Simon Williamson

Getting away from you

2016-06-15 07:24

Simon Williamson

We go to gay bars to get away from the rest of you, so the weekend’s shooting in Orlando was an assault on our places; places that exist specifically because you, the general public, pushed us to find spaces out of your 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 matriculant, both my home and social lives were populated by moderately to severely conservative people, and the fact that I was a gay man didn’t sit perfectly well in either of them. This necessitated multiple trips from the northern suburbs of Johannesburg into the gay bars and clubs further south, and in Pretoria. 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.

Those hours were spent primarily not having to worry. They involved other things too (quite literally), but not having to deal with the greater world was a luxury, spent during late nights, packed into the kinds of places where you wouldn’t want to touch the floor, but where you could shove your face against another’s and not have to worry about being punched by a stranger for doing precisely the same thing that the man on the end of said fist would happily do to a woman. Such places are famed for illicit behavior: I met my husband, in fact, at a gay bar in Cape Town while a stripper gyrated in front of us, and a patron vomited behind us. There was hedonism, yes, but there was also something equally important: utter elation at the temporary normality of our existence.

Not as easy as it seems

As accepted as LGBT people might seem on TV nowadays, or in the parts of Cape Town the people judge the entire city on, it is actually very hard and complicated to avoid running perpetually into homophobic conflict across a broad scale of severity. From rankling comments made by dudebros whose free speech to call people fags bears no consequence for them, to general harassment by strangers, to more consequential matters like not being able to get jobs, being beaten in the streets, and, as is all too common in South Africa, being murdered. 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 peadophiles we are, how God (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 off by heart, because have heard them all in real life.

But, there are places we don’t have to deal with that. Where we can remove ourselves from your lives, so we can do whatever the hell we want without having to listen to people filter us through their own interpretations of whatever they believe.  Where we aren’t bombarded with risks and potentially physically harmful judgment that we didn’t cause ourselves. And it’s not limited to physical harm: the mental aspects of simply living are too much for many LGBT people to bear, from teens who realize they are gay, bisexual or transgender when young, and cannot handle being that in a world fashioned by the people they are exposed to, to those who literally wait for their parents to die so they can live their lives openly, and then can’t bear to.

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. All the time. And we have so very few places in the world where we get to take a break.

The LGBT 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 yours. We take ourselves right out of your lives and your spaces. We retreat. We travel across town, or out of town to a club that is safe and out of sight, for your comfort, and so we can just fucking be ourselves.

Love lost

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

I live near Atlanta, about six hours away from where the shooting happened, and while no one I know was hurt, everyone in the community has shed tears since Sunday morning. Many of us have spent the year fighting against legislated discrimination. We’ve won and lost. Now we’re mourning a loss far bigger than we could have imagined.  

To make ourselves fell 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 Saturday night 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.

- Simon Williamson is a former journalist for News24 and Daily Maverick. He is now studying his Masters in Political Science at the University of Georgia, and worked a Democratic Senate race in 2014. He tweets whenever he is in a bad mood at @simonwillo.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    us  |  orlando shooting

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