Sunday morning I awoke to the horrifying news: 20 had been killed in a mass shooting in Orlando. Stunned, I went about the business of getting Stephen and me to church. As usual, we picked up our neighbor, Jim, to give him a ride. His first words in the car were, “Did you hear that 50 people were killed in an attack on a gay bar?” There was something about having that initial estimate of deaths more than doubled that threw me into one of the worst places that I have ever found myself in. I almost couldn’t function. Thank God, our Rector, Jon, started the sermon with silence and a prayer for healing. But I couldn’t even watch the news that day, I was so much in a state of shock.
All of our problems in this world are not due to us queers. All of the problems of this world are due to the killers. The people who hate queer, fear queer, are pissed off at queer.
Monday morning, I ventured out on to Facebook and began to try to pull myself back into this horrifying reality. I thought that I had no words to express or comprehend this tragic event, and nothing to contribute to the discussion, only grief. But over the day’s time I was to find my help and my healing. Because I am well-connected with the LGBTQ community in St. Louis, one by one, my friends, many of them leaders here in St. Louis, began to weigh in with articulate, well thought out commentary. It is their clarity and strength to which I owe a debt, because I have been pulled through this tragedy and into the dawning light at the end of the passage.
One of the strongest strains in these commentaries at first shocked and surprised me and later strengthened and energized me. My friends were saying “Don’t be afraid. Don’t go into hiding. We have fought too hard to gain our freedom. Still walk with pride and still make your life as full of love and joy as you can.” It was a hard message to take in, because part of me was thinking, “How can you say this in the face of the horrifying loss of all these young, beautiful lives?” But gradually I began to be strengthened by the fact that I was being nurtured by a community that collectively cared even more than a single individual could. I was further energized when our own community mustered a vigil 3000 strong at the Transgendered Memorial Garden in the Grove. Across the nation tens of thousands stood at vigil for these innocent souls. Two days later, here I am, and here are my own words gratefully offered back to my community and to the world of my friends in return.
I never realized just how different, in a word, queer, I really was until just the last few months. I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to pretend I was a straight man. But I wasn’t. I was a good person. In 1970 I called myself “gay” and spent another 10 years exploring what it might mean that Jim Andris was a gay man. All that exploration led to my meeting and eventually marrying my life partner, Stephen, and we have made a life together for another 30 years—daughter, grandson, inlaws, the whole gay family thing.
But then I began to put together another piece of the puzzle of me. After a few years of research, medical tests and consultation and personal soul-searching, I have concluded that to that now so familiar appellation “gay man” I must add the terms “intersex” and “non-binary.” And with this discovery, I have become irrevocably, firmly, and proudly queer. I embrace the word. I do not fit any of your preconceived notions of me. I am just myself. I don’t even fit squarely on the masculine/feminine dichotomy at the physical level. Any biology that is based on the assumption “men are men and women are women” can not comprehend my situation. Moreover, any psychology that is based on the assumption that people are either feminine or masculine can not comprehend me.
This is not the place for details, but you deserve a sketch of my situation. I have a mild form of androgen insensitivity syndrome. It has affected every part of my life. In particular, I have in my life twice had breast reduction surgery—I might add, to please an unreasonable social expectation that men do not have breasts. Because of this physical condition, and before I was mature and able to reason my way into a full and satisfying life, I also struggled with some form of gender identity uncertainty similar to the kind of gender dysphoria that many transmen and transwomen experience. In my case, I hated my somewhat feminized body, and I struggle with this still today.
If you harbor any thoughts that somehow because of my pride and self-acceptance, I asked to be killed, well, brother and sister, that is a statement about you, not me. You are a killer sympathizer. You support killing.
So there you have it. I am as queer as you get. I am a gay man, I am an intersex person, I am a member of the trans community. I’m through stuffin’ it. Let’s get one thing clear. If you shoot me—either physically or symbolically—that is not a statement about me. That is a statement about you. You are a killer. And if you harbor any thoughts that somehow because of my pride and self-acceptance, I asked to be killed, well, brother and sister, that is a statement about you, not me. You are a killer sympathizer. You support killing.
All of our problems in this world are not due to us queers. All of the problems of this world are due to the killers. The people who hate queer, fear queer, are pissed off at queer. Those people, the haters, the judgers, the killers, those people are causing ALL the problems of this world. We can’t start helping people until we stop fearing and hating them.
All this cannot change the fact that throughout history, perhaps even millions of queer people have been killed. Killing is a part of life on this planet. If you want to do something significant, stop the killing. I grieve for the innocent souls who have been killed. It doesn’t matter what name they were killed in, because there is no justification for killing. There is only justification for love. That includes queer love.