Breaking the Silence

I’ve been silent for months. I know. I’ve just been really needing me time. Time for me. I haven’t reached that place, but I had to break the silence because Orlando is really heavy on my heart. This is long, it’s rambly. I’m not really editing as I go. I apologize in advance, because I just have to get this out.

June 12th is an emotional day for me every year. Every year, I wake up that morning and innately know what day it is. I can go days and months without thinking about what it means to be June 12th which each passing year, but on that morning – every year, I remember it.

Let’s back up a bit…. It’s relevant I promise.

I was in college in 2002; freshman year. The first person I met was Katy. Honestly, the first words out of her mouth was “Hey you want to go get some food?” And with that, we were bonded. I was the shy kid moving from my small town and living in the dorm, on my own for the first time ever. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know anyone. That’s how I make friends. People literally force themselves on me. I’m starting to see a pattern.

Anyway, we were inseparable. The first few weeks in my college life, I was taking a “Diversity Class” and it would discuss all sorts of diversity issues. I was from a small town. I didn’t know what it meant to be gay. I didn’t know a gay person (I actually knew quite a few and had no idea!). I was a born again Christian. Katy and I had the same Diversity professor, but different time slots.

So, we had the same assignment. Write an autobiography about yourself. The twist? We had to write about our beliefs on very controversial things and also write about what in your life shaped that belief. I think I still have the paper I wrote on it, through the lenses of a completely different life perspective than I have now. Anyway, I’m remembering that the questions were things like “How do you identify religiously?” “What in your life made you come to this belief? And the big one “How do you feel about homosexuality?” And “Why do you feel the way you do about this?”

I’ve always been an open book. Basically, I was even more of an open book, more blunt and less tactful back then. So, I was completely honest in my paper. My professor was stating we wouldn’t be sharing them or reading them in class. So why not. Katy and I decided to swap papers to proofread and we were so close, I didn’t really care because she knew everything about me already. (Except that these are subjects you don’t just conversate about, so she didn’t really).

We swapped papers and went to our respective rooms to read them. I read all about her Catholic upbringing, her Catholic high school. Katy was the typical sorority girl/tomboy on the outside. It got to the part about us answering the questions and how we identify and believe in things. This is when I learned that Katy was gay. I had no idea. I was shocked.

My first reaction was “She doesn’t look gay… She doesn’t act gay.” Don’t ask me what I thought looking or acting gay meant. I have no idea.

Now. Ask me what my very best friend was reading in my paper? Yea. It was that bad.

I wish that I could find the paper and write it out word for word, but basically it was “God is the one true God. The Bible believes that homosexuality is wrong and so I do as well.” Lots of very frank ideas of what I thought was going to happen to a gay person if they didn’t repent and they can choose not to be gay.

FACEPALM. Right? I know. In my defense, (and it’s flimsy at best) I was brainwashed by church and I wasn’t taught to think for myself growing up.

I hadn’t known Katy that long. But, I can say that I was connected to her in a way that hasn’t been matched before or since. I knew KATY. I didn’t know KATY the GAY GIRL. This is how she came out to me. And I immediately felt ignorant and so unbelievably awful. We actually came together that night and she was pretty concerned about my reaction, obviously.

But I instantly knew I loved her. At that moment, it hit me, she was a person. And God was about love there’s no way He didn’t love Katy. And it pretty much started the descent into non-belief for me. We sat up for hours in the common room and in her dorm room and talked about all of it.

Life went on like normal. I was friends with a gay girl. I didn’t know what that meant and it was only a part of her. She wasn’t gay, it was just a piece of who she was. I never looked at her as a gay girl. She was just Katy to me. Which looking back on, I felt astonished that I would ever think it was a person’s whole identity.

She took me to her hometown and I met her girlfriend at the time. I was uncomfortable and it was weird. I remember when we got out of her car at the coffee shop to meet her girlfriend and she shook her redhead as she laughed at me and said, “You ready to go get some gay coffee??” I was terrified.

To this day, I have no idea why I was that terrified to meet another human being. Another girl my age and she’s just another girl. We were all girls and Katy was my best friend. I loved her so much and there wasn’t any reason to be terrified. Of course, by the time we sat down with Kellie and we all got to hang out – the details are fuzzy – but I was instantly comfortable.

