It was four in the morning in the middle of the New Mexican desert that I finally understood what it meant to be alive. I was 15, on a weeklong hike with my scout troop, when our guide decided it was time for us to see the Milky Way. All I can say is pictures do not do it justice. I remember trying to shake the sleep out of my eyes and stepping out of my tent, and when I looked up my breath got stuck in my throat. The stars seemed at once both above and encircling me. I’d never seen such a sight before and I still haven’t since. Everything was too bright, too colorful, and too full of life. When I looked at my fellow scouts I knew I wasn’t the only one having this crisis of indescribable joy and wonder. I will never be able to put into words what that moment was for me beyond my first awakening.
I don’t use that term lightly. It’s not every day that you wake up to indescribable beauty and wonder. (Unless every day you wake up next to Chris Evans) Most days in your life will be bound to the ordinary and routine. You will wake up and go to school and work and to the gym and you will go back home at the end of the day and your stale existence will be comforting but not be fulfilling. And then one day you wake up and suddenly nothing is the same. That is your first awakening. Suddenly your temper doesn’t flare as much, you realize your original perception of the color periwinkle is flawed and incomplete because that color is actually Robin’s Egg and brighter and bluer than before, and you can smell bread baking miles away. Now, these effects are only temporary but are indicative of what lies in wait of those who pursue life.
I understand that that is easier said than done. You might say, “I have bills, kids, and a pet rock. I can’t be out there gallivanting across the world ‘living’. “But you would be wrong. There is a difference between the act of living for the show, something we’re all guilty of when we post photos of our dinners and drinks on Instagram, and living authentically. The victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando were doing just that. It was Latin night at the local gay club. A Saturday evening spent with friends and lovers, dancing and drinking and living a life tragically cut short. Waking up to the report that the largest mass shooting in American history happened just hours before is a bad feeling. Upon finding out that it was targeted at LGBT persons turned that bad feeling into a gut punch, one that got worse and worse with every new detail and tweet. It could’ve been me. I meet all the qualities of the deceased: young, Hispanic, and gay. I have this fog of confusion and anger overwhelming me as to how something like this could be an actual reality we have to face in 2016.
I could very easily open the door to internet trolls here and try to use my limited knowledge of American politics to start the discourse on gun control and the fake prayers of pandering politicians but instead, I want to talk about myself. I am 23. I am Catholic. I am Hispanic. I am Gay. When I was in that desert I was 15. I was Catholic. I was Hispanic. I was in the closet. To be otherwise would’ve meant my expulsion from my scout troop and at that time most likely my family as well. But looking up at the Milky Way I couldn’t help but think it was all okay. And yes it was all okay, but it wasn’t authentic. I’ve realized that humans possess the remarkable ability to ignore their problems when it suits them. You are still able to have good and bad days as long as you don’t let the façade shatter. Disney sets up the perfect example of this with the character Elsa in the movie “Frozen”. Though given no specific sexuality in the film it is easy to see why many LGBT people relate to her character. In a society where magic is strange and different and unwelcome, she has to hide her developing powers which, when revealed, force her to the role of the outcast or other. The gift of her ice magic which is channeled through her hands is hidden by her refusal to take off her gloves. With them on she can pass as normal with no one the wiser as to what makes her, her. Now I’m not saying that my gayness is what makes me, me, rather it is what makes me fully me. I could go my whole life saying that I’m straight and passing as normal. I could do the “proper thing” and marry a nice Hispanic girl and raise a beautiful Hispanic Catholic family, something that would make my parents and family oh so happy. I have that choice. I could “choose” to be safe. I could choose to not be targeted for hate crimes. I could choose to have my opinion be more valued or to walk down the street with my wife and receive no second glances. The one thing I can’t choose to do however is to be anyone other than who I was born as: a man who loves men. Just as Elsa has no control of her ability to perform wondrous acts of magic, I have no choice in the matter of which gender I’m attracted to. For a long time, I made the choice to act the part of the straight male. I made up dates with girls to tell my parents about. I told my friends that I was attracted to so and so from that sorority or that I thought whatshername was really pretty. I made the conscientious decision to not be me and it brought forth years of self-loathing and hate that was completely intolerable. I figured other people in this world were going to hate me plenty for being me that there really wasn’t any reason for me to hate myself. So I came out. Out of the closet, out of denial, out of despair. Not everyone has the luxury, even today in the age of Glee and Modern Family, to do so and that is so very saddening.
That is why in the wake of this terrible tragedy in Orlando we must not allow ourselves to be cowed into the closet once more. After Columbine we went back to school, after Aurora, we went back to the movies, and after Pulse, we MUST go back to the clubs and bars. I don’t mean to insinuate that we must go back and rage every Saturday in some bizarre ode to the deceased, but to not be afraid to once again reclaim our safe spaces, to be ourselves and show our pride. Just yesterday I had a straight coworker urge me to reconsider going to the local Pride festival. I know her message was out of love and of fear of my safety but that was not the sort of advice I wanted to receive. There are already way too many societal pressures to stay in the closet or to not be camp. There are too many people who yell insults when they see a gay couple hold hands or kiss in public. And sadly there are those who will resort to violence to make sure that their fragile views of the world remain intact. Unfortunately, I’m too tired to care about all of that. I waited 21 years to fully accept myself and I just don’t have the patience to do that again in order to avert some potential future danger. I am not ashamed of the person I was lucky enough to be born as and therefore I cannot feasibly say it is okay to hole up at home for all time because of these events. To hide is a disservice to those LGBT activists who came before me and paved the way for our equality. Things aren’t perfect for us and more change needs to happen, but I’m confident enough to remove the gloves and walk alongside all you lovely souls downtown this month.
The Milky Way has 49 more stars to see now.