My best friend and I stand and chat with her friends in a bar/club that’s so vibrant, so packed to the gills, so explosive and bursting with life that there is nowhere to sit. So I stand while she sways. She and her friend dance in a much more rhythmic way than I’ll ever pull off. I watch them in admiration—their grace, their concentration, the way they look more alive with the movement. I just feel elbowy when I dance, and it seems that her friend’s boyfriend is rhythmically challenged, too. So, we—the bad dancers and awkward socializers—sit and talk only a little and smile at his boyfriend and my silly lady as they conduct a mini dance-off. We hang out until I feel like I’m ready to sleep standing. I leave Just Johns feeling light hearted, my ears ringing, my veins still pulsing to the music. Just Johns is great. I don’t get unwanted advances or judgmental stares. I get music, a night out and an atmosphere so loud I have an excuse to sit back and watch.
The week after is girl’s night, so we meet at Novak’s instead. In the main room, ladies take the stage and sing along to a myriad of songs, winking, belting and breaking hearts. A couple girls ask me to dance, but I don’t like to dance and I’m taken, so I politely decline. Only Elle can ask me to dance and get a yes. And it takes more than two drinks to get a dance out of me, even then. I’m not here to drink, as much as I’m here to unwind. So we go to the patio, where the vibes are quieter. I get my customary 7 and 7, we order food and we talk. About everything and nothing. We head down the street to another bar after we demolish our food. The drinks are more expensive, but the music is good and we are winding down, anyway. And I dance to The Killers with Elle because I’m past two drinks and because I love her.
For her 31st, Elle decides that we are classy, sophisticated drinkers so we hit up Absolutely Goosed Martini Bar and I get a drink that tastes like a fudge sundae. It’s a classy place, but that doesn’t keep me from licking my glass. Jay teases me about this, and I stick out my chocolatey tongue at him. I’ve never been a martini girl, but that night I am won over.
I’m more of a stay at home and drink tea kind of gal, but Elle invited me out of my shell, asked me to dance and even got me to do so. She knew, deep down, that I’m goofy, that I’m affectionate and even a little unpredictable. She saw that in me and sometimes teased it out by introducing me to her favorite hops. Those nights were hilarious and unforgettable.
But those clubs/bars were rare, things we did once in a while to goof off or unwind. Usually, we just went on walks, had coffee, visited the sculpture park, went shopping, hung out before class, went out to eat, or tried to be as graceful as possible to workout videos. We did things that friends do—some of it weird, some of it wild, some of it meaningful, some of it chill.
But still…we had many fun times in clubs and bars that were considered to be the most LGTBQ friendly in St. Louis. We hung out, danced, drank, and laughed. We grew our friendship and extended it to others. We did what many people unwinding after a week of work or school do. And we did it without fear because we were in a welcoming atmosphere, and because no one should have to be afraid doing something as simple as going out for drinks, dancing and chatting. And more than that, many people who go to these bars and clubs because they are some of the ONLY safe havens for them. People in other places might judge them, speak down to them, glare their way, maybe even harm them.
But people like the Orlando shooter want to make no place safe for the marginalized. Bigoted people live off of fear, suspicion and hate. They paint people as “other,” and they push their worry, anger and hate onto the cardboard cutouts they create. They use those cutouts as targets for words dripping with aversion. They become their fear, embody it, move past words and use the only thing ignorant people know how to use—violence. They attempt to solve problems their own fear creates by beating those problems down.
But they harm more than their imagined targets. Their fear is a plague to humanity.
The humans—the sons, daughters, friends, partners, lovers, sisters, brothers, parents—that walk into a club to dance or sing or shout or chat or even drink are simply trying to capture snapshots of wonder, the cohesive feeling of community. All humans are a myriad of moments, experiences, memories, loves, losses, education, beliefs, sorrows and joys. Every human is a precious collection of all these things and every human deserves a chance to express her or himself in a harmless few hours of revelry, in a place where they feel safe.
If you espouse and support the type of fear that fed the shooter, if you, too, fear a person because of her orientation/friends/partners/religion you are the problem. Your fear will create only one thing: hate. I surround myself with a very diverse set of friends, friends of many faiths, races, and orientations. I am not afraid of this bigger picture. When a life is informed by a different history than mine, it gives me a chance to see the world in a new light. The more I come to know people, the more I feel part of a larger humanity. A breathtaking sea of lovely individuals.
But I cannot say I’m unafraid. I am afraid of the gate keepers of fear. Afraid of the narrowness that breeds hate. And I abhor the feeling. Because I’ve never let myself be ruled by fear. I think of those times I spent hanging with my best friend in some of her favorite spots, and I want to cry. Because those who were shot were in the middle of having a good time, they were in a place that made them feel safe and welcomed, a rare feeling for people who fall out of the norm. And I’ve been in the crowd of a people let loose and feeling finally free and it was a dazzling display. A thing of beauty.
They were like us and are like us and we are them. How do you shut off that human connection long enough to hate? Why would you want to? Turn that connection on. Flip the judgement switch off and learn to empathize with others. Our existences are not the same, but they are all human and deserving of a gentle hand and a kind word. If you preach love, don’t spew hate. Your actions and words are important. What you create can be powerful, so make it beautiful.
You are what you consume, so don’t prey on fear.
My condolences to the family, friends, and partners of those who were victims of hate. My condolences are not enough. We need to do more than feel sorry when bad shit happens. We need to stop being part of the problem.