Voices: Chris’s Story

This morning as I reflected on what I felt like needed to say about the Orlando shooting and the effect that horrific event and the aftermath are having in my circles, I realized the voices I want many to hear are not my own. Since I’ve been doing advocacy work for and with the LGBTQ community for the past couple of years as a straight ally, my Friends List on FaceBook (and in real life) is quite diverse and my FB feed most likely looks a little different than many of my straight, white (and also not trans) friends. My feed is FILLED with the shock, anger, fear, pain and resilience of a diverse community. Sure there are things that I want and need to say about this all, but I have the privilege and the platform, and with that the responsibility, to be able to amplify the voices of those from whom the world needs to hear.

As I started my day with that thought in mind, I opened FaceBook and the first post I saw was written by a new friend. I recently met Chris Arnold when he and his husband came to visit us. His husband, Greg, has been a friend of mine since Kindergarten. We’ve virtually celebrated each other’s lives and families’ stories for the past several years, but I finally met Chris in person just last month so, of course, we instantly became FaceBook friends, too!

By the time I finished reading his post I knew what I had to do. So, for the rest of this week, maybe even for the rest of this month, which also happens to be LGBTQ Pride month, I will post other people’s stories and posts that I think need to be seen by a bigger audience than their own circles.

One of my favorite authors and bloggers, Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery, posted yesterday that fear and hate cannot survive proximity. When we get close to each other, when we hear each other’s stories, when people are no longer those strangers but real people standing in front of us (even virtually) with stories, feelings, hopes and dreams, we become real to each other. We can begin to empathize and understand, and fear and hate cannot survive that.

So I’m asking you, friends, to please lean in this week and join me on a journey to hear about others Living Love Out Loud in their own ways. With that, here is Chris’s story:

So..

I’m on a plane, heading to Chicago. It has no WIFI, so I have some time without distractions, without news feeds or status updates or work emails to put some thoughts out onto “paper.”

I’ve said before that I’ve never felt any shame about being gay. That’s true. I’ve known even before I knew what it was. And by knowing, I mean that I knew I felt differently about other boys than most boys did. I knew I had crushes on girls (ladies- you know who you are), but the ripping the clothes off vibe most straight men get around boobies and other lady parts never materialized for me. From the moment I reached puberty, it was there for me with dudes.

Growing up in the 80s in Kansas, being gay meant you were a Village People stereotype and that you were going to get AIDS. That’s harsh, but true. I remember having conversations with friends that AIDS was God’s punishment on gays. I remember telling AIDS jokes myself at parties. It was a time of repression and denial for many. Watch or read “And the Band Played On” or “The Normal Heart” to gain a better understanding.

After a series of dramatic events in the early 90s, I finally embraced everything about who I was. I moved out of my parents’ house. I had a job to support (ish) myself. It was time to go to a gay bar. 🙂

My only exposure to gay bars had been what I seen in movies (seedy, dark or “Police Academy” movies) or what I’d read in books (seedy, dark, dangerous, predatory, etc.). At first, I was scared to go by myself. I had to have people go with me. I stayed close to the people I knew, only meeting a handful of new people. That changed November 20, 1993.

I remember that date as I was house-sitting for Mom & Dad when they were out of town. I decided to settle in and watch “Madonna- The Girlie Show” tour on HBO. After the two hour extravaganza, my homo batteries were overloaded with gayness (lol) I just had to go out. So I did. I put on my best green plaid blazer, blue polo and jeans and drove myself. I got into the bar and I saw others dancing. I decided it was time. I went to the middle of that dance floor and I danced..all night long. I was such a feeling of freedom. The music, the lights, the people like me. That night, I also met a new friend that would bring me into my first circle of gay friends.

We were such an interesting group. SO diverse. Not one of us was a cookie cutter version of the other. We were all misfits in our own way and had come together. It was a wonderful introduction to that world.

When I moved to Kansas City in 1994, I met a series of friends that became my family. When parents had a tough time with it, when friends would leave your life for it, when you could be fired from a job if people found out, this family was my lifeline. I’m not sure how we had the stamina to do it, but we went out virtually every night. Monday nights were at The Edge in downtown KC. Thursday nights were at The Coliseum or XO in Westport. Friday nights were the DB. Saturday nights were the Cabaret. Sunday nights were Beer Bust. Only Tuesdays and Wednesdays didn’t have a designated bar, but we likely found ourselves at one, whether it be the Other Side or Missie B’s.

I don’t know if I can truly articulate what a sense of community this was. Calling them bars didn’t really do them justice. I’ve heard many use the term sanctuary. Seems fitting.

Through the 90’s and early 2000’s, the bars were our life. It was about dancing, on a box, on a stage, in a cage (that sounded a little Dr. Seuss-like). It was about laughing. It was about pure joy, despite the drama and bad choices we all make in our 20’s and early 30’s. And yes, there was glitter. LOTS of glitter.

Eventually, you move into a different phase of life. Each of us in our family have families of our own. We get together as a group once or twice a year, as individuals a few times more than that. I would never want to go back, and I’d look pretty silly dancing on a box now…but I will always cherish those times of living in that gay bubble.

That’s why Orlando is so disturbing to us. The idea that someone could come into our sanctuary, our home, our place of joy and massacre us..all for being WHO WE ARE. It is crushing.

When I hear the same arguments come about about gun control, it makes me angry. It makes me angry we are still having this conversation. Children at elementary schools have been ripped apart. High schools. So many mass shootings, we’ve all become desensitized to it. Until it happens to us. Our sons, our daughters, our sisters, our brothers.

I’m not looking for a solution here on social media. I know what I feel. I know what I believe, but sharing those things with you now will only put you on your own defensive. Those conversations are clearly much better had in person or privately.

The purpose of me sharing this story is to get people to pause..to think. Stop yelling at each other. Stop calling each other assholes or idiots or gun nuts or zealots. Stop dismissing other peoples’ thoughts or perspectives. As trite as it sounds, this is what the terrorists, the evil in this world, wants. They want us to fight amongst ourselves. They want us to hate each other, to fear each other. We need to LISTEN more. We need to understand better why some are afraid. We need to meet anger, justifiable anger, with compassion and humility. We need find where we do agree and move forward.

I’m so tired of seeing people I love post things about liberals destroying this country. That’s bullshit. I identify as a liberal and I can categorically tell you I love this country and want it to to be the best it can be. I’m tired of my liberal friends continually dismissing conservatives and religious people just as casually and angrily as people that dismiss them. I’m also tired of some leaders and pundits that represent us representing only the worst things in us. We have to be better than this.

I’ll close with two quotes that have always stood out to me. One is “A wise man once said that salvation is attained by being so clearheaded and inwardly strong that you can meet your opponent halfway.” The other is “It’s not wrong to be frightened…just don’t let let fear dictate your actions.” Don’t let the fact that the first one comes from “Beverly Hills, 90210” and the second from Captain America dilute their impact. 🙂

Choose Life. Choose Love. Choose Now.

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