Tinyletter, Big Heart: Part V

This archive of Rohin Guha’s Tinyletters was supposed to originate from his essays last November, one for each day till his birthday. But last Sunday a man who’d lawfully purchased an assault rifle walked into Latin Night at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and massacred 49 people in cold blood. Among the dead, a 50-year-old woman who’d raised 11 children and beat cancer twice, who was there to dance with her son. A 22-year-old man who worked at the Harry Potter ride at Universal Orlando. Like most people I know I haven’t been able to quell the storm of rage in my heart, rage at our elected officials, rage at the NRA and the reprehensible jingling of their pockets. I don’t know how to stop crying, because 49 innocents no longer walk the Earth since a man with disparate possible terrorist ties, who was also a regular at Pulse, walked into a haven for the LGBTQ community in Orlando and transmitted his hatred via bullets. To everyone saying this is a time for prayer, shut the fuck up. To everyone saying we shouldn’t forget gun rights or due process or the 2nd Amendment, shut the fuck up. This was an act of homophobia, of unspeakable violence, a result of bigotry and nonexistent gun control laws. To everyone, I request that we listen to the LGBTQ community, open our hearts and minds, and then get to work.

“Orlando” — June 12, 2016

We are in the car and he’s driving us to get cold brew coffees and bagel sandwiches. His hand brushes my leg affectionately. He asks, “Did you read the news at all today?”
“I heard a little about Orlando.”

“Pulse – it was a nightclub. Some guy shot up the place and killed 20 people. They’re calling it an act of domestic terrorism.”

“I hope they call it a hate crime. I hope they do something about guns this time.”

We both chuckle dryly because it feels futile; we know they will do nothing about guns this time. Soon we are at the café. We get out. I scratch his back, I kiss his cheek. I don’t know if we’re technically dating, but I know whatever it is, it is feels reliable in the present. I can only think about the present. In the present, I kiss his cheek and he giggles.

I live in a state, like many queer Americans, where being openly queer is grounds enough to fire me; I could be the highest performer at my place of employment and still be let go for no reason.

I see straight men and women kissing one another public, coming in for a tight embrace, holding hands: I make a note that whenever I go to perform any of these rituals of affection, I hesitate–and so does my date–not because we are doubting our interest in one another, but because we are both afraid for our lives of who might be around. We afraid what they will do, how they will react.

I have somehow accumulated a collection of strangers posing as friends–only to find out that they will refuse to join me at a gay bar for birthday celebrations; they don’t want to frequent a gay establishment–that is, a place that caters to queer men and women instead of straight men and women. These are the same friends who, today, have remained silent about Orlando, perhaps because it has no direct bearing on their emotional or physical well-being. I am reconsidering their standing as my friends.

But I am used to violence on all levels–from friends and strangers–it doesn’t have to leave a black-eye to injure.

I took the surface streets home this morning–it was 72º with clear blue skies and a generous pour of sunlight–I took the surface streets home and at some point, Orlando hit my bones. By the time I pull into the supermarket to do my shopping for the week, I find myself crying.

I find myself crying because to be proudly queer in Florida, I feel, must be akin to being proudly queer in Michigan: We are frequently deer hiding from wolves. The laws in our lands have not caught up with the times; our neighbors are frequently cheering for our demise and voting to restrict our access to inalienable rights. I am grateful for my sunglasses because nobody can tell I’m crying or that salt deposits have formed above my cheeks.

Navigating the aisles to get milk, apples, bananas, coffee, yogurt, chili sauce, I felt like I was floating through a fog. I saw other customers and I wondered if they knew about the shooting. Do they care? Certainly, there are people in their families who identify as queer, do they worry about their loved ones? Or are they wolves and would they try to affix their jaws around my sternum the first chance they could, upon learning that I identify as queer–with no regard for the fact that I am somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s lover, somebody’s coworker. I paid for my groceries and walked out and then I wondered if I dreamt my entire purchase.

It is a me-first mentality that is burning our world to the ground.

He makes me laugh a lot, this one. We have awkward silences but then we stare at one another and he has expressive green-brown eyes. I am writing this and sharing this with you because it forces me to remember something good, something wonderful. I am sharing this because in the event he and I unexpectedly part ways–and it is early enough where we could, no questions asked–I can hold onto how powerful this made me feel. This is the part of my life where I have begun learning what it means to be a confident, powerful queer man–a feeling I have never known before.

I am thinking about the revelers inside Pulse last night: How many of them were embarking on some form of romance like this? How many of them had already built families? How many of them were enjoying being single? What were they sipping on? If they were going to go to a late-night greasy spoon, what would they order? How many of them had brothers and sisters? How did they get along with their parents? When coworkers on Monday would ask them, “How was your weekend?”, how would they respond? How would they excuse themselves out of small talk so they could get along with the rest of their day?

Over the next many days and weeks everyone will pontificate over motives, everyone will participate in the ritual of charades that we all tend to after any kind of mass shooting–”Just how do we solve this problem!!!”–cable news channels will commission “expert” analyses that will seem uniquely devoid of actual analysis and hack journalists will shart out thousands of thinkpieces devoid of actual substance. Nobody with the resources to craft a solution will even take the first step to building a solution. The TSA will probably step up racially-motivated screening initiatives.
I smelled like him after he dropped me off at my car–and until I jumped into the shower. It was a wonderful smell.
Today, we are hurt, bruised, wounded. Today, we need to know you are there for us and if it means you need to speak louder, then please speak louder. It is a mild inconvenience for you to demonstrate empathy–but your empathy makes survival for us just a little less difficult. Listen to the stories, spread them like wildfire, and show love.


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