Saturday night, June 11, 2016, I celebrated PRIDE in my home city of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Alex and Max were with me as we watched RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 contestant, Thorgy Thor, take the stage. She bounded on stage with such an effervescent energy! Her lip syncing was so precise. She was so present and was quick to engage the crowd. While singing “the children are our future” from a Whitney Houston mash-up, she lifted a child out of the audience and onto the catwalk. She cradled this 6 or 7 year old black girl who was having the time of her life. No movement was wasted. Every kick, mannerism, and flip were perfectly choreographed. As much drag as I have watched, I have never seen anyone as good as her in person. I couldn’t get enough!
The whole weekend was a hit. Tons of people came out to dance, meet friends, and see drag queens. Even a local public middle school choir sang Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” For a couple of days, all seemed right with the world. Families, couples, gay, straight, transgender, all races, all different economic backgrounds, young and old came to this safe space to be who they are and know that it is okay. There was such love and diversity. I looked at some of the younger people and wonder how my life would have been different if I would have felt as empowered as they are to be themselves at an earlier age.
When I went to bed Saturday night, I was content and exhausted. I passed out with a smile on my face. I slept in late on Sunday. It was early afternoon before I walked downstairs and tried to make myself some breakfast. Immediately, my brother-in-law came to me and asked what I felt about some mass shooting. I didn’t know what he was referring to. Walking into the living room, my father had the television on CNN and I quickly became aware of a proud LGTBQIA community getting mowed down in their safe space.
As the 24 hour mainstream news media went crazy, I just felt physically ill. Phrases like “the worst mass shooting in American history,” “ISIS loving terrorist,” and “radical Islam” were thrown around with ease. Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we have had to deal with two tragedies in the last couple of months that made the national news: A random mass shooting perpetrated by an Uber driver that went off the deep end, and the mowing down of 5 bicyclists by some guy in a pick-up truck for no reason. Our community has prayed, given thousands of dollars to the victims, held candle light vigils, and even held a bike ride with over 800 bicyclists to take back our roads. Now this?
I know Islam is a peaceful religion. I know that, like any other religion, there are people that are extremists. What I hate is that there is this push for people to think Muslims are less than human. In the 80s, we hated Sandinistas and Communists. During World War II, German communities were suspect and Japanese Americans were imprisoned. Look at everything they tried to pass on Mexicans…as if they are rapists, drug dealers, and job stealers. This wave of hatred has never served to make our world more peaceful. It has just made it more difficult to understand each other and have real meaningful conversations about how we can live together more peacefully.
Nonetheless, one-by-one Republican politicians came on the screen to tell me how afraid I should be of these foreign Islamic radicals. No one is safe! Trump asked to be congratulated on his horrible ideas for throwing out all Muslims, or at least monitor their every move for no other reason than they practice this religion or might have had family origins in the Middle East. Then came all the false prayers and well wishes that these Republican politicians wanted to extend to the victims. Some of them could not even acknowledge that the victims were primarily gay.
Of course, that is difficult when you have spent your entire political career spewing hatred to this special population of people. When you were threatened by their relationships, you did everything you could to block them from ruining the definition of “traditional marriage.” You encouraged parents to abandon their gay children. You didn’t protect them from bullying, so several of them committed suicide. You tried to convince people that a transgender person using the bathroom that matched their gender identity would end in child molestation or assault and abuse against women. You equated being gay with being sick in mind, perverted. You carted us off to jail for being lewd and indecent, or you sent us away to be “cured” with prayer. All along, you toted religious liberty. Nothing should get in the way of your sincerely held religious beliefs or ability to practice your faith…as long as you were a Christian Conservative. It definitely didn’t cross over to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, etc.
Having the Supreme Court rule in favor of gay marriage was a huge milestone. It gave us hope that things were really changing. It helped millions of us come out of the closet because we finally acknowledged that we need to be who we are. But this attack, the aftermath, the proverbial news spin just reminds us how unprotected we really are and how being ourselves still takes an act of great courage.
