Brighton Pride, the Orlando shooting, and the struggle that continues

orlandolgbt_1280x720Tomorrow is Brighton Pride 2016.  I wrote yesterday about some early memories of Pride when it was a political demonstration, not the celebration it is today.  And while it is a celebration, I would urge you to remember that oppression and atrocities are still being carried out.

Three days after the Orlando massacre on June 12th 2016, a colleague of mine at BHT, Hannah Maher, wrote the following which I said I would publish on my blog, and have waited for this moment to do so:

The past 72 hours have been a real emotional rollercoaster for me.

I’m standing in a wet muddy field with my oldest friend from primary school, the two of us surrounded by excited metal heads, all of us waiting in anticipation as we get ready to rock out to Iron Maiden. I’m cold, tired and sore from partying for the past three days, but none of this dampens my joy – it’s the final day of my number one favourite festival and the headline act is about to begin! I was pumped.

So you can imagine how surreal it was to hear Bruce Dickinson denounce the horrific acts of a madman who opened fire on the patrons of a gay club across the pond that very same day. This was the first I’d heard of the shooting in Orlando.

For some reason, his words hadn’t quite registered in my mind and I continued to head bang alongside my friend and everyone else in the crowd. Maybe I was in shock or unable to comprehend what had happened. The next day, I took a look at my Facebook feed and it was flooded with article after article, recounting the terrible tragedy in Florida. It still took a while for the news to sink in, but slowly it did and manifested itself within me in the form of silent tears rolling down my cheeks.

This isn’t the first time I’ve opened my Facebook to be met with the news of yet another member of the LGBT community being murdered for who they are. Depressingly I am accustomed to hearing all about the violence my community is regularly forced to endure. Some, if not most of my friends on Facebook will probably have noticed the continual string of shared articles I post regarding the senseless killings of transgender women of colour across the globe. I am used to the hate.

I was about 8 years old when I realised I was a boy. I knew I didn’t belong in the girl’s school I had been enrolled in, but I also knew I couldn’t attend the boy’s school just up the road. In addition, I had absolutely no knowledge of the existence of the LGBT community and didn’t know that it was possible for people born in the wrong body to be who they really are. So instead of telling anyone about how I felt, I stupidly decided to live the following 14 years in complete denial of who I am. In retrospect, I think this was a wise choice. I can remember when I was a young teenager seeing documentaries on the television about transgender people. The way they were depicted back then was awful. These people were presented as being weird, as freaks and as rejects from “ordinary” society. At the time I didn’t consciously agree or disagree with any of this information; I just allowed it to sink into my head and thus shape my previously warped understanding of gender. What I was fully aware of at the time was people’s unnecessary and unfounded hatred towards trans people, hence why I’m glad I made the decision not to disclose my gender to anyone.

At the age of about 15, I realised I was attracted to women as well as men. There was a rumour going around school that some of the girls were bisexual. I would overhear my fellow classmates describe this kind of behaviour as disgusting, with one girl in particular calling lesbian sex an “abomination”. I was fuming, but feared for my safety. I decided not to disclose my sexuality to anyone. I knew that there were other people out there in the world who were exactly like me, but I was trapped in a hostile environment that refused to accept and support kids like myself. In response to all this, I isolated myself from everyone and buried my head in my studies. Finishing school and escaping that place never felt so unbelievably liberating.

On my 21st birthday, I came out to my family, telling them that I am bisexual. I had already told most of my friends way before. I now identify as pansexual. Last year, I discovered the term genderfluid, which I now use to describe my gender and also realised that I can pick and choose my own pronouns (I use they). I also identify as transgender. I am open with absolutely everyone about all this.

In my brief life so far, I have encountered so many horrid things. I’ve been aggressed in the street by complete strangers for “looking gay”, received criticism for queuing to use the men’s toilets, had boyfriends tell me I can’t have male or female friends because I’m attracted to both, had lovers tell me they’ll break up with me if I transition, had people argue over my pronouns, been told I’m schizophrenic for being trans, had my gender described as being “complete bullshit”, been called greedy, selfish, confusing, weird…I’ve even been asked “why can’t you just be normal?”.

And you know what? I would absolutely love to be your idea of “normal”. I would love to not have to fear for my life every time I mention openly in public that I’m trans and attracted to people regardless of their gender. I would absolutely love to know what it’s like to be able to be myself without feeling like there might potentially be a target in the middle of my forehead that I’m totally unaware of. The number of times I’ve been in situations where I am sweating and looking for escape routes, just in case some homophobic and/or transphobic nutter might be next to me with a knife – it’s a stressful existence.

I live in Brighton, the gay capital of the UK, and it’s great. For years, I have attended various Pride events and gay clubs across the world. I have worked with the LGBT community, including young kids in schools. I consider myself an active member of my community and love the fact that I am able to easily surround myself with people who are just like me. I can be safe.

So when you hear about a group of innocent people dying at the hands of a homophobe in a gay club, that sense of safety is completely ripped away from you. If I can’t feel safe in an environment which is meant to be a haven for myself and my community, then where else am I meant to go? How do I escape this feeling that my life is constantly in potential danger?

I’m not a martyr. I’m not the way I am as some kind of political or humanitarian statement. I do not exist to be killed because of who I am. I am just me. Why should I be defiant towards such acts of violence? Why should I potentially put my life on the line for the sake of a gay club or Pride event? Does it not make more sense for me to hide under my bed and never leave the house? Or start telling everyone that it was all just a phase and that I’m actually a straight woman? And quit all the LGBT voluntary work I do? Why do I have to be the one who suffers?

For reasons unbeknown to me, equality is a hard thing to fully achieve. Peace and understanding seem to only be achievable via pain, death, blood. I am able to live the life I live now because of those who have fallen so people like me can exist peacefully and happily. So many people have done so much for us; I will not allow the acts of one lunatic to destroy all their hard work.

I have been crying for three days because I am scared.

But I have also been crying for three days because we are stronger than you can ever imagine.

Remember to always love yourself and those around you.

#iamOrlando

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