other than the word of this vile person to the contrary, the overwhelming evidence of committing such an act against the queer community will prevail. This should not be a radical take of someone who came into a queer space specifically to intentionally and indiscriminately kill as many queer people and their allies as he could. He is using the nebulous nature of gender in a pathetic attempt to legally shroud the motive of his actions. This was a crime out of blind hatred of the queer community, in no way does he identify with us. This person is many things, but he is not queer.
With that being said, I know that I am no person to speak on behalf of all the incredibly diverse people that are represented under the umbrella of queerness. For that level of credibility, I would point to people like Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk, Barbara Gittings, Beth Elliott, the 200 queer leaders at the War Conference in Warrenton, Paul Goodman, and so many unnamed others at Stonewall and elsewhere. However, I believe I can say with confidence that our collective anger, our righteous indignation against this kind of violence and the systemic violence against our communities is not only justified and valid; it is a natural and increasingly necessary response to those that would do us harm. My hope is that this fury is channeled into organization and direct action that produces tangible results.
We and our allies are in a fight for our right to exist on this planet. We are going to need tenacity and strength as the opposition continues to mount against us. Let me be the first to remind you that while you might not feel like it (I certainly did not), you are living your life on the front lines. In the words of Petty Officer Thomas James, who helped subdue our attacker and was wounded in the process said in a statement, “when you come out of the closet, come out swinging”. So do not isolate yourself. Get plugged into your local communities. Get involved, get angry about it. Participate in direct action. Because we are going to need all our strengths, all our talents if we are going to stand up and make “No” a word with teeth.
For myself, I am processing the trauma I witnessed. The physical and mental manifestations have so far included panic attacks, flashbacks, crying spells, flashes of anger, nightmares, nausea, and more. My preexisting depression and anxiety have also been exacerbated. While, by good grace, I was not physically injured, I have nonetheless been victimized by this person. However, victimhood is a liminal state. It is a transitory, temporary phase in which a person is left feeling vulnerable. And while I might be currently going through that phase right now, I know that I will not be here long. His victimization of me will not define who I am as a person. I refuse to give him or anyone else that kind of power over me. I will come back stronger from this, and I know that although the queer community might be in this liminal state with me, that we as a community will come back stronger from this. We simply cannot allow those kinds of people to have that kind of power over us.
I’m publishing this in Folk Punk’s Not Dead because our community functions as a queer space. Surprise! We have intentionally curated our spaces to be open to all peoples of color and queerness. We did this and continue to do this collectively, on purpose. Every time you shut down a transphobe, every time you boycott a band for homophobia, or racism, or fascism, you are actively contributing to this, and I applaud you for it. I am a member of this community because I have a lot of faith in it. I wanted to share my experience with you because it’s important for you to hear my story and know that I am not beaten. That our community is shaken, not broken. Those of us who do not identify as queer identify as allies; it’s a fundamental element to the ethos of our punk ideology and has been heavily emphasized in our spaces. We show solidarity with one another. So, I say this as a call-to-continuation as well as a call-to-arms; let us continue the tradition of showing anti-queerness the door and demonstrate the tremendous solidarity we have with the queer community.