This is not the queer story I want to write about this week: That according to witnesses — the ones who lived to tell — bullets popped over the thumping club music. A rifle appeared where there shouldn’t have been one, where there ought to have only been arms flailing, women dancing with women, men with men. First kisses, familiar kisses, the shared joy of a new favorite Megan Thee Stallion jam.
These are not the names I want to say: Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance. The names of the dead, who went to Club Q in Colorado Springs, to dance, drink and be with community they probably needed. A week of being queer outside a gay club can be exhausting, and the four walls and a dance floor can feel like mother’s milk to us.
I want only to say the name Amy Schneider, the trans woman who came out on top of the “Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions” this week. I want to focus on how much this matters to queer kids, trans boys and girls, and this country.
I say the names Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance again instead. I have to. I have to make up for all the times that their names won’t be said in the future, because they’re not here to have a partner say, “Daniel, don’t forget your lunch,” “You look fierce tonight, Kelly, girl,” “What have you been up to Ashley?” “Derrick, get over here and give me a kiss,” and “Raymond, it’s your turn.”
I’m 45 now; for the most part, my club-going days are in the past. But I haven’t forgotten what they meant to me. I first stepped into clubs in high school — first the alternative music night at the old Club Manray in Central Square, Cambridge, where the other queer kids from my high school and I figured out how to dance to Depeche Mode, how to move in a room where we were one of many, not one in 10 or all alone. When my father died in 2002, my two closest gay friends took me to the Randolph Country Club, and we danced to ‘90s hip-hop on the upper dance floor until I almost had a good night. At 25, I fell in mutual love for the first time with my would-be boyfriend of four years within the span of the extended remix of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama,” at the old Club Blu in Worcester. I could breathe on dance floors; no one around me to say my queerness was wrong.
This is what clubs can mean to us queer people. I don’t know exactly what Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance wanted to get from visiting Club Q that night. I’m sure they did not expect to be murdered.
After another man with a gun entered the gay Pulse Nightclub’s Latin Night in Orlando, in 2016, and murdered 49 souls, my husband and I built a fire in our yard. We said 49 names and lit a candle for each. Their names were: Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Martin Benitez Torres, Antonio D. Brown, Darryl R. Burt II, Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Simon A. Carrillo Fernandez, Juan Chavez-Martinez, Luis D. Conde, Cory J. Connell, Tevin E. Crosby, Franky J. Dejesus Velazquez, Deonka D. Drayton, Mercedez M. Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan R. Guerrero, Paul T. Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel A. Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason B. Josaphat,Eddie J. Justice, Anthony L. Laureano Disla, Christopher A. Leinonen, Brenda L. Marquez McCool, Jean C. Mendez Perez, Akyra Monet Murray, Kimberly Morris, Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, Luis O. Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Enrique L. Rios Jr., Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Christopher J. Sanfeliz, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane E. Tomlinson, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Luis S. Vielma, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, and Jerald A. Wright.
We placed each candle on the rim of our fire pit. We cried; we mourned. When I accidentally kicked the edge of the pit and the candles fell in, a burst of flames rose in the air. I don’t want to make another fire or burn five more candles or say five more names. I’m going to have to.
It’s a fight that will not be scared out of us. Our hearts will always want what they want.
I want these people to annoy me in grocery stores, leaving their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle so they can grab a box of crackers from a top shelf. I want to squeeze by their cart and click my tongue passive-aggressively; I want to look at their queer eyes with my queer eyes and have that moment of instant recognition where my eyes say, “I see you my queer sister, but you should know better than to leave your cart there,” and I want to see the, “Oh, please, you dramatic queen,” reply in their eyes.
We deserve to be safe in grocery stores, at work, on the street — at home — but sometimes we are not, and we always feel on the edge of a run-in with hate. To deal with this constant hum, to die a little less from it, we need spaces to dance, to have drinks with other people, to exhale, to be big and dramatic or small and relaxed or whatever, because it’s a safe place to be us. Clubs were where I lowered my heart rate, abandoned anxiety, stopped worrying that if I kissed my boyfriend, someone might scowl or raise a fist. I could stop calculating how to stay alive and calculate how to ask a boy to dance.
No one will take our clubs away from us. Ever. We’ll keep showing up, and we’ll keep dancing — harder now for the 54 who can’t again. We’re used to people trying to scare us away from ourselves, to frighten us back into lives that don’t fit. But the body struggles without air; it fights against drowning or lack of oxygen. It fights to live, to crash through. It’s a fight that will not be scared out of us. Our hearts will always want what they want.
This is not the story I wanted to tell you this week. I wanted to keep it our secret — the magic of the clubs — but people are coming for the magic, for the magical. I didn’t want to say these names: Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance. But I have to. And we have to keep breathing, and demanding to breathe, for them.