Recent reports have acknowledged that the perpetrator had been to Pulse several times before he came back for blood. He had connected with people on gay apps. It is not a huge stretch to realize that the cause of this might have nearly nothing to do with “Islamic Terrorism.” The shooter came from a strict religious upbringing, with a father who would rather acknowledge his son as a terrorist than a faggot. I can imagine that if this gunmen did know he was attracted to men, and never felt he would ever be free enough to love who he wanted to love, that his life must have been hell. He went to this club several times. He saw these same-sex, loving couples having the time of their lives. I can only imagine the rage he must have felt. Still, in his plan to take his life and others, he still couldn’t accept the truth. He had to make sure to call 911 to let him know that he was a “terrorist” to cover it up.
In coming to terms with being queer, there is a point where everyone feels a little homophobic. It is where you have to deprogram your mind from all the things that you are supposed to be in order to sort out what you really want to be. It is so much better when you have loving supportive friends and family to help you work through it. So many people don’t. That is why you see politicians, religious officials, and “upstanding” citizens get caught up in gay sex scandals. Most often, these are the same people who draw up the most scathing and destructive rebukes of homosexuals. One wonders if this is to just create a diversion so people do not question their sexual identity.
There is also something to be said about the ability to purchase a semi-automatic weapon of war within 30 minutes. It is completely legal in the United States. The gun manufacturer is guaranteed more protection under the law than the victims. Countless mass shootings continue to occur, and our representatives don’t lift a finger. What are they doing in Congress?
The frustration is palpable. RuPaul’s girls have been very vocal on social media about the friends and the lives they knew who were killed. They knew that nightclub. Two of the girls even performed there that night and managed to get out before it started. In an interview this week, RuPaul said, “This is a huge wake-up call for us on so many levels, there needs to be a shift in our collective consciousness.”
So, what do we do? Do we just sit around and keep bitching about it, hoping that our prayers are enough? I say, enough is enough. It is time to take some action. It is time to speak up. Just this morning, I personally contacted my local Congressional representatives. You can call or write them, and I will put the link to do so at the end of this post. It took 15 minutes, tops. Next, I wrote a letter to my local newspaper. Simple. Quick. Done.
The next thing I think needs to be done is to reclaim our safe spaces and be out and proud. My girl LyKra, Alex’s alter ego, entered a Drag Battle at a local gay bar. We have only just begun to take our drag out in public. It started just a month ago. We began going to a local Open Drag night. LyKra was well received. She has gotten several offers to perform more. Alex and Max are making costumes out of anything we can find, on a budget of nearly nothing.
I have a new appreciation for gay bars after this weekend. Anyone who walked in and paid that $3 cover was taking a silent stand that we wouldn’t let fear keep us from enjoying and being ourselves. Our reward was one of the best local drag shows I think I have ever seen. The theme was 80s, and LyKra killed the runway in an interpretation of Sigourney Weaver’s Zuul from Ghostbusters. The costume featured a Stay-Puff Marshmallow purse. For the talent portion, LyKra was dressed as Thundercat’s Cheetara performing Patty Smyth’s “The Warrior.” She did baton work with Cheetara’s staff and paused in the middle to recite Jane Fonda’s “warning to consult your doctor before working out” message from her 80s workout tapes. The audience lost it.
At the end of the night, LyKra took second to a queen who had mashed a chocolate cake in her face while she lip synced Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” For the final battle, the six contestants had to pull a card out of a bowl. The two with “battle” written on the card had to lip sync to Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts.” When the two girls with the battle card were asked to come forward, LyKra was one of them.
I became extremely nervous. I kept yelling, “Oh, my God,” and grabbing Max’s shoulder. I was confident in LyKra’s abilities, but my heart pumped a mile a minute. I had nothing to worry about. LyKra, and her 400 lbs of gloriousness, killed it! The other queen kept looking at her and trying to copy what she was doing. LyKra didn’t miss any beat, she crawled on the floor, she danced up a storm, and in the end the audience couldn’t help but show their appreciation.
So, keep doing you. That is the best way to get over these senseless acts of negativity. Share your voice. Share your gifts. Be yourself. Spreading the light of love is fun and is the best way to confront darkness.