Late Sunday morning, I opened Facebook on my phone as a way to pass some time. I expected to see a few pictures of friends’ babies, some rants about the upcoming election, and photos from the various gay prides my friends are attending around the country. Instead, I learned about the rising death toll in Orlando. I read through the postings of my queer friends, many of whom were reeling in sadness, anger, and fear. My initial reaction was to detach. I thought, oh god, not more violence. I can’t deal with this right now. I don’t want to deal with this right now. And I put my phone away. It didn’t feel real and, for some reason, it didn’t yet feel personal.
On Monday morning, I still hadn’t spoken about it. I was still detached. At the gym, I heard another member discussing the club, Pulse, with her trainer. Shut up, I thought, I’m here to escape. I put on my headphones, turned the music up, and used my anger to get through the rest of the workout.
On Monday afternoon, I showed up to my department’s on-campus clinic for an evening of supervising students with the realization that my students, some of whom identify as queer, may be dealing with their own reactions and might not be prepared to provide therapy to others. I realized that some of our clients might be processing their own feelings. I steeled myself in preparation for their vulnerability. After all, I was responsible for all of their well-being. It wasn’t time for me to be vulnerable yet.
On Monday night, I lay in bed and opened the only social media application that felt safe—one that shows you your own postings from the same day at any point in the past. So, I did not expect to see anything about what happened early Sunday morning. I watched a video I had taken five years’ prior at a Robyn concert. As I watched her perform one of her most popular songs, “Dancing on My Own”, I was brought back to 2011 and the countless times I had sung that song at the top of my lungs in my favorite gay bar. Those joyful memories quickly turned to sadness and fear at the thought of all of that being taken away. I imagined someone attacking that bar on one of those nights and I could no longer detach from my feelings. It became personal and I finally became vulnerable.
You see, this was the same gay bar where I spent many nights dancing with best friends, new friends, and strangers. The same gay bar where I waited for the results of the 2012 presidential election. The same gay bar where I asked out another girl for the first time. The same gay bar where I finally felt visible as me—as queer.
The visibility of identities is crucial at a time like this—a time when people are being threatened, attacked, and killed for their membership in a marginalized and stigmatized group. When policies, the media, and our conversations do not explicitly include LGBTQ people, we make them invisible. And this invisibility allows homophobia to persist.
Many of us in the LGBTQ community can choose to hide. We can keep our heads down and be quiet about who we are. It certainly would feel safer—but only temporarily. Over time, our invisibility has and will further our own marginalization. By speaking up, by showing our pride, by making ourselves visible, we validate our identities and our own existence. We make it safe for those who are afraid to be themselves.
Many LGBTQ people are making themselves visible—through social media, vigils, marches, and through continued attendance at pride events. Search online for vigils in your area. Go to www.gaypridecalendar.com to find a gay pride in your area. And most importantly, check out these hashtags on any social media platform to see how LGBTQ people are fighting homophobia and making themselves visible: #gaysbreaktheinternet #twomenkissing #loveislove #lovewins #pride
Dr. Erica Hartwell is a LMFT and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fairfield University in Connecticut. She has been a member of AAMFT and the AAMFT Queer Affirmative Caucus for 8 years. Her teaching and scholarship focus on issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion.