“Don’t you want to treat people how you want to be treated yourself?”
This Saturday was the first time I’ve had that question posed to me, in person, by a straight, white, cisgendered man. All words that are toted by said men — and others — as being “SJW” terms.
“It’s different,” I replied.
“How is it?”
In return, I took the Big Question to him. “How do you feel before you hold hands with your girlfriend?”
He looked at me with confusion. “I don’t know what you mean.”
I made sure Culture Club was playing at the party and said, “Exactly.”
In June of 2016, I was set in my ways. There was no limit for what I knew I was incapable of doing. Life had ended and there was no chance of getting the gay friends I’d always imagined. Those I’d known online, even, had since disappeared into the ether. If only that didn’t happen in real life.
In June of 2016, I was sat at home in the small suburbs of a small town known for a structure built 800 years ago. Small number, really.
“It saddens me that the biggest massacre in the states was against gay people. Don’t forget that.” I read this online, something to that effect.
“Weird,” I thought, wondering if they meant the arson attack at the UpStairs Lounge in the 70’s. I know these things. I’m obsessed with true crime and maintaining a sense of belonging in an insider’s world.
As a quick history (HIStory/HERstory/OURstory) lesson, the UpStairs Lounge fire happened in New Orleans at a gay club on the final weekend of Pride in 1973. A fucking hell of a lot of people lost their lives that night thanks to a disgruntled twat with a lighter. When I learned about it, I felt sick that I’d never heard, but then see if it was a fire at a straight bar — particularly then — not to be the disgruntled twat myself; I think we all know where I’m going with that…
“Weird,” I thought. There was an inkling inside of me to double check. Thirty was a big number.
In the early hours on the morning of the 12th June, 2016, we lost 50 of our brothers, sisters, and ourselves at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I can’t speak for every queer person on the planet, but hearing about the shooting finally made a lot of us feel things like 7/7 hadn’t: in a different time and a different place, that could have been me. I’d never been lucky enough at that point to feel the sense of belonging I would over the next year, and yet still, I knew — we knew — it could’ve been us.
See, I was 17/18 when I realized I was gay. Okay, I was 17/18 when I “came out”, as it were. I’d like to thank the Academy and Angelina Jolie for awakening it in me. Though, I suspect that story might be a common one. Angelina Jolie was the first actress I’d loved who spoke openly about her love of women. By extension, to my adolescent cling-to-anything-I-feel-relation-to mind, that meant it was okay for me to like women too.
“After Angelina,” you could call it in an autobiography about me that’s probably going to be boring until you get to the latter years. Just to be weird, you know, that’s my lot in life. Then there was the L Word: a show exclusively about women who liked women. In place of the token gay guy friend to the wacky, twee, unlucky in love straight girl, there was a token straight. With the L Word, I saw a life I would love, but also one I wasn’t aware existed.
In June of 2016, I’m stuck reading. I thought I was desensitised, hate to admit. (Maybe not hate). I was long out of school, dropped out of college, never had kids. Pretty luckily, surprisingly, and entirely down to my heavily Stepford-goes-Coronation Street surroundings, had never been in a space for that to happen to me. Not to my people. With my people. Then came Pulse. My people, our space.
I’d never been to a queer bar.
In June of 2016, my life was still. Not only did I owe it to those who lost their lives on Latin night at their favourite bar that let them be themselves, I owed it to myself.
We as queer people are so different from one another. I think that’s why I identify so comfortably as that, as queer. Not one lesbian is the same as any other lesbian, not one trans person is the same as any other; not one gay man, one bisexual, one human.
Don’t you want to treat people how you want to be treated yourself?
Let’s mention the first time I went into a “regular” bar by myself. I was 17. My friend was working behind the bar and so we had free drinks on their tab. Two builders were sitting beside me, fresh out of work, talking about each other’s wives. They kept moving closer, the drunker I was getting. They hit on me. I wasn’t what anyone would class as attractive at the time. Overweight, oily teenage skin. In retrospect, it occurs to me how wrong and calculated that was of them. At the time, it just felt plain bad.
You know what’s funny is a lot of straight-identifying cis men and women both make passing comments about going to a gay bar and either making sure they don’t bend down or that lesbians just love them, but that’s so far from the truth that I don’t have the time to tell them how wrong it is. Or that they’re in our space and maybe we are there to hook up, maybe not, but being attracted to x gender doesn’t mean every person of that gender is attractive to us.
Believe me, I like entertaining the idea that my experiences at pubs and bars in the past have just been me being too cocky but I don’t have the time to tell myself how wrong that is.
In August 2016, I went to my first queer bar. I have never been more comfortable (not true, I’m even more comfortable in another queer bar I’ve found since, but for the sake of the story). I can still mark it as being the beginning of everything.
Sure, I might’ve missed out with my 20’s being othered by myself, but looking back from now to Pulse, to everything, my life has been thrust forth into itself. I am myself. I’m the myself I’ve always been, but in a queer space, there’s nowhere on earth that I feel more comfortable.
In July 2017, I marched with Stonewall at London Pride. I suggest, if you’re not familiar with the Stonewall riots, you do some reading. Standing with my Queers, my Others, my Outsiders, my Family, marching together for those that have came before us and those that will come after. I did all of this because I felt comfortable.
My friend put it best when preparing me for the march down Oxford Street. Every time you’ve ever been made fun of or bullied or beaten for being different, every time you’ve been gawked or stared or leered at; whenever you’ve been frightened of being yourself because you’re yourself. All of that combined, to walk with your head held high on an empty street, even IF you were leered at or stared at or gawked at on the way there– for a few hours, the world got to be our queer space.
What needs to be realised is that people like me, we have to navigate a world that isn’t our queer space. Every day. Except for in our bars, our pubs, our cafés and our dancefloors. And so if it’s to get laid, to dance, to drink or to laugh, they are our worlds that always are.