Last night was Dyke Nite, the fourth that we’ve hosted at Bernice’s Tavern, our beloved Bridgeport dive bar. What began as an offhand comment by Elise that we should ask Steve about hosting something for lesbians who don’t always want to go to the North Side to be in community has grown into something rare and precious, the kind of space that still feels unreal every time I think about it just after the fact. These places frequently occupy my thoughts: my first-ever short story, “The Name Question,” conjures a bar that slowly builds a particular queer clientele, before revealing itself as a time portal into a magical, more hopeful future. My first-ever published academic paper talked a lot about these spaces as well, particularly as imagined by Edie Fake, whose book Memory Palaces conjures shimmering queer spaces with names like The Killer Dyke and The Virgo Out, titles drawn from old Chicago gay newspapers. In my own little corner of the universe, I’d like to imagine this act of queer community building as that kind of joyous intervention into a broken world, one that will bring forth what we need to replace everything broken-down and unworkable today.
Last night was also Trans Day of Remembrance, and with it, a terrible and ugly anniversary. At last year’s TDOR, on a night already oversaturated with grief, a shooter entered Club Q in Colorado Springs, resulting in five deaths and dozens more injured. I awoke the day after the attack in Chicago and saw the news splash across my Twitter feed, showing me the place that I’d called home from ages three through eighteen once more in the news for its horrendous, unapologetic hatred for queer people. Feeling dislocated and at a loss to understand what had happened so far away, I began to sort through the overwhelming grief that I felt at a distance, wondering what it must have been like for those trying to make community where I’d never been able to do so.
The shooting changed my relationship to the Springs in major, and unexpected, ways. I wrote a brief reflection in the days after the attack, thinking through my own separation from my hometown and how hard it had been to see myself as queer in such a homophobic place. More recently, I published a longer essay, threading memories of the attack through another strange signpost in my journey: the image of a dog that mooed, which was the focal point of a 2006 ad campaign attempting to normalize queer people in an election year where Colorado voted to further ban gay marriage. The “Born Different” campaign, as it was known, unconsciously impacted my self-understanding as an unsteady 11- and 12-year-old, in the opening days of my first puberty and unaware that I could even see myself as queer. Years later, thinking back on the messaging of the campaign – that gay people are inescapably, obviously this way, that you could never willingly choose this lifestyle, but shouldn’t be condemned for it anyways – I remembered with renewed clarity what had pushed me away in the first place.
And yet. The past year has shown me pathways into the queer community in Colorado Springs that I’d never known before, built connections that are still in their opening stages, yet have left me feeling so much more nourished and fully embodied when I return home, as I did to celebrate my mom and I’s shared birthday last weekend. Right now, I’m thinking especially of the poet Nico Wilkinson, whose “trans day of i love you,” written through bitter and devastated tears the day after the attack, clarified so much of the hurt I was feeling from a distance. Yesterday, they published a newsletter reflecting on the anniversary and its impact on their life, and the lives of so many others in their community. The whole thing is worth reading in full, but I’ve been thinking about one rhetorical question they ask themselves, “Whether things were better now that Colorado Springs has double the rainbow flags on display than it once had”:
I think people want to hear that things are better. Increased support for the queer community in the aftermath would help our human desire for life to have a narrative in which tragedy serves a greater purpose. But it doesn’t. People are dead who should not be dead. They should be here, living their lives, with countless moments of joy before them. People are alive and still suffering their wounds, both physical and mental, with insufficient support. The needs of survivors have been buried beneath greed. Queer- and transphobia continues to be alive and well.
There are too many reasons for despair. As Wilkinson suggests, any rational analysis of what’s happening to all of us would lead us straight to a stupefied state of detached misery. It’s something I’m seeing in so many people that I love dearly, and is an emotional state that never feels far away, even in the best moments. Yet I also think about what Nico says later in the piece, a few paragraphs that I’ve run through my mind countless times in the last day, as I try to think of what we can give each other to make it though another day:
I believe the three prophylactics against paralyzing despair are gratitude, hope, and action. I believe them to be three sisters unified in a dance, their chalices held to the air in service of joy. When I speak of joy, I don’t speak of the mythology of capital-H-Happy. I don’t think there is such a destination. I think of joy as a tool of resistance. I think of it as that which fuels us forward, in even the darkest of times.
If I am to continue to be an engaged and active resistor against that which seeks to annihilate all of us - corporate greed, bigotry, fascism, I can't be overcome by despair, despite being very prone to despair, as I've been for as long as I can remember. In that way, joy serves a vital purpose in the revolution.
Gratitude is a muscle I am trying to work out every day. I think we owe it to this world, this world that continues to be so full of beauty, despite all of the terrible things that happen within it, to try and be grateful for what is here and good right now. These moments — my boyfriend bringing me coffee in bed, the bird stopping by my bird feeder, sitting on the dock of the lake by my house, every time I go out dancing at the gay bar and nothing bad happens — these moments feel more precious than ever. I try to savor them, despite the knowledge that 1. terrible things are happening or can happen at all times, and 2. these good moments are likely to become more and more scarce for all of us if fascism and climate change progress at the rate they are. If I become overcome by despair with this knowledge, the reserves of my hope go unfilled and I can’t be of service to this world. So, I have to be grateful. I have to savor what’s good.
Dyke Nite is one of the spaces where I feel a kinetic sense of better futures playing out in real time in front of me. Over the weekend, as Elise and I attended the lovely Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation in Evanston, I found myself sobbing through Stefan Gruber’s “Boiler Room Mystics,” a short film about letting in other people’s wild and unpredictable imaginations, and finding ways of vibrating together for as long as it makes sense to do so. I felt myself thinking, over and over, that we are only on this earth for a limited time, and that it is a gift to create beauty together and for each other, in whatever way we are able. These feelings can feel so alien when things are going wrong, when nothing adds up. But I hope that, wherever you may find yourself today, you can experience some small dose of this complicated joy, a happiness that is only real because of everything impossibly wrong that’s just out of view. Now more than ever, I want that for you and for everyone you have ever loved.