I Am Afraid

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

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I Am Dying

ekg_flatlineWhoa there people, hold your horses.

Yes I’m dying, but at the same rate as you. Or at least I hope it’s at the same rate as you. Sorry for freaking you all out with my catchy title which is clearly only there to up my blog views which I obviously don’t care about…

I had a weird experience the other day and it’s stayed with me. I was waiting at the train station in Oxford and sat next to me on the rather uncomfortable metal bench was a soldier. A soldier in full soldiery get-up: helmet, camo, kevlar, the lot. The only thing missing was his rifle. He had with him two massive bags – the type you could carry two medium sized people (or oversized children), and I remember being glad that I never chose to go into the army as the mere sight of those bags made me blanch. Eurgh – hard work. Lifting. My hands are made for finer things, like writing snarky comments on my amazing new phone while being thousands of miles away from the hapless recipient of my wit. On the bags was the soldier’s name. I’ve forgotten the soldier’s real name but let’s just call him Harper.

I thought very little about him if I’m honest. I spared a thought for the guys I went to school with who subsequently went out to sandy places to shoot, be shot at, and disarm IEDs while advancing under fire (true story). I then promptly forgot about the whole thing and went back to listening to Bon Iver.

The journey progressed and we arrived at Birmingham, where I was to change one grubby train for another, even grubbier train. I stood, and down the other end of the carriage the soldier stood up and walked out. Exiting the door myself, I glanced down at the luggage rack and saw a massive bag in which one could fit a medium sized adult (or an oversized child). See where I’m going here? On the bag was the name Harper.

He probably left it by accident. Though quite how you’d forget a bag that big I don’t know. Perhaps it was ransom money and he was instructed to leave it on the train or his pet bunny would be slaughtered. I have no idea. But if you think that last suggestion sounded unrealistic, wait till you hear what my brain actually chose to believe for the next ten minutes.

In my mind, that bag – big enough to hold a medium sized adult (or an oversized child) in fact held a titanic sized brick of plastic explosive. My writer’s brain was in overdrive. Every action film I’d ever seen came screaming back to me in one massive download of “You’re going to die in a terrorist attack, a terrorist attack committed by a British soldier against this mass of the unsuspecting (and by the smell of them, unwashed) British public. You’re gonna die sonny!”

Was I ready? I quickly weighed up my options. I knew deep down that the chances of a massive bomb going off were about the same as me winning the lottery without actually buying a ticket, but the topsoil of my cerebral cinema at that moment was awash with adrenaline and what little testosterone my body could scrounge together.

When faced with the (utterly incredulous and entirely fanciful) possibility of violent death (or victorious stardom through helping people through the rubble!) my mind did a weird thing. It just shut down. All I thought was:
“Are you ready?
– Yup
– Really?
– Think so.
– Cool.”

I then emerged from my weird state of death-readiness and realised that there was no bomb, but instead I’d just watched a guy get off a train without his luggage and done nothing to alert him of the fact. In short, I was a dick. In my defence, there are so many announcements telling you to take your belongings with you, I’d like to think that it’s his own ruddy fault.

But encountering what my bizarrely wired brain interpreted as imminent firey death was a new experience for me, no matter how moronic. I was reading Reddit today and came across a story about a paramedic who was in an ambulance treating a guy. The guy was in pretty bad shape and sadly things got the better of him. His last words were “I feel OK about dying now, I’ve had a good life. I danced a lot.”

I’m happy I had quite a zen reaction to death. Had I panicked in any way I would have felt rather uneasy for quite some time. The fact that it fazed me not a whit makes me smile. I’d like to keep this attitude until the day I actually die. I’d like to be lying there and be able to say that I feel ok, I’ve had a good run, and that I danced a lot.

Might need to take dance lessons first though.