Erika Star was raised by a pack of Trekkies. Originally from Wisconsin, she decided to live out her womyn’s fest fantasies in the Lesbian Mecca, Portland, Oregon. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Entertainment Management and after studying at Second City Chicago, chose the glamorous profession of comedy writing. Most people wish she had her own TV show but she just wishes she had a job.
I haven’t gotten past the sad yet— the endless loop of checking the news followed by physically removing myself from social media, the numbness, the sobbing randomly and uncontrollably in public—but I’m sure I’ll get to the other side. Eventually I’ll get to the next step: I’ll feel mad.
But I’m not there yet. Forty-nine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and allies, mostly of color, were murdered at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and fifty others were wounded. More than a hundred families’ lives changed overnight. I don’t know any of them, but here I am, sitting in my car, wiping eyeliner off my face for the umpteenth time today.
“We can’t afford to get sick in the great month of June,” a friend posted on my Facebook wall 9 years ago. Eight years ago I “just wanted to dance.” I wore rainbow head to toe while working security at a lesbian bar seven years ago, a pride flag tied around my neck like a cape. I called myself a “gay superhero.” Three years ago I spilled out the front windows of a bar into the streets of Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood and two years ago I attended something called a Prideful Proudness Showcase. Last year I spent June 12th at my favorite nightclub, attending a 90s-themed prom. My friends and I crowded together for a photo we later joked made us look like “club kids.”
Timehop, the app that “helps you celebrate the best moments of the past with your friends” via social media, has a funny way of being both heartwarming and heartbreaking, not just with reminders of lost loves, but also because of days like today when you remember that you are those people. Your friends, your loved ones, they are the dozens of wounded and murdered in Orlando. Laying on the floor of their favorite nightclub, dressed up, just wanting to dance, prideful, in the great month of June.
On Saturday, while I was serving at a restaurant, four kids came in. It was nearly closing time and I was tired, but they were energetic and just getting started. Tall and lanky, covered in glitter and fringe and a stick of eyeliner between them, they explained that they wanted a quick snack before going dancing. I showed them to a table as they whispered excitedly. I wanted so badly to ask where people even went dancing nowadays, like the next thing out of my mouth would be “when I was your age.” They made me nostalgic for my times spent dancing on stages and in cages, blurred faces of those I’d kissed at Berlin and Spin in Chicago, LaCage in Milwaukee and The Egyptian Club in Portland, Oregon. It took everything in me not to ask, “Where are you going? CAN I COME TOO?” It was like looking my 20s in the face, my entire timeline, all of those memories came flooding back. I felt so connected to them in that moment, the same moment that an armed gunman entered that nightclub in Orlando. Those kids were my community, they were my friends, they were those lost lives lost early Sunday morning.
It feels so deeply personal because I do know these people, and I feel negligible. It feels unfair to have made it through my 20s unscathed, being the menace I was to societal norms and my liver, making out with women publicly, living to now read about my youthful follies between updates on the Orlando massacre. Today those victims, those lost in a homophobic, transphobic and racist attack, have names. They have faces and identities, hopes and dreams. It could’ve been me, it was all of us behind the walls of a supposedly safe space our community fought so hard for.
Soon we’ll stop crying. We’ll go back to work, be able to get out of the car, eyeliner still intact. We’ll go back into spaces we once considered safe. The trending stories have already moved on, but those of us who’ve been made to feel illegitimate and unwanted our entire lives, who know what it is to crave safety, the fear will linger. Not only the next few weekends when we step out to celebrate Pride, but every time we gather with friends. And that is exactly why we should keep doing it. We have to keep showing up, gathering, going out, dancing till the lights come on. Rainbow mohawks for pride, wearing what we want, living how we choose, living the operative word, just like those who went to Pulse on Saturday night.
The one thing we cannot do is live in fear, shame, and regret. If not for ourselves, then for those who fought before us for our sanctuaries, for those who’ve lost their lives both before and this weekend, we have to keep dancing. We have to keep living out and proud. We can’t stop. Never stop. Happy pride.
If a bullet should enter my brain,
let that bullet destroy every closet door.
— Harvey Milk
[IMAGE: Hilary Swift | New York Times]