Here’s where it gets complicated. This is when I fucked stuff up. So, I was dating a guy at the time, who the day after Valentine’s Day broke up with me, by coming out to me. We were pretty serious, and then boom, “I am attracted to dudes, but we can still be friends.” When he came out to me, he and Katy started hanging out more together. I felt left out.

I started to get jealous of their relationship and I began to realize that maybe this dating girls things is an option for me. I didn’t even know that was an option I signed up for a dating site. A gay one. Hah. I didn’t put a picture up though, because I didn’t know how to this was going to go.

In the midst of this, a few of our mutual friends called me in my dorm and asked me a very direct question.

“Is Katy Gay?” One of the girls was her roommate. I didn’t know what to say. I knew how I felt about someone being gay before I found out that I could like gay people. I was afraid of answering that question, but I wasn’t prepared. I knew it was wrong to discuss with someone else, it wasn’t my right. I knew it felt wrong to talk about it at all. But, I didn’t know the full extent of “coming out” or in this case “outing someone” as gay. I had no idea the entire world of fear and discrimination at that time. I was naive and I had no idea.

Instead, I said, “That’s not a question you should ask me, why not ask her yourself?” I figured, it wasn’t my place to say anything. But of course, the instant they words came out of my mouth, I knew I confirmed their suspicions. I didn’t have to agree or confirm. They assumed based on my non-answer.

What happened from that point and the next week or so, is a blur and I don’t really remember if I told Katy about the exchange (in my mind, I like to think I did. I don’t really remember). The next thing I remember, she’s coming down the hallway to confront me with the two girls who originally called me. They had told her that I told them she was gay. She was pissed. She was livid that I would out her to basically our entire social circle at the time.

I didn’t blame her. I didn’t do it on purpose and now I still believe she had a reason to be pissed at me. I fucked it up. My ignorance allowed me to hurt someone very close to me. She refused to speak to me for the remainder of our freshman year. The last two months of my freshman year was lonely. I spent a lot of time online and feeling out the gay site online. I was IM’ing when that was a real thing and by the end of April, I was connected with Kim and that’s where we started.

I remember hearing in the rumor mill; Katy was very pissed that I was faking being gay and I was dating a girl for kicks. She told anyone she could that I was a fake, that I hated gay people and it was just a phase. I was just out to hurt another gay person. While she never actually spoke to me again, and I have no way to confirm if this is true, I was devastated that she felt that way about me. And she was totally within her right to be pissed.

Anyway, end of May, I headed home for summer. I didn’t get to say goodbye, I had tried to IM Katy, several times – I had tried to get her to talk to me, to see my side of the story or at least allow me to apologize. I sent her a message on her birthday, I don’t know if she ever read my email or if she just saw my name and deleted it. She stonewalled me. With good reason.

I was visiting Kim’s family and we had gone to a large theme park for the day. This was before I had a cell phone. When we got back to the house, I had a message from several people, my grandma had been calling me all day. She was calling because my college ex-boyfriend was trying to get in touch with me and it was very important.

What did he want? That was weird. We didn’t really talk as much after the ice cold shoulder from Katy. I called him back and was snarky about it. “Why are you bothering my grandma all day, jeez?”

I remember his words as clear as day. His voice rang through the phone like nails on a chalkboard. “I know you and Katy aren’t really getting along right now. But, I wanted you to know – she died.”

“Are you joking, Rob? That’s not funny?”

“It’s not a joke, Rachael. Katy died. She was killed in a car accident. I just wanted you to know.”

This is where I broke down. I was literally inconsolable, for what I remember feeling like hours – it was probably not hours. I felt my heart break, shatter really, that day. The day I realized she was dead. She was not here anymore and she would never forgive me. I was 19 at the time. Katy turned 19 that June.She died just a month and a half later. She was my best friend.

And the reason I bring all this up, because Katy was born on June 12th.

She was killed in a road rage accident with her girlfriend Kellie (who survived) in the car with her in July of 2003. The next several weeks were blurry, but it was well established by anyone who talked to me on the phone, that I was not welcome at her funeral. I wasn’t allowed and they would likely call the police or make a scene if I showed up. I didn’t blame her parents or her girlfriend (the one I met in the coffee shop) at the time. I still don’t – I totally understand why I wasn’t welcome.

