Writing from Coast Salish territories.
I’ve just arrived home and I smell like fire.
I feel like fire too. Raging, quiet, resilient.
Today, QTIBIPoC living on Coast Salish territories gathered to mourn, pay respects to, to send love away with the 49 people who were murdered in the Pulse nightclub on June 12th in Orlando, Florida.
Today, I held hands with friends and cried silent tears onto an altar of offerings. Today, I heard prayers spoken in Spanish, in Arabic, in Punjabi and sung in vocables from the lungs of Indigenous bodies. Today, I learnt new ways of loving and healing that I was never allowed to know. Today, I understood why I am crying, 3,000 miles from Orlando.
Vigils have happened and we are late to the game. This time, it is not like usual. We are not late because we are communities of over-worked, labouring bodies not accustomed to (or interested in) Western time structures. We are late because they never invited us to play. The whistle blew and we were still tying our shoelaces.
It is not with ease that I call out white queers (my friends, my family) but it is with passion that I do so. This shooting has been eye-opening to many but I didn’t think that my learning would involve feelings of betrayal, hurt and erasure. They are not here for bodies that are Black and brown and queer. And this really hurts.
They have co-opted a tragedy that bled through the heart of silenced Latinx, Black and racialized communities. They have painted rainbows over undocumented families and migrant workers and son-less mothers and English-less abuelas and forced labourers. They have the energy to create racial division; to blame terrorism, which they use synonymously with Islam yet none to recognise the beauty and profoundness of racialized communities. Can their understandings of race only go as far as demonising Muslim bodies?
I can say this with such certainty because today I stared down at the 49 faces, laid as remembrance on the altar de muertos and was overwhelmed by their brownness. All shades of melanin except the lightest. Why were white people not at the club that night? This is not to say they should have been; this fate could not be wished upon anyone. This is to say fervently: if white queers are not there for us in life, they mustn’t pretend to be there for us in death.
I get it, you are sad too and thank you for that sadness. It is valid and important. But when your shouts are louder than our (specifically Latinx and Black) cries, the hurt we feel is multiplied.
On that same night, I too danced with friends and lovers in a queer space. (What if it was us?) I too felt the urgency and liberation of blending bodies and hearts with those whom all other interactions are cautious and unsure. I too knew the importance and sacredness of creating spaces outside the walls of heteronormativity and homophobia that we must navigate in all other walks of life.
But I did not feel the same profound and unbinding connection that I’m sure many felt on Latin night in Pulse nightclub. Unless a queer space is specifically for people of colour, I am never an equal participant. I am a token, an object, an exotic presence; stared at but not desired, touched but not loved. It takes everything in me to say this, because my entire existence has been built on the antithesis but I deserve more.
Where are they when our trans friends are murdered? Where are they when we are unhomed because colonization made our families think ancestral ways of loving are wrong? Where are they when our histories are erased by Hollywood? Where are they when our language is appropriated; when “yaass queen” becomes common place on the tongues of white gay men?
This incident is an attack on queer people of colour. This is an issue of race and queerness in tandem and anyone who denies that treads on the graves of the slain. Yes, perhaps the shooter had no intention of gunning down fellow brown bodies but this was never a matter of one man and one gun. This is a matter of America, of guns, of violence, of foreign policy, of conservatism, of white supremacy.
Today, I watched queers of colour come together and locate the direction of Mecca. Today, I lay vibrant prayer mats down on the cold white floors. Today, I heard the azan in a woman’s poetic voice. We must do these things for ourselves because the wider LGBTQ+ community has made it clear they are not here for us. And this really hurts.
Today, I walked with friends to a site of historical resistance, to a piece of these lands and waters gently nurtured by the Coast Salish people. Teary eyed, we burnt the altar offerings, sending the 49 souls to their next place. The waves crashed against the shore; our ancestors are sad too.
I smell like fire, and I’m crying 3,000 miles from Orlando.