When I first head of the shooting at PULSE – a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL – where 49 people were killed dancing in the safety of their community, I felt nothing. I didn’t know if I was in shock or my lack of empathy was a result of living in a country where mass shootings are a part of life. I was in high school when Columbine happened, my sister was in elementary school when the Platte Canyon shooting occurred, I lived in Denver when James Holmes lost it, I visited the memorial at the Place de la République in France in 2016, the list goes on…
Yet, as a couple of days have passed, and I have helped my clients process their strong reactions to the murders, I considered that a part of my disconnect from the event may be in strong part due to denial or not wanting to accept that – as my biological mom said – “That could have been you and Asher dancing at Tracks in Denver.”
She’s right. It could have been me. I started dating trans people and people of the same gender when I was 28, my uncle is gay, and my mom transitioned from male to female two years ago.
Maybe I don’t want to think that a night of dancing could turn into death. Or like in France that going to a concert would kill me. However, the sad truth is that it is always on my mind. There isn’t a time when I walk into a movie theatre and think about a shooting, there isn’t a time when I attend University that I don’t think about what we would do if someone opened fire. There have even been times – nearly every time to be exact – that I consider dying at one of the gay bars/clubs that I seldom frequent when I feel the urge to cut loose.
I suppose my mentality is a result of growing up in the generation of mass shootings. I am saddened by the loss of life and the loss that the family members and friends are suffering just as I am saddened by the fact that my only response is to wonder when the next one will be.
When my partner asked me if I wanted to go to the candlelight vigil at Tracks in Denver, I said no. I said no because I was angry and in denial. I would have rather been protesting and rioting at the capital. I would have rather written a letter to support stricter gun control and postmarked it. I also did not want to get shot.
To try to tap into a deeper part of my grief, I decided to search for the victim’s pictures in order to humanize them instead of just labeling them as “more victims of mass shootings in America.” They deserve that. They deserve to be remembered as people – not statistics. They deserve to be remembered as brothers, sisters, mothers, friends, lovers, creators, and people brave enough to live their truth in regards to their sexuality in a society that has condemned them for too long. I couldn’t get through the first ten without crying. I now know that my initial response – or lack thereof – was most likely due to denial. I didn’t want to feel that pain. I didn’t want to think that it could have just as easily been me. I didn’t want to open myself up to feel the pain of the victims and their families – chosen and otherwise.
Here is a video about some of the people who died. One victim, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, sent his mother a text message while he was trapped in the bathroom at PULSE that read, “Mommy, I love you.”
We never know when our time will come. We never know from what or why. I didn’t need a reinforcement like this to remind me to appreciate my loved ones. It came anyway, as life – and death – often does.