I had written much of this on Facebook a few days after the horrors of the Pulse nightclub massacre, 12 June 2016. I have updated it in the year since. It is still the case that Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love.
Time to address the ever-present elephant in the room this week.
Early Sunday morning, I had tiptoed out to the kitchen to put a pot of coffee on. Then my phone chirped with a text message:
CHECK YOUR AP NEWSFEED – URGENT
A journalist from one of the magazines I write for was giving me a head’s up on breaking news.
At that time, the news was 20 dead, 42 injured in Orlando. The details that Anne and I were scanning were more horrendous the further we read. It felt like we had been slammed into the pavement.
Anne was inconsolable, worried about the families, the loved ones, the partners, etc. What I eventually managed to decipher through her tears was that her cousin and his partner lived one block away from, and frequented, Pulse nightclub.
Then begins the process of checking in. Reach out to friends and loved ones who are in that area. “Are you okay?” And you pray that you get a quick response, that they hear their phone, that they can respond, that they are still drawing breath.
You hope against hope that it is not the experience of those first responders who attended the scene:
After an hour, I said, “Okay Sunshine, let’s get out of the apartment and be around people.” We ventured out into the neighbourhood, to a place that is like a communal living room where people gather. People were busy watching the soccer games in Europe, and I was silently thankful that there was no news on any of the screens. At least at first. One of the televisions had been switched to CP24 and they cutaway live to Orlando for a press conference. The numbers had climbed. 49 dead, 53 injured. We were shocked silent.
How? How could this be? Why now? The questions are endless, the answers are few.
Finally, Anne heard from her cousin that he and his partner were safe. Big sigh of relief. And again, a pressing need to be among even more people in public. We went to the store to pick up a few things, and rather than turn around and immediately go back home, Anne said, “C’mon Cookie, let’s go for a walk.”
We walked along a busy Sunday morning Front Street, proudly holding hands and showing our defiance that we will not be hidden or erased, that we exist, that we love, that love is love, and that we deserve to be able to live our own lives. We worked our way back home and were absolutely exhausted. Not in the physically tired way, but emotionally and mentally drained, and we curled up for a nap. Once Anne was asleep, I reached for my phone to check in and see what was happening and who was organizing what.
The Toronto Sisters had already put together a candlelight vigil for Orlando that evening in Barbara Hall Park. Yes, I would be there. Anne should be safely back home by that point, and I wanted to be with our rainbow family. It’s what you do in times of crisis, you want to be with those who feel as you do.
Saying a quick safe travels before Anne left for home turned into something deeply meaningful. In times like these you hug longer and tighter, you get in more kisses, and you say I love you with a new meaning. It’s that need to let that person know … just in case.
We agreed to check in hourly throughout the rest of the day.
Breathe woman, there is work to be done.
Things have changed in my years on the planet. With all that I have lived through, experienced, survived, I can’t help but become more than a little rough around the edges (my friend Kim calls it “being as rough as a badger’s arse”) more for self-preservation than anything else. If you wonder why I have an extremely dark sense of humour, look at the numbers of dead from among our family and see why it is necessary.
I arrived early at the vigil to get a few quick pictures for the feature image for my column. There was a large number of people present already. By the time the vigil began, we had filled the park beyond capacity, had flowed out onto Church Street north and south of the park, and through the other side of the park onto side streets (Crowd estimates were 10,000 people).
I stood with friends that evening. Everybody there was part of the same family. Anne messaged me worrying about my safety and did I have an escape route planned in case there was trouble. I replied, “I am with Danielle and Henry, Sunshine. I am with our family. There is no safer place to be at this moment.” Promised to keep checking in hourly.
You notice how things have changed and how a crisis brings family together even closer than before. Saw it when Mayor John Tory arrived and was slowly making his way through our assembled family. Seconds after him, Premier Kathleen Wynne and her partner Jane were making their way, speaking quietly with people. The silence and the candlelight was a moment to always be remembered.
Anne and I had a long conversation when I got back home. She had a huge sigh of relief that I was home and safe.
