When I woke up on Sunday morning with an uneasy feeling and checked Twitter to discover that over a hundred people had been killed or injured in a shooting at an Orlando gay club, I was horrified. But I wasn't surprised. We live in a culture in which politicians use legislation to make open war on LGBQT people, where religious officiants preach death to us from their pulpits, where casual homophobia and transphobia is effortlessly interwoven into the very fabric of society. For me, the question wasn't if a mass shooting targeting Latinx LGBQT people would happen, but when.
They call it "situational awareness."
I call it "I have far more reason to be afraid of you than you will ever have to be afraid of me."
I know I am not the only LGBQT person who walks into a venue and automatically notes the exits. Who drops my partner's hand and shifts to create a socially acceptable distance between us in certain areas of the city. Who lies in order to stay safe. Who tenses at the sound of certain dog whistles. Who sometimes dresses in "drag" not for fun or as an exploration of identity, but for the purpose of moving freely in public. Who remains hyper-vigilant while everyone around is laughing and enjoying themselves. Who has experienced, or witnessed, or intervened against acts of homophobic and/or transphobic violence. Who has been let down by self-proclaimed "allies" enough to believe that their words are worthless.
And I, unlike the vast majority of the victims (and perhaps all — we're still waiting for a full accounting) at Pulse, am white. The world will always be safer for me, and homophobia and transphobia directed at me will never come with the sharp edge of racism to drive it home.
What happened in Orlando last weekend was a profound illustration of how, when it comes to conversations about who should fear violence, it is the LGBQT community who should be concerned about the cis/straight community, not the other way around. And LGBQT people of color stand to lose the most of us all.
For the past several months, politicians have been ardently discriminating against my trans sisters, calling them "predators," creating an entirely fictional threat to stridently insist that they shouldn't be allowed to use women's bathrooms. According to a study from UCLA Law School's The Williams Institute, 75 percent of trans people report having experienced harassment in bathrooms, while zero percent of us have harassed people. Forcing transgender women — who already experience regular assaults from cisgender men — to use the wrong bathroom puts them in danger. That bathroom bills and the associated transphobic rhetoric are sweeping the country at the same time that this attack occurred is more than a coincidence.
"I just don't get it," a cis friend says, repeatedly deadnaming and misgendering me while other people in the restaurant turn to gawk and stare. Later, someone glares at me in the bathroom while I wash my hands, and I tense, feeling like the door is a million miles away. At a party, someone drunkenly hits on me, until his friend pulls him aside, whispers something in his ear, and he shoots a hostile glance at me as I shrink back into the crowd, looking for the friends I came with. I'm picking up a friend to take her to the airport, and her housemate leers at me and offers to show me his weapon collection in the basement. I decide to wait on the porch while she gets her luggage, even though it's pouring rain.
On MUNI, the two girls behind me make derisive comments, shifting closer and closer into my comfort zone until a gay man swoops in from somewhere behind me. "Girl, I haven't seen you in AGES!" he says, accompanying me off the bus at the next stop like we're the best of friends. We get a cup of tea and he presses his business card into my hand with a wink and a smile as we part ways, and I almost lose it over his kindness. The first time I came out as trans to a partner, it was a cis man, and his immediate response was to cringe away, saying "Wait, does this mean you used to be a man?"
In that instant, my fight-or-flight instinct took hold as I sized him up, wondering if I could fight him off long enough to escape and find help if I needed to. Ever since then, I've looked at every prospective partner that way. If you decide to assault me because I'm trans, I wonder, will I get out alive? And then I think to myself: What if you have a gun?
What if you have a gun? My first question about the potential compatibility of a match isn't about whether they like the same books and TV I do, or how they feel about children, or if they like cats. It's What if you have a gun?
These are the facts of life that many trans people live with. We have to meet a potential partner and wonder if they're going to kill us because of who we are. In a restroom, we have to wonder whether we'll be assaulted or allowed to do our business in peace. We'll have to wonder if a job will turn into a nightmare if we're outed. When we line up for fitting rooms, we feel a pit of uneasiness in our stomachs until the attendant waves us through, and then we fear that another customer will attack us for "being in the wrong dressing room." At the gym, we hide our bodies as much as possible while we change, worrying that someone will comment. At a straight bar, we know that the person casually chatting to us could just as easily brutalize us when they find out that we're trans. At the doctor's office, we brace ourselves for ignorant questions — in the ER, the triage nurse will likely spend more time on our gender than a broken limb. Walking down the street, we never know if someone's going to crudely catcall us from a passing car or throw something at us if they manage to clock us as trans or if we're obviously gender nonconforming. Leaving the house is dangerous, which may explain why we experience higher rates of anxiety and depression.
These risks are greatly exacerbated for my trans sisters, most particularly for women of color, who experience the dual brunt of transmisogyny — that would be the thing driving all those bathroom bills — and racism. It's a risk for drag queens such as Angelica Michelle Jones, Kenya Michaels, and Jasmine International, who were headlining at Pulse on Saturday night. It's a risk for the beautiful young queer people who were gunned down for having the audacity to dance and have fun with friends in a space that was supposed to be a sanctuary. The gay bar as a cultural institution is not just a place to drink, but a place to be yourself. We live in a country where laws and media often tell us that cis straight people's right to feel in control is more important than our right to be alive. Poisonous rhetoric acts in direct opposition to our safety, and people nod, smile, and tolerate it.
The same politicians who were taking to Twitter with cries of "prayer" were the ones who, like Paul Ryan, had voted down hate crime legislation. Ones who, like Mike Huckabee, called us "aberrant, unnatural, and sinful." Ones who, like Ted Cruz, supported pastors like Kevin Swanson, who has claimed that the Bible calls for the deaths of gay people. Ones who passed legislation that denies equal rights to LGBQT people, like the Defense of Marriage Act. Ones who, like North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, opposed the DOJ's efforts to protect LGBQT people. Ones who endorse "hate the sin, not the sinner."
To me, "hating the sin" means that you hate the sinner, because you are saying that our very identities are sins. You cannot in good conscience say that you find homosexuality abhorrent while also making mealymouthed platitudes about "innocents" gunned down in a gay club (with weapons that were able to be purchased due to legislation supported by a number of politicians who are now mourning for Orlando on Twitter). You cannot use laws and words to designate groups of people as less than human and then be surprised when people act violently toward the very groups you've been targeting.