In the early hours of Sunday, June 12, word began to spread of the latest mass shooting: a lone gunman had entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and killed 50 people, with another 53 injured. Over the next few days, as the national conversation moved on to the implications of this attack for terrorism, gun control, and the American election, queer communities around the world remained shaken by this horrifying act of hate.
Electric City Magazine reached out to a number of local queer writers and activists to hear their perspective on the issue. We’ve shared Cathy Petch’s poem “50 Radical Acts of Love” and Angela Semple’s “how to support me today,” and today we present personal reflections on queerness, violence, and Orlando from Electric City Magazine‘s designer, B. Mroz.
I wear pink shoes. I’ve had them a year. They are comfortable and lightweight and great for walking, though their intention is to run. They’re probably frustrated, designed for better than I give them, but they never complain. They’re good shoes.
They often elicit comments, summed up in a question posed to me by a four-year-old boy, figuring out the world from two feet tall: “How come you got pink shoes?”
“Because I like them.”
They’re sometimes called red, generously and pityingly, by well-meaning men who want to give me an out. Mostly I get coral, and I’ll take it, because it’s technically accurate if not wholly honest. Coral is a way to say pink for boys without being faggy about it. I take it because it makes some people uncomfortable for me to call it pink – just like it makes some folk uncomfortable for me to call my purse a purse and not a murse. People like their categories. To look at me and hear me, you might not know which flag I’m running. To the right sort it’s pink and purse, and if to the rest it’s coral and murse I’m not going to fuss about it. They mean well.
A few weeks ago my coral-called shoes and I went for a walk with my boyfriend and two dogs. We walked a road we’d walked a few times before, and something made me smile down on the dog I had tethered to me, lean and handsome and laughing back, when I noticed a figure coming down the sidewalk toward us.
It was a guy, some linebacker teen thick and tall and vaguely greasy. I turned my smile toward him, like I do with everybody when I’m feeling smiley. Like how I soften my eyes when meeting new animals to show I’m not a threat.
But as he approached his eyes flickered down to my shoes, then narrowed, and as he passed he sneered, and through his sneer he spoke the word like idly lobbing an old tennis ball against an old brick wall.
I stopped smiling. We kept walking. Me a little faster than before, and I hated myself for it – hated my shoes and their coral flashing pinkly forward, begging me to run. Run faggot run. Run til you reach coral again.
But coral isn’t really safe. The intention behind it is kind, but the impulse to be kind to me about pink things comes from the same place as faggot. And faggot is a bullet. There is a line from my pink shoes to the sidewalk bully to the Orlando mass-murderer homophobe to his queer coloured victims cut down dancing. Dancing in a gay club is as pink as it gets. There’s no calling coral on that. My shoes were worth a word to the sad bastard that lobbed it; not intending to kill, just graze. Their dancing, that complete expression of self and will to be as they were made, were worth their lives and his own, to him. How riddled must he have been with faggots – shot, lobbed, or swallowed over the short, sad course of his life – that he became the gun to shoot those people dead for the audacity to be who they were and where they wanted to be when he couldn’t. I’m not saying he was gay, pressed into service by the hate so casually spewed out on YouTube and Twitter and countless comments across the net, so insidiously woven into all aspects of culture, so directly advocated for by people who don’t understand the religions they misread, but I don’t believe anyone who ends their life on the business end of a gun intended to be there.
The grief I feel is small and familiar, hard like a nut. I’ve been carrying it my whole life. I mourn for my brothers and sisters slain. I mourn for all queers shaken out of whatever comfort we’ve been tricked into feeling. I mourn, and I’m angry, and I’m scared about how precarious my place in the world feels sometimes, when it seems all that stands between me and terminal faggoting is the contemptuous kindness of coral and murse. I’m scared that my first thought was my shoes had betrayed me, and my first impulse was to hate them, and myself, again. Run, faggot. Run.
But I don’t run. I walk. Sometimes briskly, stiffly, walking hard and flatfooted like I’m mad at it. But I walk. And I wear pink shoes.