Join Prism Book Alliance® as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins today.
Before heading to Minneapolis GLBTQ Pride, I wrote an optimistic/gloomy post on Facebook:
“In about ten minutes, I’m going to leave home. I will spend today in a gay pride booth celebrating authors who write books about love. We think love is important. I sincerely hope I’m not eviscerated with bullets by someone who disagrees. If you’re the praying type, or candle-lighting type, or whatever, please send up some good thoughts for everyone’s safety.”
An hour later, a friend sent me a private message to ask if I was okay. He ultimately wanted to know how much of what I wrote I truly believed.
I wasn’t sure.
These days, do I fret about nut jobs with assault rifles? Yes. That Saturday, did I genuinely worry it was too dangerous to attend this downtown celebration? I don’t know. Mostly no, with a tinge of pink, raw “yes.” Dragging my luggage full of heavy books through downtown Minneapolis and setting up our booth didn’t feel risky. Tedious, yes. Like the book nerds we are, we fussed over how to display our free bookmarks and postcards so the wind wouldn’t blow them away.
Was arranging bookmarks risky? Too political?
The teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School weren’t taking a big risk, going to class that Friday in 2012. And yet…
In response to my Facebook post, amazing, sparkling friends gushed beautiful thoughts and expressed love—sending me light, blessings, protective prayers, everything. It felt fucking great. What love pours into us from the Internet! Several responders told me to “Be safe,” or “Stay safe,” and I found myself annoyed by the sentiment. A few of my friends explained this is a “mom prayer” to a departing kid. I understood and appreciated the loving intention behind the words, but on Saturday, the words themselves irked me.
I wondered why. I pondered.
Was it really my responsibility to “be safe?”
Should I be constantly scanning for assault-rifled gunners who haven’t dealt with their amassed childhood issues? That’s my responsibility now?
When I go out with friends, should I be taking note of all exits?
Should I keep a knife handy in case something goes down?
Better yet, a gun?
I was irked.
At Minnesota’s biggest, gayest, most-rainbowiest party, I felt irked. Grumbly.
The day got hotter.
Turns out, two water bottles are insufficient for eight hours in the 90+ degree sun and thick, humid shade, while talking almost nonstop. It was discomfort to make a grumbly person more grumbly.
Despite the heat,
the never-ending, club music pounding its THUMPthumpTHUMPthumpTHUMP into my skull,
the greasy smell of cheese curds,
my lack of water,
and my low-grade gun anxiety,
a curious thing happened.
Because, in the booth next to us were firemen. Being brave.
Across the way, a leather group. Being brave.
Down the street, the men wearing barrels: Naked Minnesota. Being their own flavor of brave.
All day, parading in front of me, people held hands. Loving each other. Openly. Happily.
Chunky, overweight people wore tiny bits of clothing—something I would never wear—but they dared. They were bold. These folks decided they were beautiful, so wore clothes that made them feel beautiful. How could I not admire their thrill of courage?
People around me were brave and gorgeous. And not just adults.
I told a six-year-old boy his princess dress was absolutely beautiful, and he beamed. He was so happy over my compliment, he showed me the dark-haired princess whose face was on his breastplate jewel. His mother smiled at me. He was six and brave. His mom was brave.
And the balloons. Oh, hundreds and hundreds of cheerful balloons! Red! Orange! Yellow! Green! Blue! Indigo! Purple! It’s hard not to feel safe around a group of people who party hard with balloons.
Every year, at the big Minnesota Pride event, hundreds of tents and booths scatter themselves around the man-made Loring Park pond. Booths are occupied by activist groups, corporate sponsors, softball enthusiasts, gay musicians, bumper sticker sellers, flag wavers, and a lesbian-owned business that will pick up your dog’s backyard poop. Over two hundred unique businesses and organizations came to celebrate.
On a break from our booth, I took an extended walk around this giant festival and came upon an international insurance company’s gay employee group. I recognized their name. One of my best friends worked for them for many, many years. He was often out of the office with medical issues, and they always granted him sick time. They treated him well during a time when his life was very hard.
He died a few years ago.
I approached and asked if anyone among them remembered Ankha Shamin.
One woman said, “Oh yes, Ankha. I knew him! I miss him.”
I miss him, too.
We chatted about my friend.
I told them how Ankha was arrested once back in 1970 because he and ten other people met in the upstairs of a private home to discuss gay rights. The address was secret for many months because meeting to discuss this could literally get them arrested. And it did. Leaving the meeting one night, they all got arrested.
Ankha knew the world wasn’t safe. But during the time I knew him, he laughed and chortled and giggled, and every other goddamn synonym for making funny sounds that come out of your mouth. He loved laughter. He always wore tie-dye rainbow gear. He loved Pride. He was soft-spoken with had big doe eyes. His spirit name was Outrageous Fairy. The world has evolved to a much more understanding place than when he was twenty-one.
Kaje Harper was among the other authors in our booth that Saturday. She wrote about young-adult trans relationships in Chasing Death Metal Dreams. She brought a cool giveaway I had not seen elsewhere: a small, discreet button with the words “I’ll go with you.” She explained these are to be worn by allies of trans people. If a trans person is out in public and needs to use a public washroom, that can be a scary thing these days.
But if a trans person sees you wearing the small and subtle button, he or she knows you will go with them to the bathroom. I will go with you. I will make it safe. I will create safety for you.
The world is not safe.
Ankha figured that out in the early 70s.
The trans ally community had buttons made because they figured it out.
We can’t BE safe—that’s beyond our control. But we can CREATE safe.
The problem was not with Facebook well-wishers who told me to “be safe.” The fault was mine, the assumption I made that I do not contribute to making the world more safe.
I’ve decided whenever I hear someone tell me to “be safe,” I will hear the words “create safe.” Create safe by being me. By standing up to bullying. I will create safe by daring to write books about men who love men. Maybe marching in a parade. Wear a button supporting someone else who needs safety as much or more than I.
I honestly believe we—as humanity—are evolving in the best possible way. We are growing compassion for people different from us. We are tolerating faiths instead of shooting first. We are tolerating lack of faith instead of shooting first. Yes, there are exceptions. Big exceptions with too much grief to bear. The old ways of thinking do not die easily, but they are dying.
I’m not saying everything will automatically get better. We have lots of work to do. We have to create safe beyond gay pride, Muslim pride, trans pride, women pride, black lives matter pride, military veteran pride, and more. We have a whole lot of world to create safe.
We can do this.
But first, we will need more balloons.
About Edmond ManningEdmond Manning is the author of King Perry, King Mai, The Butterfly King andFilthy Acquisitions. He spends a great deal of time standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wondering why it’s not stocked with more luncheon meats and cheese.
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