On Trans Day of Remembrance, many of us woke up to the devastating news that five people were murdered and at least 18 were injured in a hate-motivated shooting in Colorado Springs at a queer bar and club called Club Q. In the wake of these tragic moments, we spend a lot of time focusing on how and why people died. And while it is important to ask and answer these questions, especially at a time of growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policy-making, with an alarming fixation on demonizing trans people, gender variance, and drag performance, if we focus too much on those who hate us, we can lose sight of how much we love us.
Across time and place, and amid grueling violence, trans people love and care for our own.
Daniel Aston, a 28-year-old bartender at the club, and Kelly Loving, a 40-year-old patron who was out celebrating, were both transgender and among those killed. They were remembered as sources of love and support to younger trans people.
A friend remembered Loving as a mentor: “She taught me how it was to be a trans woman and live your life day to day,” she said. Earlier this year Aston Tweeted, “Every time. Every single goddamn time I even have the slightest thought of leaving Club Q, someone comes up and tells me “you’re the reason I love this bar” or “you and Derrick make me feel so safe and welcome here.”
We go to queer bars to find our people and to find ourselves.
That is why there is something uniquely devastating about queer sanctuary spaces being targeted for violence. We go to the bar, to the club, to the queer brunch, to revel in our queerness, our joy, and our love for each other when society makes it unrelentingly clear that we are despised.
“If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public,” one Twitter user wrote in the aftermath of the shooting.
On sweaty dance floors in strip malls, in crowded bars hidden on back roads, in homemade sanctuaries built of generations of care, we celebrate our beauty. In bathroom selfies, in surgeon’s offices, in dirty mirrors, we finally see ourselves. Our embodiment is resistance: to society’s expectation of gender conformity, of binary, of sanitized intimacy in the service of capital. We build connections to ourselves and others that threaten the certainty that mainstream U.S. legal norms seek to impose. There is not one way to inhabit a sexed body, to form kinship ties, to express love and intimacy—that is the lesson and gift of queerness.
As artist Carlos Motta wrote in 2016 in the aftermath of the horrific mass murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando:
Queerness is an unstoppable force powered by dreams of survival. Queer is a language of freedom from systemic oppression. Queer lives hardened by violence: familial prejudice, bullying at school and work, exhaustively discriminatory institutions. Yet we carve spaces to cope and thrive. We build dissenting forms of living. We construct futures that resist the suffocating norms of the mainstream.
Our queerness, as Motta wrote, “is an unstoppable force powered by dreams of survival.” And so is our joy.
Our dreams of survival contemplate a world of possibility, of messy love, of exploration.
On March 31, Trans Day of Visibility, Aston Tweeted:
The timeline as of late has been nothing short of awful, with state legislatures happily signing away the rights of so many. So, here’s a lil bit of some trans love to give y’all a quick break. Trans joy exists, and despite the efforts of the elite, it isn’t going anywhere.#tdov.”
They will literally kill us, but our joy will live on. In the memories of our loved ones, in the sense of possibility we pass on to future generations.
Two of the central lies animating anti-trans rhetoric and policymaking are that trans people are new and that trans people are miserable. In the public imagination, we are at once posited as so powerful we can control and manipulate the entire medical establishment, and so weak and miserable that we have nothing to live for.
But trans people have always existed. And no matter how much our joy and our lives are targeted, trans joy exists, too.
In the days since the shooting at Club Q, I have found myself visiting Daniel Aston’s Instagram page. One of the last images he posted publicly is a picture of him, shirtless, with a towel wrapped around his waist. He is touching his chest just below visible top surgery scars and has his eyes closed in what looks like a calm, and almost sacred, meditation. The caption reads, “Body and Soul. Almost two months post op…And no I’m never posting a picture with a shirt on ever again.”
I didn’t know Daniel but I know this feeling. Finding a home in your body. Finding peace. This health care saves us. It sets us free.
We celebrate our scars—visible and not—while the world tries to claim we are mutilated. Many people will memorialize Daniel while in the next breath contributing to the rhetoric that would take away his health care. You cannot celebrate the spaces we build, brimming with joy and freedom, without seeing all of us.
I am sorry you didn’t get even two years to live in this beautiful body, Daniel. I am sorry that we couldn’t protect you.
The world is trying to take away our health care.
The world is trying to take away the spaces where we congregate.
But no set of laws, no amount of violence, can dim the joy that trans and queer people have built since the beginning of time.