Yesterday morning I was still in bed, lying next to my wife as she slept. As is my habit, I grabbed my iPad to check the news. The headlines read something like “20 Dead in Nightclub Shootings,” [a few hours later we learned that the number was 50] and these early articles neglected to mention that the bar, the patrons, the bartenders, were queer people. But they knew… and I knew.
Queer people have magical powers. Among those is invisibility. Sometimes we make ourselves invisible for various reasons (including basic survival), and sometimes it’s other people, and society in general, who can’t / don’t / won’t see us. But one of the things about this magical power is the ability to see levels of reality that haven’t been fully expressed. We frequently can see through others’ invisibility — and through attempts to make us and our lives invisible. Thus, I read through the invisibility cloak cast by the New York Times and other media in their earliest submissions. So did some of my friends in their posts: “Please, God — don’t let this be at a gay bar!” even while, on some level, knowing that it was.
Once upon a time, a long time ago in a world far away, I was a bartender. I worked in a place much like Pulse. The weekend clientele was 75% gay men, 20% lesbians, and a few straight people. Mostly the latter were there with friends, and a few others who just liked the music and the vibe. But there were the occasional ones who were motivated by less-noble factors. Often the bartenders would notice, sometimes a patron would point out someone acting odd, and sometimes it would be a bouncer who knew that this person needed to go. A quiet-ish conversation between bouncer and customer, an arm in the person’s elbow to escort them to the door, and they were gone. And the party continued.
Knowing from my own experience that bouncers are strong, mostly silent heroes, it didn’t surprise me when I read that one of them had knocked down a wall or partition. Behind this wall was an employees-only area — and an exit to the outside, to safety. Unnamed in the story, maybe this was Kimberly “K.J.” Morse — one of those who died. (Or maybe not.)
I hated that the media was already turning to the evil, to the perpetrator, focusing on the “terrorism” (by which they meant a dark-skinned “radical Jihadist” because those are the only terrorists, right?) aspect of the story. That, and guns and other angles can and will be the subject of other conversations. But just then I wanted to know something different. I wanted to see hope. I wanted to see humanity. I needed to see the heroes.
By then I was up, flipping through the TV channels.
There was this guy, the guy in the hat on the left. He was interviewed (I think on CNN, but I was in a channel-flipping blur, so I can’t be sure), and he talked about escaping, running to safety — but then he saw someone else bleeding, so he stepped out of his safety zone to help carry this person to the back of a pickup truck to be taken to the hospital. All the ambulances were full.
Next I heard a story about a man who came to the scene to see if he could find news about his brother. He managed to get closer, inside the crime tape barrier, nearer to where there was still an “active shooter” situation. Even while searching for his loved one, he too helped to transport a messy, bleeding person away from the scene.
Then I heard this hero’s story:
Other heroes and sheroes include the many people who stood in line in the hot sun for hours so that they could donate much-needed blood. Some of these were people visiting DisneyWorld; some were Muslims during their Ramadan fasting time. No one did it for the accolades.
It took some hunting behind the story that the media was intent on telling, the story of the bad guy. But I loved these stories of ordinary people, queer and not, who found themselves in ugly, extraordinary circumstances and stepped up — some even in the face of danger.
In the introduction to David Copperfield, Charles Dickens wrote, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” Even in our times when it often seems like darkness prevails, there are stories of light — stories of ordinary people who do the right thing, thus becoming our heroes, and the heroes of their own lives.