I was very very sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my best friend. She died never knowing how much I loved her. I live with the regret of not trying hard enough to make her understand. Mostly, I live with the fact that my ignorance of gay and lesbian struggles broke a connection I had with a very special girl. A connection that most people never find in their lifetime.

Katy opened up a door to me that I didn’t know was there. I didn’t know that it was an option. She helped me turn down a different journey in my life, one that defines who I am now. If she hadn’t opened that door, I wouldn’t be who I am.

I would still be that small town, ignorant girl who hated people for things I knew nothing about. I know that hatred. That judgement. I know what it feels like to have that hatred, disgust, and judgement. I know the thoughts, the justifications, the rationality, the logic that have gone through these people’s minds. Because I’ve had some of those thoughts before I met Katy.

The shooter in Orlando is the sole person who killed these people in Orlando, but he’s not the only one responsible.

  • It’s the ignorance of people like younger me. Brought up in a society where this kind of thing is the norm.
  • It’s the vague words on a message board or sharing on Facebook ‘meme of silence’ and offers of prayers to a God that some people believe is using this as a form of punishment.
  • It’s the priests, preachers and religious leaders who teach their congregation that homosexuals are evil and sinful. And somehow solidify in the minds of many people that it’s ok to do these kinds of things to another human being.
  • It’s the parents who tell their children they can’t play with the kid next door who has two moms. They might kiss in front of her and they might have to explain what “gay” is to their kid. Oh dear!
  • It’s the parents who are up in arms about a book, I Am Jazz, about a transgender girl. A public school wants to read this to a classroom of 6 year olds. The book is geared specifically for that age range to teach tolerance and help facilitate the conversation about transgender kids. Helping those who are transgender and helping those who don’t know what transgender is, understand.
  • It’s the slap on the wrist for police officers who gun down or target people of specific color. The utter disregard for the victims in those shootings based on their race or their past choices or actions – and in some cases based solely on the color of their skin or the clothes they wear. Making the killer in these cases the victim. That’s a problem.
  • It’s the fact that some church leaders teach and condone the bombing of abortion clinics in the name of God. The freedom of religion has trampled on the rights of individual women to do with their bodies as they see fit.
  • It’s the desensitization to gun violence in so many of our citizens. Because it happens so often. Because people are so damn afraid of a completely fabricated notion that someone is going to ban all the guns in the world. When all we really want to make it just as hard to get a gun as it is to get an abortion or a driver’s license.
  • It’s the media sensationalizing the terrorist acts and the fact that people get on social media and spew their outrage from behind a computer screen but never actually reach out to those who are affected. The incident will be “viral” for a day or two, maybe a week and then we forget. We don’t give it another mention or passing thought.
  • It’s the lack of empathy in our children. The lack of manners, the instant gratification that kids expect. It’s the catering to our children’s every whim, never allowing them to fail, doing their work for them, explaining to them how they should feel instead of teaching them to recognize and cope with those emotions appropriately. (Yes. I’m guilty of this as well)
  • It’s the fact that we as a society need something to be up in arms about. Something to offend us. And we fuel the hatred and the bigotry with this constant offense. And it’s the fact that people don’t give a shit if they offend someone else. There is no sensitivity left. We no longer act like human beings, but savages online – not in person, because we are fake in person. Online we have no face. We have no consequences.
  • It’s the fact that moms tear each other apart because of differences in opinions. Moms judge each other, feel shitty about themselves and are overall stressed out. They tear each other down, in turn creating a chain reaction to affect every decision they make for themselves and their families.
  • It’s the fact that a gorilla made more of a splash on my newsfeed than the death of several human beings. Innocent human beings. I saw more defending the life of a gorilla than that of human beings. The public outrage and outcry for that gorilla was astonishing. The comments about that mom (and I’m not saying she’s an awesome one or anything, but who is?) literally made me sick for that mother.
  • It’s the father who are teaching their sons that its okay to rape an unconscious girl and get 20 minutes of fun out of it. There shouldn’t be consequences for bad choices. That the girl was drunk and had it coming to her. It’s her fault she was raped and he will belief that his actions are always justified.

It’s the fact that we have a bigot in the Presidential race and while in the beginning I didn’t want to believe that he stands for what Americans are about, but with his complete and utter domination of the Republican primary, I realize, the beliefs of Donald Trump does represent a large number of Americans.

