Opinion: This Holiday, I’m Going to a Gay Bar

They tell us not to flaunt it. They tell us to not shove it in their faces. They tell us not to talk about it. They tell us everything would be fine if we’d just keep it behind closed doors. They tell us these things during Thanksgiving dinner, at Christmas after the kids have opened their gifts, while the game is on and we wanted to try to talk, to explain, to give them a chance to see us, to love us. We don’t want to give up just yet.

When I heard the news about the shooting at Club Q, an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub in Colorado Springs, I couldn’t help but think of the rhetoric spewed by those like James Dobson.

We know what we’re up against. We heard it growing up, in church and at home. We heard the words they use in polite company — about loving the sinner and hating the sin. We heard the words they used when they’d been listening to Christian radio or their actual minister or Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, about abominations and predators in bathrooms and groomers on the internet, and the words they use when they’ve had one too many, the names they call those who could be our friends, who could be us.

Those words we heard and were taught and were forced to read, a whole lot of those words came out of Colorado Springs, the headquarters of Focus on the Family, an evangelical organization whose founder, Mr. Dobson, wrote books exhorting our evangelical parents on how to deal with strong-willed children — corporal punishment, “a little pain goes a long way” — and on how to raise boys to be suitably masculine, who compared homosexuality to pedophilia and who once appeared to offer a solution to fathers whose young daughters had to share a restroom with trans women: “If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!”

Some of us grew up and escaped to cities where we could feel, if not safe exactly, at least a little less alone. We could find jobs where we didn’t have to hide who we were and tell lies about our “roommate.” We could find friends like us, a new family, to replace one we lost. Some of us stayed home or moved home when things didn’t work out in the city. But that story’s heartwarming only when the main character is a straight executive in a Hallmark movie.

Some of us go home for the holidays, where we are told to keep it behind closed doors. We step outside to walk the dog so they don’t see our tears. We call our friends back in the city. Our brother steps out onto the porch to tell us, when we ask why our family can’t just love us, “It’s all about the baby Jesus,” because he’s the only one who knows how much it hurts. And he’s the only one who can still make us laugh about it.

Later on, when the kids are sleeping, when Mom wants to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” some of us head to the bar. We don’t need to know anyone there. We don’t need anyone to tag along. We don’t need to know if it’s a dance night or a drag show. We’ll be all right.

Just as soon as we walk through those doors, past the bouncer checking IDs, up to the bar, where the impossibly cute bartender nods to let us know he’s seen us. He did see us. Someone finally did. It’s been a while. This is where we’re safe. For many of us, it’s the only place. They told us it would be OK, behind those closed doors. They’d leave us alone.

Often there’s a drag show, a fund-raiser for a homeless shelter for the queer kids whose parents listened to their evangelical leader and threw their children out onto the streets. We’ve heard the panic about drag queens, and it’d be hard to not laugh if we didn’t know the intent behind the manufactured panic. Drag queens talk about sex the way politicians talk about thoughts and prayers and Christians talk about love. Everyone knows they’re full of it. Drag queens are in on the joke.


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