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Orlando IS Family, and Parties ARE Sanctuaries 

Orlando IS Family, and Parties ARE Sanctuaries

Orlando IS Family, and Parties ARE Sanctuaries

I am not Orlando, but Orlando was my family. Chosen family and parties can save lives. 

Basil_Soper

Photo: Abigail Lynn

I remember the first gay club I entered.

I was 16. My friends and I were in high school and snuck into a gay bar in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We sat in awe of the go-go boys, cheered on drag queens, held hands, and kissed openly.

I remember the time my Aunt Julie snuck me into a gay bar.

I was 18. I had recently started living with her and my cousin because my housing situation fell apart in Charleston and my immediate family was antigay. My aunt lied for me and managed to sneak me into a club that was 21+. She loved doing karaoke and embarrassed me by dedicating and singing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera to me.  I was flirting with a much older person when I heard her call out my name, followed by a chorus of her and a bunch of gay men singing "I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can't bring me down." I thanked her by getting way too drunk, falling down, and then getting us both kicked out of the club. It was fun.

I remember traveling to a larger, louder, easier bar to sneak into.

I was 19. I had fallen in love with a girl named Megan who later became family. She was the first person outside of my Aunt who let me know being myself was good. She taught me how to take up space. She, James, me, Julian, and Josie drove to North Carolina to get a taste of a two-story bar. You can only sneak into the same bar so many times in a small, Southern town. By this time, I had a fake ID. I specifically remember feeling proud and loud for the first time. I wore a tie for the first time. 

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I remember the first queer dance party that I attended.

I was 24 and living in the sleepy and magical mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. I had only recently reemerged into any sort of night life scene after spending a few years in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse. I was kind of new to it all. I spent a lot of my formative queer years living in a lot of confusion about my gender identity and never really feeling like the term “lesbian” fit. In my earlier experiences, while I was using and partying, I only had a small taste of where this tradition could take me. It took some time, but after some therapy and internal work, I was beginning to find my place. I had only made my first queer friends about two years earlier. Some might say I was a little late in the game and some might say they wish they had come out that young. 

The dance party was held in a beer, sake, and wine bar, that no longer exists on Lexington Avenue in Downtown Asheville. It was a very tiny space. There were so many queer people grinding, dancing, laughing, and singing that the windows fogged up, and you couldn't see inside or out. It was the first time that I realized I liked to dance. It was the first time that I felt attractive while dancing. It was the first time that I had moved to music in front of people without any foreign substance in my body. I kissed a number of people. I sweated profusely. I danced in a binder.  I felt remarkably safe, seen and loved. The combination of all of these things beat any high I had ever chased before.

In the year leading up to this moment, I had laid the foundation for building the sturdy, queer structure that I am today. I had never experienced anything quite like that during my first two years in a queer community while finally being comfortable in my skin and presentation.  In the early days, I had found queer family amongst names like Yolany, Tayla, Kent, Amy, Tucker, Holly, Luna, Adam, and Caroline. These friends of mine quickly became siblings (and sometimes parents) to me. We celebrated holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays together. We advocated. We took over the streets. We made art. We birthed love. We educated. We held one another. They were all dancing around me. And even now that we're not all physically together, I still feel like they are all dancing around me.

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I spent years as an activist in Asheville, and in my spare time I even became a DJ. I threw queer- and trans-centric dance parties called Glitterbomb!, because I wanted people to experience what I had experienced. When I finally moved away from that area, I was really sad and excited. The same way that many teenagers, who had a different upbringing then me, are when they leave home for the first time. My chosen family and the events I attended gave me hope when I felt like there was none. They made me feel loved. They made me feel like a part of something. 

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Many LGBT people don't have accepting families of origin. And for those of us lucky enough, who actually do have accepting families, sometimes they're families of origin aren't always understanding . I’ve spent a lot of my grief process away from queer people recently. My partner and I are traveling and working on a project and we’ve been staying at her mom’s house. Her family (in many ways) is now my family, and I love them, but I know they don’t understand the pain I or my partner are feeling.

The ones we choose as family are so special and miraculous because we get to find one another. We are bonded by more than blood. We are bonded by shared experiences, understanding, and unconditional love. We understand the hiding, the learning, the need to feel safe, the judgment, the hate, and the loving. Sometimes, we feel like we're all we have. Being LGBT is beautiful.

While, I deeply love parts of my family, the new members or my family of origin today, it has been strange to be processing the loss of my distant, never met, and yet familiar family in Orlando without a queer community around. While I did not know those individuals, I knew what they were doing in that club. I knew how that space was a shelter from the rest of the world. I know the presumable excitement the 18-year-old, recent high school grad who was murdered felt to be in that space, because I had been there once. I’ve been crying so much the past few days just like I’ve lost a part of my family. I am not Orlando. I was not murdered, but I am hurting, and they were my family. 

 

Grateful for chosen family today and everyday. #crabman

A photo posted by Basil Soper (@tiniestking) on

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Basil Soper

Basil Soper is a transgender writer, activist, and Southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's an astrology enthusiast and tears up when he watches unexpected-animal-friend videos on the internet. Basil's life goals are to write a memoir and be the best uncle ever to his niece, Penelope. Learn more about Basil at ncqueer.com.

Basil Soper is a transgender writer, activist, and Southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's an astrology enthusiast and tears up when he watches unexpected-animal-friend videos on the internet. Basil's life goals are to write a memoir and be the best uncle ever to his niece, Penelope. Learn more about Basil at ncqueer.com.