There’s still a t-shirt somewhere in my drawer that has a few spots of my boyfriend’s blood on it. He was attacked earlier this year and, in the hospital, I gave him a hug, staining my clothes.
Violence against gay people is not a new thing, but it is relatively new to me. I’ve grown up in a city that has a reputation for being rough. I would always hear jokes when I was smaller about how people from Liverpool were violent, thieves, or both. I think it bothered me occasionally but never that much. Mostly, I was confused because the Liverpool I knew was just a normal city. I never used to feel unsafe walking alone at night (hello, male privilege) and I’ve barely even witnessed a crime, let alone been the target of one.
Perhaps it was all the nice laws that we passed, the people like me who are open about their lives in the media, or maybe I was just ignorant of the fact that I’m in potential danger every moment I’m in public, but I thought we were 100% safe unless a stray asteroid came plummeting our way.
I’m a human being. I can be with other human beings. I’m allowed, by law, to live my life. But I’m not necessarily a safe human being. And maybe this isn’t a new fact, but it’s news to me and I’m actually scared now. Every law that I could wish for could be passed and this still wouldn’t stop me or those I love coming to harm should we irritate the wrong person.
I can’t even justify being as scared as I am, due to the fact that guns are essentially non existent in this country. A horror such as Orlando is orders of magnitude less likely to occur in the UK and I’m somewhat relieved about that. But when I walk down the street hand in hand with a guy I love, every single one of you is, to me, a potential threat. Schrödinger’s Attacker, if you will.
And it’s not just because my boyfriend was assaulted – my cousin was too, in a completely separate incident, but for the same “reason”. I stop holding hands when we walk near groups of rowdy guys. We’ve even stopped apologising to each other about that now. We’ve had things shouted at us, I’ve had to stand my ground while some upstart teenager tried to intimidate me (an utterly bizarre experience), and yes – I notice every double take that we get. When was the last time you felt scared to show affection on an empty public street? For me it was today.
All of this is small stuff in comparison to last weekend, or to the number of trans people killed in the US this year alone, to the LGBT people murdered by ISIL, or the struggles of those in the past who fought for rights I now take for granted.
Yet all of the things I experience are still worrying. If I’m not anywhere near as safe as I thought I was, then what exactly do I do about this? Is there anything that can be done at all? Does anyone else care?
I have always known that there are people out there who would hurt me if they could. But until now I assumed that this was close an impossibility – on a par with the knowledge that bubonic plague would kill me if I caught it. But now the threat level, as it were, has been raised not just for me but for all of my people. Not least, the people of colour in my community who made up almost the entire list of the dead in Orlando.
In the wake of the Paris attacks last year, my news feeds on Facebook and Twitter were saturated by those who poured out their love. There’s good reason to think that I saw more of these posts than most, seeing as how I’m a French graduate with friends who live in Paris and around France, and other friends who have more Parisian acquaintances than I can count.
Yet this weekend, the lack of comment by those outside the LGBT community about these multiple hate crimes (not to mention the foiled attempt to murder more people at LA Pride) has been more than conspicuous. A few months back, every single profile picture was overlaid with a French flag. A useless token gesture, perhaps, but a gesture nonetheless. I can’t help but notice the glaring absence of certain demographics from any mention of Orlando.
No you don’t all have to write weepy statuses, tweet your condolences, or change your pictures. But when none of you do, we can’t help but notice.
Maybe I’m overreacting. I probably am actually – giving into fear and all that. But we, as a community, are hurt, and I can count the mentions of it by straight people on my fingers. I can count the mentions by my Christian friends on one hand. And no, not the full hand.
I still wear the t-shirt sometimes. I think it’s some Fault In Our Stars-esque metaphor* in which I wear something that bears the symbol of hurt, but I feel stronger for it now being unable to hurt me. In any case, I live in genuine fear that there will be more blood on my clothes by the end of this year and this is becoming normal to factor into my thinking. However this will not stop me going to Pride festivals or gay clubs, holding hands, or being conspicuously homosexual right in your face in the middle of the street. Yes I am more scared now than I was last week, and maybe I’m less scared than I will be next week, but while right now this rules my feelings, I cannot let it rule my actions.
Let us be kind to those we don’t understand. If Orlando has shown me anything, it is that I am deeply saddened at how divided we truly are. A refusal to acknowledge each other’s pain does not help it go away. We weep with those who weep because the killing of just one innocent person is like the killing of the entire world.
*“[Cigarettes] don’t kill you unless you light them,” he said as mom arrived at the curb. “And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” The Fault In Our Stars – John Green