Orlando Went Dark Tonight / by Jacs Fishburne

I remember being ten and hearing about Matthew Shepard and feeling like a hole was torn inside me. Something about his face and the events surrounding his death crushed something deep inside, something my ten year old brain didn’t exactly have a name for yet. I was terrified of Wyoming for years afterwards, saying a silent prayer whenever I happened to pass on 80 through Laramie. I was afraid of my dreams, the same one occurring since I was three, in which I am in a concrete room with a glass cube illuminated by a single lightbulb. Inside the glass cube, nude bodies are moving against each other, pressing and pulling and creating new shapes and spaces. I was afraid of the girls on my bus, the ones who bullied me and who would lure me in with questions about whether I preferred hot dogs or tacos. When I answered tacos because I was vegetarian, I was told I was a lesbian and mocked mercilessly for it for years. I was terrified they knew what the girl across the street had me do when I was eight, that they saw some secret I didn’t have access to.

When I was thirteen, I came out as bisexual. At the time, there was not a lot of talk of multiple sexual orientations and I figured since I didn’t seem to have a gender preference, that must be what I was. I remember the scorn and the ridicule. Apparently everyone was bisexual that year, it was en vogue, and so I was told to shut up. My family reacted by informing me I was too young to know and that I didn’t want the labels. I kept my activities with females and males secret, like if no one knew about them, they wouldn’t exist. 

When I was seventeen, my friends and I started joking that I was asexual. In my head, I could simple split myself in two to reproduce and create an evil army. By nineteen, I realized that asexual was a thing and that was what I was. Occasionally, I would feel a slight sexual pull, more often based out of a desire for experience, and eventually settled on grey-asexual as the best term for myself. From eighteen to twenty-three, I sought solace in the dark dance floors of various jam bands in various cities. I would take illicit drugs because it was easier than dealing with my mind and body for a few hours, the physical pain from the car accident sharpened by the mental stress of years of gas lighting, depression, and anxiety. I found others who felt like me, who were looking for an escape from the possibility that we would turn out just as miserable as our parents. No one judged and if someone was too spun out, people watched out, got medics if needed, water and love otherwise. You were who you wanted to be, a higher version of yourself aided by a crowd surging with love, lights washing over faces, aided more often than not drugs, just enough for things to be heightened, never enough to fully leave the moment.

When I returned back to art, really truly returned and immersed myself in it, I left the dance floor for a car and some wild hope. I found a new space for my identity to be valued and valid. A place where others can be who they are. When the news broke about the mass shooting in Orlando, a monstrosity of hate that sought to rob a community of a safe space, the same hole in my chest that Matthew Shepard created opened. I wanted to gather my thoughts regarding this before speaking. Because the truth of the matter is, I understand the importance of finding a space where you can be your best self, even for a couple hours. To have that taken from you creates this sense of feeling powerless, as if no where is really safe.

But the wonderful thing to come out of this was the aftermath, when people came out to remind others they loved them, that they were thinking of them, that they were there to offer a safe space for them if they needed it. It’s not a perfect thing, and truthfully I am exhausted and saddened for those individuals who were impacted by the Pulse shooting. It reminds me of why i generally remain quiet on sexual identity. Because in times of fear, it feels safer to hide down a part of yourself than it is to let it shine. But to those whose voices are finding their power, know that I love you and want you to succeed. You will get through this and if you need a safe space, I will create one for you. The hole in your heart will start to fill in again, though the scar will always be there. I can’t promise things will be easier, but I will walk by your side and listen to your voices when you speak.

I love you.