Like most everyone else, I’m just a little numb, you guys. The numbness that comes after seeing this happen again, and again, and again again again. AGAIN.
And words fail. There’s really nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. I’d rather sit down and listen to the words of LGBT folks who have lived this shit, and the words of the loved ones of the victims in Orlando, who are in the throes of a grief I can’t imagine. It’s their words I want to hear, not my own.
Because I’m just repeating the same things ad nauseum we’ve all been repeating for years now. It seems like we’ve been on a downward spiral since Columbine, which took place when I was a teenager and still in high school myself. Maybe it’s just because I was impressionable then, and that stood out to me, but it seemed like the beginning of the end.
So I’ve really got nothing to say. No useless, insulting “thoughts and prayers” to offer. No new insights. No solutions that won’t be shot down (pun intended) by conservative gun nuts.
Instead, I’m just going to tell a short little story about a teenage girl. A teenage girl growing up weird on the outskirts of Athens, GA. A girl who was tall and gangly and a little bit strange, a little bit of a loner, and a little bit damaged. A girl who was misunderstood and awkward and not quite ready to be as grown up as her peers. A girl who was more comfortable with her nose in a book or writing shitty poetry in a binder than she was at parties. A girl who was old enough to date but not really ready to. A girl who had a lot of pain to work through, but no coping skills or idea of how to do it.
This girl had no outlet for a long time, other than the aforementioned shitty poetry. She hadn’t yet discovered the joy of cycling or baking or listening to Neutral Milk Hotel for those angsty days. She felt lost, unmoored, unloved. She felt friendless, alone.
This girl felt the same thing a lot of teenagers feel; her story was by no means unique. The teen years are notoriously full of angst and resentment. That doesn’t discount the emotions, though. They were, and are, very real. This girl, like many other girls and boys her age, often thought about ending it all.
Upon turning eighteen, the girl was able to reconnect with a side of her family she had been kept from for many years. Among them was a cousin, not much older than her, who was a bouncer at a bar. The two of them became close, and he brought her to work one night. The bar was called Boneshakers. It was the only gay bar in town, and it featured your usual karaoke nights and flirty neon colored drinks, and the best drag show in the universe (Pebbles!). It was dark and a little bit seedy; nothing fancy. It didn’t need that. Outside was a little fenced in courtyard where people milled around and the girl never forgot the night a blue-eyed guy named Adam playfully pushed her up against the fence and kissed her lightly on the lips.
Over the next few years she attended multiple drag shows, dance parties, sang karaoke with her girlfriends, met a guy who she dated for a while, and even left her senior prom early to go to the bar instead. Boneshakers became her haven, a place where she could dance to Pet Shop Boys and VAST, maybe rub shoulders with Fred from the B52’s, and be as noticed or unnoticed as she wanted.
One night several friends from Boneshakers came to a party the girl had. Two of her friends from the bar kept vigil over her as she slept, because she had drunk too much and they saw another guy hovering around, ready to take advantage. They kept her safe.
At the time the girl had no real concept of gender fluidity and didn’t consider herself anything but straight. She was young, ignorant, and awkward. But the family at Boneshakers accepted her easily and effortlessly. She was welcomed, even celebrated. For a group who had long been maligned, marginalized and discriminated against to find the generosity of spirit to welcome a stupid, geeky teenage girl into their family without question is something to marvel at indeed.
And that wasn’t just my experience (I’m the girl in the story, in case you hadn’t figured that out). In talking to my friends, I’ve discovered that many of us – no, MOST of us – either found a safe space at Boneshakers or other LGBT bars where we were welcomed as family and given a haven to find ourselves, to learn to celebrate ourselves.
That is a gift. I see that especially now, as a grown woman who is a little bit queer. And as a parent.
Boneshakers has been gone for many years, a fact which still pains me. That our beloved town has no LGBT bar is a disgrace, and I’ll never stop wishing I can just jump in my black camaro and hit up Bones for some karaoke. Never once did I feel unsafe there, never did I worry about being followed to my car, of being assaulted, of having something put in my drink. I was taken care of, respected. I miss the people I met there, many of whom are scattered across the country now, and I miss who I was then. I miss who my friends were – after all, some of the people who used to find Boneshakers a haven are now the same people who preach against gay people on their Facebook feeds.
Most of all, I miss the deep sense of community and acceptance that I found there, that I’ve never seen in such enormity anywhere else. It was lightning in a bottle.
The awkward, nerdy girls in all of us owe it to our LGBT peers, those who have always shown us acceptance and grace, to stand up for them now. For the Chadds and the Terrys and the Adams and the Mary Janes and the Jessies. We must stand up. They opened their arms to us when we needed it, and we must open ours to them now. All the while fighting for a country and a world where they are safe.