Standing at the candlelight vigil along the Mississippi River, honoring all the lives lost in the Orlando gay club massacre, I realized something for the first time. How I missed it, I don’t know. The message has been everywhere, but it never struck home: Don’t be ashamed.
Empowerment. I was raised in a culture of dis-empowerment. Ashamed of my natural self. Nervous since childhood for wanting to wear my mother’s makeup and clothing. Beaten and shamed throughout my life for the unique and strange person that I am. Embracing it outwardly, but inwardly being cripplingly embarrassed of everything I’ve ever said and done.
Yet the crowd tonight, brought together by indescribable horror, was there to honor those who were targeted for being unashamed. People who were murdered for being true to themselves, and not being scared of how the rest of the world viewed them. While we were there for them, we were also there for each other, empowering our neighbors to embrace their full expression. To kiss and fuck and love and wear whoever and whatever we want.
I’ve understood empowerment before. But never in this way. I’m happy to be alive in a time of such solidarity, even in the face of incredible setbacks and tragedy. Thanks to everyone who does not hide. You give me strength.