Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When Vigils Are Not Large Enough for Our Grief

On September 11, 2001, I attended a vigil for the first time. I was living in Austin. The vigil, held at Republic Square (telling already), included faith leaders, elected officials, and community leaders who spoke of our collective strength and resilience and how the tragedy of that morning was at the hands of monsters who hated everything we stood for— mainly, our freedom. I was 22 years old, at a loss for words, still unable to describe my experience, but I knew something about those words and the energy in the crowd were at odds with who I was and how I was grieving.

On Sunday, June 12, I learned of vigils happening in the Castro and in downtown Oakland. I could not get myself to attend either. I could not stand in the crowd, U.S. flags hovering over and flapping about while people (politicians and community leaders alike) spoke in the plural of a mythical "We" I have never experienced, a “We” that implies (if not explicitly stated soon after) that there is also a "Them,” a “Them” that looks nothing like “us.”

I no longer know how to stand in a crowd where I am meant to be moved to goosebumps and tears for being a part of a group that some other group is trying to kill. I do not know how to count myself among the "We" when the "We" is defined by the political and ideological borders of this country. I do not know how to count myself among the "We" when my membership exists only because my mother's water broke within the geographic confines of said borders. I do not know how to belong to a group that is bound by a way of loving and desiring, when this same group fails to understand that my way of loving and desiring is rooted in a history, a politic, and polylithic hopes.

Where will my goosebumps come from if this very "We" is doing everything it can and cannot to keep people who look like me, but whose mothers' water broke on the other side, from becoming a part of "us"? Where do I dig for tears when my wells are just as brown and deplorable as the one who died trying to cross the Arizona border? How do I convince myself that I am one of "us"?

I could not attend another vigil because I fear patriotism. I fear patriots. I fear myself among them, drowning in a whitewashing and othering that leaves or keeps people who look like me on the other side. I do not know how to breathe through proclamations of unity and country when the bodies carried out of that gay bar in Orlando were the bodies of Black and Brown queers —patos, maricones, jotos, dykes, bulldaggers, queens, locas—, outsiders exiled from a gay and lesbianism that defaults to white, and too often, from our own gente who don’t know what to do with us.

I do not know how to mourn my beloveds while standing alongside those who weep only because they see their sexual orientation in those bodies, but have failed to love and honor and include the Black and Brownness of the ones they now mourn. I do not know how to fall into the arms of someone who does not mourn Black and Brown bodies that are unqueer nor the explicit Black and Brownness of the queer. How do I stand beside those who do not understand why queer people of color weep the way we weep right now? How do I accept a hug when the part of me that is offered a hug is the only part that makes me a perceived kin? I cannot weep and explain that my grief is not compartmentalized, that all of who I am is wailing, that I see all of me in every one of those bodies.

So I mourn in private, mostly. I walk through the day holding this grief in my bones, wishing I could physically join a mass of mourners and know that when I am held, they are holding all of me as I grieve all of who my beloveds were.

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