Act. Speak.

The night after Pulse, my parents called me. My step-mother was first. She held back tears. When my father called he simply wept. His grief was tangible and heavy. He didn’t know what to do with it and that was why he called me. As if sharing might ease his heartbreak. As if I wasn’t already carrying my own. And I found that I was angry. Not just at my parents, but all heteronormative people. I was livid that anyone whose existence perpetuates heterosexism would have the audacity to be sad on my behalf and then try to hand me that sadness because it was too frightening for them.

This world is heterosexist. I am queer. Heterosexism is violent. I am its target.

I have been taught fear since I was old enough to recognize that society was not created for me. There are multitudes of rules and laws and expectations with the sole purpose of keeping me down. Silent. Invisible.

Heterosexism is a constant. It began with lace covered dresses. Teachers who said I should read the lines for Becky, not Tom. Principals who dress-coded my jeans and boxers. Classmates who claimed I was worth a little bit less than other kids. Customers who hid me from their children’s eyes and managers who agreed and put me in the back room. These are the moments I remember. The times I was told that other people’s discomfort was worth more than my identity.

And so I built walls. I cultivated cynicism. I learned not to cry. I learned not to care. But my coldness is not a tragedy. It simply is.

Orlando was a tragedy. Of course it was a tragedy. But tragedy is also commonplace. Violence is commonplace. But my cold heart protects me. The only reason my father cries is because he just realized that this is reality and his heart isn’t cold yet.

Mass murder is a brutal way to learn a lesson. But I’m glad heteronormative people finally got a glimpse of what I’ve known all along. Our society is violent to queers. It is especially violent to those who are not white, not gender conforming, not like you.

Violence is not an aberration. It is not a man with a gun. He is only a representation. He is the result of every time we hear the word “faggot” and don’t respond. He is the result of every person denied housing or healthcare because they are queer. He is the result of every person who hates the sin, but loves the sinner. Every kid whose gender is policed. Every transperson who is misgendered. Every time we see a dead queer on television because that’s the only good kind of queer. Every time we write off bigotry as a joke because a good person made it. Every time we excuse behavior because “that’s not what they meant” or “they’re cool with gay people” or “my sister’s gay.” Every time we remain silent to maintain civility.

I’ve stopped handing out passes. It doesn’t matter if the speaker is a colleague or a child I’m supposed to guide or an old friend. I point out the language and maybe we have a conversation. Maybe they just nod along. I’ve learned that difficult conversations are actually not that difficult. More often than not, they are a relief.

It can feel impossible to police the language of someone you’ve known since you were twelve. Or a stranger’s behavior in public. The cost of silence is dead queers, dead people of color, dead women. We can’t afford complacency. We never could.



  1. Excellent column, Ash. I have always been one of those who speak up. I try to do it in a polite way that can be heard, but I’m sure some people still think I’m being pushy/whiny/oversensitive and all the other words people use when they’re too uncomfortable to take on what’s being said and would rather blame the messenger. Very well said.

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