By Kenny Rose
I am writing while listening to angry riot grrrl music at a coffee shop just like the closet queer kid I was at 14. Twenty years later, there is a part of me that is still that kid. There may always be a part of me that is “that kid” due to living in a hetero-normative culture.
Even so, I fully realize, most of me is not that kid anymore; and much of that is due to my extended queer family. Reflecting as I sit alone thinking of then and now, I say with great sadness, two gay friends of mine, one 24 and one 33, died unexpectedly within about a week’s time recently.
Circumstances of both deaths are irrelevant, but the fact that they were openly gay matters. We have lost two more people in Detroit that increased visibility of LGBTQI people, two more people who had hope for a better world, two more people to inspire us and to share love, two more people to combat injustice, two more people to build relationships and bring people together.
Living in a hetero-normative culture, I value my queer friends and allies deeply. At such moments, I am compelled to reflect about how do we find meaning and hope in the early death of friends? How do we maintain our mental, emotional, and spiritual health?
Just over two years ago, I was confronted with these same questions when I said good-bye to David Blair’s physical form; or, as many knew him, Blair. He was a gifted friend, an unapologetic queer poet and fighter for social justice. Blair’s memorial was a parade down Cass Avenue in Detroit, coinciding, as it happened, on my birthday. What a gift.
I often wonder how different our LGBTQI communities might look if we spent more energy on parades celebrating and honoring our stories of resilience, rebelliousness, and fierceness as well as recognizing our faults and struggles?
Maybe it is death and grieving that will allow LGBTQI communities to evolve and heal. In reality, we are always grieving because we are always feeling the loss of someone or something in our lives. Grief allows us to examine our losses but also our gains, our downfalls, our collective triumphs, and if we are open, grieving forces us to become more conscious of what really matters in this indeterminate time here.
Grieving makes us feel everything, sometimes all at once, which can be painful and confusing. However, in my experience, nothing has been more healing than sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings as well as crying and laughing with some of my closest friends. How different might our relationships, communities, and movements look if we did more of this?
LGBTQI people are dying every minute due to suicide, hate crimes, war, state violence such as poverty, and limited treatment and prevention for HIV/AIDS. The list goes on. As incomprehensible as these atrocities are, there are opportunities here for building upon a history of coming together and creating new traditions that inspire hope and resilience.
And although LGBTQI people still remain divided by race, class, gender, age, and various other differences, at this time of my own personal grieving, I think of the HIV/AIDS movements of the 1980s and 90s where many people came together to honor and celebrate their loved ones’ lives.
Whether through quilts, vigils, or marches, there was visibility of LGBTQI people. Even in death, people were alive.
Although some of us may think and feel that there is nothing more finite than death, its occurrence often becomes a beginning for those still living. And, as such, we are privileged to carry on the memories of our loved ones by embodying all that they were. We have the capacity to do all that our loved ones were not yet able to do. We have the ability to build stronger relationships, communities, and movements.
When we know death more, we have the potential to love, fight, and live more.