Being queer isn’t fun. That isn’t true. It is tons of fun. Actually, it’s the most fun one could possibly imagine, most of the time. The freedoms, the open communication, the affection, and the mutual understanding of how each other’s body works. I’m almost certain it’s much more fun than being straight. For that, I feel lucky. I feel blessed; and at times, I feel chosen, even.
Whatever small percentage is left that keeps the reality of identifying as queer from being fun: is terrifying. I am reminded of that every time I travel to rural parts of our country. There are things that terrify me in certain places that could make a fight on a nighttime New York City subway ride seem like just another typical journey. As a gay man, I feel a kinship with women, especially powerful women, and often with people of color. We have all had to prove ourselves a little more convincingly, and work a bit harder to get where we are. It is my belief this is because we all share one harrowing commonality: as a whole, we are not fully-supported in our society.
The rampant nature of systemic racism is perhaps the most embarrassing thing about being an American. That, along with mass shootings, which seem to occur on a daily basis with no end in sight. One could argue that our health-care system would round out the top-three of most embarrassing realities of being a citizen of The United States. As an avid world-traveler, I look at how other countries operate and wish we could do better as a nation. I am reminded that most other countries, especially developing nations, do not operate under such duress.
I’m not in denial that there are worse places to live as an LGBTQIA+ individual, a woman, or a person of color. Take Malaysia for example—there are so many rules and regulations, such as no affection in public, no alcohol, homosexuality is illegal–even women are not treated equally under the law. No relaxation of these rules in “liberal” Kuala Lumpur, even. The last time I visited, I remembered how grateful I am that I live in a country where we have a code of basic freedom, albeit flawed. After having done my own research, I discovered hefty fines, prison sentences, and caning are regular punishments for homosexuals, and trans persons.
At a recent visit to a friends’ home in Philadelphia, our dinner host, a registered nurse, informed my husband James & I that “pregnant black women are 45% more likely to die in a hospital.” “Women in general, and women of color, especially, are not seen or heard in a hospital,” he explained. “They are not looked after with the same degree of care a white person might be privileged with.” People of color have a historic distrust of medical professionals passed down from generations of mistreatment in and out of hospitals.
When I travel to a place where extremism is more widely embraced, I am often left with the fear that I could be targeted just like the 49 LGBTQ+ people who were shot to death at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2015. I often wonder what would happen if I required medical attention in rural America, and informed the doctors that I am HIV positive, and identify as gay. Urban centers are typically more liberal, and most of us feel safer in them. We socialize in groupings and places where we have strength in numbers.
I would love to wake up one day in a world where I don’t feel like I am a walking target of someone’s pent-up, hate tirade. Last week, when I was out for a casual run with James to Walmart to pick up some toiletries I forgot to pack, we were jeered at by some men yelling out of their truck windows toting gun racks, confederate flag stickers, and pride for a certain, unnamed former U.S. President. Was it the brightly colored shorts I was running in? Or perhaps my dyed silver hair? What was I doing that could have drawn so much attention? Was it the two of us simply being together?
Only a few weeks ago, James and I were at a restaurant where there was an active shooter scare. It was terrifying. And perhaps it’s because of this recent experience, but while I was browsing through the self-care section of the Walton family’s billion dollar empire, I looked up to mark my exits, in case an active shooter happened to come in and raise hell. That fear is real, and is in many of us of all demographics.
It is my hope that one day, females of color, trans people, men of color, and others who are marginalized simply for being who they are get a turn to be supported fully in society before I do. As a white, gay male, I feel that I am the highest on the pecking order. I actually feel privileged most of the time. For now, I’ll continue to walk in the light as my older friend advised me more than twenty years ago when I first moved to New York City. “Walk in the light, child; and no one will mess with you.”