Those Americans believe that if you aren’t a “pure” Christian straight white man, you don’t belong in the land of the free. It’s these Americans that believe their way is the only way and they have to force everyone else to believe the same way. They teach their kids this dogma and people have forgotten how to think for themselves.

If I hadn’t thought for myself in college, I would have shunned Katy, ridiculed or belittled her. Ignored her even. I wouldn’t have been touched by her in my life and she wouldn’t have changed my life in such a drastic and very good way. If I hadn’t met Katy and she hadn’t opened my eyes, I would be a Trump Supporter right now. That’s a scary ass thought.

I’m glad that I’m not. I’m glad that Katy helped shape me into a good human being. A loving and caring mom.

Look, honestly, I’ve always said, “I’m not a real lesbian” and I don’t live with the “target on my back” as most of my gay and lesbian friends online have. Like these people in Orlando has experienced. But this still hits home to me. As a mom, married to a woman, with a daughter, this does affect me.

I’m coming to terms that it’s not a movie theatre, it’s not a church, it’s not a nightclub. No where is safe anymore. No one is safe anymore.

I haven’t felt the discrimination (other than the 6 year hiatus from my dad) and I have been lucky enough to realize I was kinda gay in my adult years. I didn’t have to come out in high school and endure the bullying from teenagers.

Until Orlando, I was in a bubble. I didn’t fear talking about my wife in public. I didn’t fear being out to my co-workers. I didn’t think twice when my wife and I would each take Punky’s hand and trot through a grocery store parking lot.

I do now. Not only because it is not safe for me. It’s not safe for my daughter. Acts like this and my reaction shapes her future self and her world view. She is learning along with her peers from their parents what this act of violence means. Those beliefs will begin to shape her as a person. She and her peers will grow up to be a part of this society we live in, to lead it eventually.

Some of those kids, are being told it’s God’s Will. It’s God punishing us. Or those people in the club deserved it because they were an abomination. They were just freaks. They don’t matter. They are dirty. They are sinners. They are weird. It serves them right.

It’s not just unsafe for me. This shooter planned this massacre after seeing a couple KISS in front of his kids. We all know it’s not that couple’s fault. But I bet, we are all wondering who it was that triggered that kind of response? Whose act of love sparked this senseless act of terrorism on so many innocent lives. Was their act of love a catalyst to propel this man into a mass shooting.

Who wants that shit on their conscience?!

So, now, when I skip through the grocery store parking lot, my wife and I flanking our kid on either side, hand and hand – I will always in the back of my mind wonder if someone in a car or someone coming out of the store is going to shoot up a grocery store in a predominantly gay neighborhood or something equally as destructive as a direct result of my love for my family in public.

The LGBT community is hurting right now because of the attack in Orlando. It stirred up some old feelings and wounds in me on a personal level. But it should be the entire United States that mourns the loss of these people, because if there is any humanity left in the world, people would know this kind of thing is wrong. We should all be hurting.

As human beings. We all bleed red. No matter the beliefs that divide us. No matter the past or the present, we can make a difference in someone else’s life. Katy is a testament to that. And while I know I will never know if she could have forgiven me, I’m reminded of what a treasure she was on my life and my path. For that I will be eternally grateful.

For this act to happen on on her birthday hit me hard. She would have been 32 last Sunday. Who knows what she would have been doing for her birthday that night. She could have been in a nightclub. Hell, I could have been in a nightclub.

It brought me back to the stark reality that things are not ok. That humanity and compassion are fading away. And fast.

I am only one person. I can’t make big changes. I’m not a loud and proud advocate or activist. I am not that person. But I will pledge to make sure my daughter loves people for themselves and I will do my part to make a change, by raising up a decent human being with empathy and compassion and kindness for all PEOPLE.

If you can’t do anything else. Do that. Make the next generation the change we want to see in our world and society. If we all band together to build better futures for our kids and teach them the most fundamental and basic lessons in treating each other with dignity and love, I am certain we will someday see the decline and hopefully the extinction of this hatred that has been boiling over in the last few years.

Maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually.

To those in Orlando, I promise to bring up my daughter to know that this is not acceptable. Teach her to think for herself and allow her to make the hard choices on her own. Give her opportunities to succeed and help her cope when she fails. Shape her into a decent human being in the name of all the people who lost their lives in that nightclub.

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