I’d seen the news break as I moved from the couch to my bedroom early that Sunday morning. Half here, half there, I don’t remember exactly what I’d read. A shooting. A nightclub. Orlando. Then I drifted off to sleep again, an echo of a long ago Tuesday. I don’t remember exactly what I was feeling the next morning, either, as I sat watching the news, the scope of their horror unfathomable. Everything, maybe. My chest tightened and tears welled in my eyes. Anger. And sorrow. Rage. Numbness on the edge. I had no choice but to hold it together. I had to be at work at twelve-thirty.
Long Beach Pride, The Executive Suite. Nineteen and newly out, spur of the moment at a house party, it had been Lisa’s idea. The girlfriend of one of my coworkers at the local Olive Garden. She was a few years older than I was and so fucking smooth. Confident. Direct. Latina. And so fucking smart. Pretty sure she already had her masters by then. Walking up to the club that night,
“Let me do the talking.”
And then we were in. Then elation. From that feeling of freedom of finally existing in a space, without pretense. All of us there so very different — older, younger, darker, lighter; but, the same — shaped by our former closets, the longing, desire, the proverbial pink cloud of being out. The club was dark and new, incredibly sexy — beautiful faces melted out of the dark by flashing club lights. Kids and candy, all of us out on the scope. I’d spotted a girl dance off to the side of the dancefloor, sipping a red drink in a bucket glass.
She wore ripped 501s, motorcycle boots, and a vintage tee. I got my style from her a bit and I remain grateful to her for that. I call her Susannahbil Lecter now, though. I’m sure you can imagine how that relationship turned out. But if I walked into a gay bar right now, took a seat, and told this story to someone, more likely than not the person behind the ear would have a Susannahbil Lecter story of their own. It’s just the beautiful way of things, a thread in the fabric of our community, of who we are.
The night I turned twenty-one it was Girl Bar in L.A. I sat in the dark next to Susannah on the steps of the building next door to the club, talking in hushed tones as she scooped powder with the little spoon at the end of the vial. My first hit of speed on my first legal night out. Friday nights were at The Factory in WeHo. House music thumped the factory window glass as we waited in line, girls chattering around us. Then a walk up the stairs, enclosed hallway lit purple, lifting us up into another Land. That place was magical.
Or The Palms, the run-down lesbian bar on Santa Monica, another haunt. It was a good long walk from the end of the strip, this dingy white building across from where the Abbey used to be. I started off going on Wednesdays, for dollar drink night. Cheap drinks and the cutest girls, then on off nights to shoot pool. One of the DJs took me under her wing, first at the table, then at the decks, she taught me how to shoot and spin. Emily Black. She shot a wicked game and managed the place a couple of nights a week, too. Soon enough I’d be playing tournament in the L.A. bar league and spinning records there.
Debauchery and community. It was in a bar where I first heard the story of Stonewall, our history. It was in a bar where I’d found gentle encouragement from an older lesbian, a woman I’d never met before, after having confessed what a train wreck my life was at the age of twenty-three. It was Girl Bar that didn’t allow straight men or couples in so we could have our own space, free from harassment and hetero cruising for threesomes. It was The Palms that held Thanksgiving Dinner every year for those far from their families. It was in bars where I’d meet friends and lovers, my Lost Boys in Neverland. Nightclubs were my second star to the right out of the suburbs.
They are our cathedrals to the body, to our freedom, to the collective us, the shared experience that binds us together, and to love. It is in bars where we form our families in our own image, it was in a bar where our elders liberated themselves, and it was in bars where our community first organized.
It’s been heartening, seeing the love that’s been shown — the lines of Orlandans, waiting in line to give blood, the vigils held in solidarity around the world, the displays of solidarity and love for our Pulse family at Pride. I still don’t know what I’m feeling, though. Everything, maybe, the sort of everything that feels empty and heavy at the same time. Empty, by their absence; heavy with the weight of anger. And sorrow. Rage.
I was talking today with a friend and I mentioned looking forward to Pride. She grimaced,
“I don’t know. There’s part of me that worries about a copycat. I have other friends going, too. Just be careful.”
If there is a time to celebrate our bodies, our freedom, the collective us, the shared experience that binds us together, and our love. It is now
“It’s not more safe here than anywhere else… And — this is very morbid — but if I’m going to get shot, I’d rather be here with my friends at a place that I can call home.” Darius Jones, at the Savoy, an LGBT nightclub; Orlando, Florida.