I apologize in advance, as this post is not necessarily reflective of our journey to becoming parents. But a story I feel compelled to share.
There came a time in my life when I was tired. I was tired of lying. I was tired of hiding my authentic self. I felt alone and isolated with no where or anyone to turn to. I’m sure there are many in the LGBTQ+ community that understand what I’m talking about. That feeling that keeps us up at night. The one that eats at us every day. The closet we never wanted to be in. Hopeless, in a world that tells us we are not worthy of sharing our love, that we are predators, that we are sick, gross or going to Hell. A world where we see members of our community being murdered, beaten up or kicked out of a bathroom. We just have to pee.
In the wee hours of night, when I was a freshly out nineteen year old. I found myself searching the internet, way back when dial-up was still a thing. It was late in the evening my parents had been in bed for a few hours. I clicked away trying to find something or someone to connect with. I searched the word: Gay. A popular website dedicated to a gay men’s chat room popped up. It asked for a username (no registration needed back then) “A username?”, I thought. I tried typing in my name: Bobby. Sorry that username has already been taken. I was eating a candy bar and drinking a soda so I put the two together and, Bingo! I was in. Popped up in the chat window , the green screen staring back at me, doing nothing. There were a few Hi’s, How are you’s, a/s/l (age/sex/location, for the young’ens), a bit boring if you ask me. Now I know what your thinking, clutching your pearls, aghast! “Why, Bobby you know those sites are used for hooking up?” Yeah, I know, but come on I’m a bit more classy than you’re giving me credit for. Besides, the whole chat room thing was new to us all. It was through these chat rooms I learned of a “Gay Dance Night” yes, that is what it was called. Growing up in small snowy town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I wasn’t afforded many options. And it was in Canada where I could legally drink and just a bridge away.
I had started coming out to my family and friends at this point. Everyone knew and didn’t quite know what to do. To their credit, they were supportive, I was most certainly loved. But they just didn’t get it. They didn’t know the reality I faced every day. The hatred glared at me on every corner. They didn’t see it, how could they, they never experienced it like I did. I still felt alone, though I was surrounded by people who truly loved me. They still do. They get it more now. There was still this empty space inside. A lack of something, I just didn’t know what. Something was missing.
I stood outside the entrance to a small bar with an obscure name, nervously smoking a cigarette. I paced back and forth for ten minutes only then to walk around the block. I wore a much too tight black shirt with some kind of beaded necklace hugging my neck and an over-sized jacket that draped my shoulders. My impeccable fashion sense came way later. I watched as a small group of men approached from across the street, laughing and hugging as they entered the side door. I put out my cigarette and in my head said “Fuck it” and I opened the door.
I found myself at the corner of the bar ordering a beer and scanning the room. There were a few colorful flashing lights and a small disco ball twirling on the ceiling. The smoke created a hazy glow in the otherwise dark bar. Small groups of people gathered around the tables and there was more laughter and hugging. I smiled. Then a stocky woman with cute dark rimmed glasses and short haircut put her arm around me.
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
“Um, should I?” I responded, shyly.
“I used to sell you cigarettes at the gas station off the main drag. Remember? You were just a young pup, I just knew you’d come out.” She laughed. “Come on over here.”
I was led to a table with a few other people. They welcomed me with open arms. I was then laughing with them, the cool kids I saw walking into this bar just a few moments earlier. We danced. We laughed some more. It was that instance I found my chosen family, the friends that would last a lifetime. They’re the type of people that no matter how far apart for any length of time, we pick up right where we left off. There were no limits, no judging, no restraints to our friendship. We could talk freely about our sex lives, we had the same interests, same sense of guard when in a public space, we belonged with one another.
We found ourselves at this “Gay Dance Night” every second Saturday and then every weekend due to the popularity it gained for a few brief years. We danced. We loved to dance. We laughed. We hugged. It was a safe haven. It was a place we could be open and free to be ourselves without persecution. Without the hateful glances or slurs. Without the fear of being jumped or worst of all murdered. We could just be, for a few hours on an oftentimes below zero cold night, we could hold hands and just be.
It was when I could start to truly be myself. When I proverbially came out of my shell. It was when I found my community. For many of us, a gay bar is the only place we can go to truly be ourselves, to live authentically without apology without fear. To dance until our little hearts desire. To laugh uncontrollably with the friends that become family. The ones that stand by you in times of need. The people who you turn to when your heart breaks. The ones who show up, time and time again. It is there, within a dark bar we find a home.
Thoughts of “It could’ve been me.”, have been swirling around my head since I first heard about Orlando. Because, it could have been. In my early days of being, I was the cute twink with too tight shirts and poorly plucked eyebrows dancing on a box. I would have tried to get to the club early to get good seats to the show. I loved (and still do) a good performance and made sure I had enough ones to tip. We didn’t have social media back then, but I can imagine I would be “checking-in” and posting: Get here, shows about to start. I’m still not sure about this whole Snapchat thing. If I lived in Orlando and I was in my twenties, I would have been there. They are me and I am them.
I suppose this is why the news hit me so hard. I’ve been through a range of emotions and back again. I’m mobilizing my professional work to take action and have been keeping preoccupied with the momentum of my job, it helps. It’s how I cope. When I am alone with my thoughts, the voice comes back “It could’ve been me” and the ugly cry returns. I cry for them. I cry for their loved ones. I cry for the hurt and the pain we are all feeling. I cry for me. I’m processing and that’s okay. At the end of it all, I know in my heart that we will come together as a community, it’s already happening. Around the world are rainbows displayed everywhere, did you ever think you’d see the day? Asking for a friend.
The silver lining to every dark cloud is the out-pour of love and support we are seeing. I know we need to do more and I just want to savor this moment. Right now at 1:41 a.m. When I actually can’t do much but process while I write. This moment I appreciate.
I will not let this stop me. They will never scare me back into that ugly closet. They will never extinguish my flame. They will never take away my authentic self. My rainbow heart shines brighter than their darkness.
<Stay tuned for more updates on our family journey>