It’s time to make the world work again the following morning.
As expected, take the planned schedule for the week and set light to it. There’s only one thing to do, just dance with things and what will get done will get done.
Can you do an interview for CBC’s The National? “Yes, maybe I can handle three or four other things while I’m in that area too.”
In the Village, meet family, share hugs, hold back tears, a look speaks volumes. Same question each time, heavily laden with significance, “Are you okay?” You squeeze hands a little tighter.
I’ve been around the Village for three days in a row at this point. People may have pasted on a smile and be doing a good imitation of happy clappy; inside we are all the same, a bundle of raw emotions. Our safe spaces have been violated yet again.
There are 49 empty seats at our table. It cannot be, but it is.
Prior to the Trans Youth Human Rights panel, I was having a quiet word at the back of the room with my friend Henry. He told me that he’s been working non-stop since Sunday without a rest, or a break, or time to think. He is an out and proud gay cop, and we have worked together for a few years on how to fix the world for our family members. He was telling me that as he was driving to last night’s event, he passed the corner of King and Bay Streets and saw the rainbow flag beside the Canadian flag and both were at half-mast. He had to pull his car over for a minute, that sudden wave of emotions was hard to take.
As we all do, we get to work dealing with the aftermath and looking after our family and making sure all are safe. You don’t stop until after the worst has passed and then it hits you. Anne agreed, the same thing happens in her nursing career. You are so busy doing your best to make a difference, that you have no time to feel until after your shift is over. You’re needed, there is not time for anything for yourself until later. Self-care is an afterthought, your family is suffering you must look after them first.
At the start of the human rights panel, the reading of the names of those family members violently torn from us. It was significant how long it took to read 49 names. You’re familiar with six degrees of separation, a great many of us in that room were no more than two or three degrees away from one of the 49. One of my dearest friends knew one of the victims very well, which meant I was two degrees away.
It strikes me as odd that people remark about my bravery being out and about in public. I don’t think there is bravery involved. It’s more like a boiling rage that can only be vented by being visible and as ballsy as fuck. This old broad will not be silenced. For those who worry about my safety – honey, I could get flattened by a bus while crossing the road any day. When it is my time, it will be my time, not a moment sooner or a moment later. Until then, there is a hell of a lot of work to be done.
I see a glimmer of light. Someone commented on a recent video that Stef posted about her opening remarks at last night’s event when she spoke of how we met in 2014 and what that meant. A young person said, she is now “being Christine for others.” Yes, she is paying it forward, this means that I did my job. I am so so so proud of her. She is why I will not be kept in hiding, I have too much to be done to fix the world, and I have to be out there doing it to have it happen.
There have been numerous pieces written and posted about the events and how to react. It’s really simple:
We are in mourning for those we have lost. When I say that I do not wish to discuss the gunman and his motives, actions, reasons, etc., please honour that. Do not continue to feed your personal fascination for ‘Forensic Psychiatry for Dummies’ in my presence. I have no desire whatsoever to discuss the scum who mercilessly killed our family members. Please ask how we are, and when you do, be prepared to listen. Do not say how we must be crazy to want to go ahead with Pride activities. We know the risk, trust me. There is a cost that we all pay personally to be able to live what we know to be our truth each and every day that we draw breath.
I wish to honour those we have lost in my own way, in my own time.
I have maintained this since early that Sunday morning after the initial news reports, and I will keep saying this until people finally get it …
LOVE CONQUERS ALL.
Simple. Three words. Not difficult to get the meaning.
Revenge serves no purpose.
Blame only continues the pain.
Reach out to those people in your life who truly matter to you, and TELL THEM. Do not miss the opportunity and live with the regret of missed communications.
Tell people you love them, and when you do, LOVE each other INTENSELY.
We are the people that the world needs.
We will make the world better for all people.
The drive of most humans is to make a positive difference, by leaving this world better than we found it.
Remember the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda at the 2016 Tony Awards:
…And Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love and Love cannot be killed or swept aside… Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
Please, if anyone is listening, not one more.
Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams