How to feel your way through despair

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I originally wrote a piece about how tired I was of Pride, how corporate it had gotten, it’s straying from its original politicized values and all the Dykes on Bikes wearing shirts instead of going topless and taping their nipples. But in light of the tragedy in Orlando, I want to offer my community something besides snarkiness.

This tragedy resonates for many of us. Many of us fled small towns to find larger cities, and maintain a sense that “everything is fine.” There are few among us that can’t count at least a handful of times (or every waking day) that you listened for quick footsteps behind you, that you startled and ran, that your heart beat faster, and your body tensed up because you sensed something was coming. Our queer bodies are endangered in a way that we don’t always consider on a daily basis, and doubly queer women are often the site of fear and worry about who might decide to lash out at any point.

What do we do as a community when we have weathered so much fear and anxiety? How do we process the thing that we have always worried might come true, actually coming true? There has been spectacular development in LGBT rights in recent years, and some backlash, which hits some of the most vulnerable members of our community (which is why everyone worries about where trans people are peeing these days). Backlash to political progress is often one way these things play out—through violence.

Woman ascending on pink balloon held back by ball and chainvia Getty

So how can we work toward healing and change?

Connect with other people Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Whether you found a vigil, or friends in person or on social media, or particular corners of the internet where you find your people—find someone who can be with your feelings. Seattle’s vigil was in the thousands, but I had a small event at my home with friends, where I would be more likely to actually have my feelings. Speaking of…

Feel your feelingsAfrican woman supporting her Caucasian girlfriendvia Getty

How are you feeling? Heartbroken? Full of rage? Isolated and numb? These are all really reasonable ways to feel. You don’t have to have any particular emotional response, and even if you feel numb or not as strongly as other people or confused about how to pronounce Latinx.

What people don’t totally realize is that you can still acquire PTSD from an event that you were not present for. Secondary trauma is a thing that happens to people who were not present but feel the reverberations of the event. There is not a single queer person I know who does not feel the impact of this moment in time—and they all feel it differently, knowing their own daily proximity to danger. There are a lot of people right now experiencing huge waves of emotions who may not feel entitled to their feelings because they “weren’t there.” Not everybody is going to have the same emotional response, and you don’t need to shout yours at anybody, but it also gets to exist.

Get lost in somethingYoung woman selecting music on smartphonevia Getty

While you could spend your free moments scrolling through your friend’s devastated updates on social media, and articles (there are some pretty good ones circulating) consider that you are not compelled to be raw all the time. Whether you need to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda read a sonnet or rewatch the comfiest bad lesbian movies that you love, or engage in some other kind of media (I have been listening to the Alabama Shakes on repeat), let yourself find what feels comforting.

This also may be an opportunity to journal all the things you are thinking and feeling, or get engaged in some other artistic platform, even a coloring book with fiddly little whimsical flowers. Or in the tradition of gays across the world, you can also go out and lose yourself to dance.

Get politicalVigil Held At The Stonewall Inn For Orlando Shooting VictimsPhoto by Prince Williams/WireImage

There are thousands of ways to get involved and particular points of entry—whether your focus is on gun control or solidarity with Latinx or Muslim queer people, or teaching self-defense classes, or like some really great therapists I know offering free grief counseling to folks in the LGBTQ community. Also, the personal is political. Connecting with people in your community is doing something.

Consider this both an invitation to care for yourself and a call to action. Pride is not actually about DJs and corporate floats or the fact that celebrities give a shit about queer lives sometimes. It is about daring to survive, the tenacity of love, the resilience of queer people, the multiplicity of our experiences especially in a mass murder that targeted queer people but also the Latinx community, the ways we manage danger in our daily lives in our intimate spaces and our public celebrations. You are wondrous and resilient and tenacious, and you have already survived a thousand things.

Maria Turner-Carney is a therapist and writer who lives in Seattle. You can follow her work atseattlefeministtherapy.com/blog.

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