I am a Floridian. My relationship with my home state is bittersweet. I’ve lived long enough to see it change dramatically, to watch the population more than double. On one hand, development has obliterated the salty old boat culture I grew up with. On the other hand, there are pockets of progressivism and new ideas that weren’t even discussed when I was younger.
Even so, the final three years I spent in Florida were some of the hardest of my life. The northwest end of the Panhandle is a rough place to face a gender implosion and mounting dysphoria. When I escaped the prejudice and bigotry of my hometown and moved to New Orleans in 2015, I vowed never to live in that state again.
So yeah. When the Pulse massacre happened, I admit I felt guilt.
Those people — the victims and the survivors — were trying to live as their queer selves. I’d spent most of my years in Florida hiding who I was, to be safe, to appear as a woman my age and build a life others would call normal. I supported gay and trans rights, of course, but I wasn’t out as anything, even to myself.
And now there I was, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, safer than I’d ever been before. Still acting like I had all the time in the world to figure my shit out. Like it was a game.
They died. And I hadn’t.
The moment I heard, I knew I needed to extract myself from the halfhearted attempt at self-discovery I’d languished into. I knew instinctively that queerness, my queerness, was the key to the lock on my puzzling life. And that it was also the core of some fight I needed to join.
I’d come to New Orleans to to save myself from the strange soul-death I’d felt creeping over me those last years in Florida.
But it’s all too easy to get a little comfort, a bit of safety, and let the hard work slide.
The day of the Pulse massacre, I spent my lunch break at the gay pride shop in the French Quarter and bought myself a braided rainbow bracelet. I was shaking as I put it on. So many fears piled onto me: Would I be bashed, verbally or otherwise, by a customer in our shop? Would people think I was just an idiot straight girl jumping on a tragedy bandwagon? Am I accidentally misrepresenting myself as a lesbian?
Do I have any right to be wearing this?
Am I going to survive?
Two weeks later, I untied the bow attaching that rainbow bracelet, and retied it in a firm knot.
Two months later, I made my first appointment for gender transition therapy.
And now it’s two years later. This morning, I said their names, the queer angels that died that night in Florida. It’s because of them that I have the future I now look forward to. I wish they could be here, sharing it. For them, I’ll dance.