Simon Williamson, columnist with Georgia Voice

Simon Williamson: Taking refuge in gay spaces

We go to gay bars to get away from everyone else, so the shooting in Orlando was an assault on our places; places that exist specifically because the general public pushed us to find spaces out of their sight. While we have turned them into the contemporary bars and clubs you see now, they began, and still exist, as shelters away from all the shit we have to deal with, trying to live our lives.

Back when I was but a young 19-something, both my home and social lives were populated by conservative people, and the fact that I was a gay man didn’t sit perfectly well in either of them. This necessitated multiple trips far from where I lived, into Johannesburg, where I lived at the time. I went with company, or sometimes alone, and once in a while I went to meet people in real life that I had met on the internet, because that was pretty much the only way that someone living in my world, comprised solely (so far as I know) of straight people, got to go and be gay for a few hours at a time. There was hedonism, yes, but there was also something equally important: utter elation at the temporary normality of our existence.

As accepted as LGBT people might seem on TV nowadays, or in parts of Midtown, it is actually very hard and complicated to avoid running perpetually into homophobic conflict across a broad scale of severity. Being gay even in the “coolest” cities, of which Orlando is one, isn’t as easy as it seems on TV.

To open a news website, or, heaven forbid, to look at a comment section, is to see waves of people write about what shit we are, how disgusting we are, what pedophiles we are, how God (or whatever you might call Her) is coming to smite us. It is to read about how we should learn to take a joke about how lesbians just need to be fucked or the amusing topic of AIDS, how we shouldn’t show off during Pride if we want to be like other people, and so on and so forth. And here’s the thing: there is not one of those comments we don’t know of by heart, because we’ve heard them all in real life.

The constant paranoia, preparation to defend, and significant statements made whenever you declare to a new group of people that you fit the acronym are something that everyone in our community has to deal with, all the time. And we have so very few places in the world where we get to take a break.

Our community comes with its problems, but at a few locations around the world, we don’t, for a period of a few hours a week, have to deal with everyone else’s. We take ourselves right out of their lives and their spaces. We retreat. We travel across town, or out of town to a club that is safe and out of sight, for their comfort, and so we can just fucking be ourselves.

The fact that the Orlando shooting happened in one of OUR places hurts immensely.

To make ourselves feel better, we say things like “love wins” and we talk about strength and go to rallies, and listen to platitudinous politicians repeat hashtags. Well, on June 12 in Orlando, love lost. Our kind of love lost, even when we tried to hide it away in places where we didn’t have to deal with the public, and the public didn’t have to deal with it. Our kind of love lost.