How Orlando Changed The Way I View My Sexuality

By Samuel Leighton-Dore

The shootings in Orlando have already changed the world for so many.

So many people lost friends, partners, parents, family members, colleagues, and members of their community. Broader still, the massacre has called for the immediate reflection and solidarity of LGBTQI people all across the world. The myriad intersectionalities and identity politics which have so often become points of tension or conflict within the community suddenly seemed completely irrelevant.

What became clear is that we’re all in this together; just one gigantic intercontinental cuddle-puddle of love, strength and resilience.

One close friend in Indiana spoke to me of his immense discomfort at returning to work at the local gay bar the following night. My parents each called, describing how the events had hit them like a train; how they just wanted to make sure I was okay. My gay uncle reflected on his trip to Orlando, how he had explored the local nightlife with friends, how it could’ve so easily been him at the receiving end of the gunman’s bullets. You could hear a pin drop at crowded nightclubs around the world as patrons stopped dancing to hold a minute of silence for those who no longer could.

In a far-removed and possibly selfish way, the shootings have also changed the way I view my own sexuality. For as long as I can remember I’ve been occasionally forced to question the extent by which I allow myself and my work to be defined by my sexuality.

Another gay film?” One producer will comment upon reading a short film script of mine. “So you write about gay stuff?” A new friend will drunkenly  muse at a house party. “Do you talk about anything that isn’t related to being gay?” A beefed-up Canadian jock will joke over the counter at work.

It’s a common call of strength and self-empowerment for those who are LGBTQI – I am more than my sexuality; My sexual orientation doesn’t define who I am.

During my HSC in Year 12, I remember vehemently rejecting my well-meaning Visual Arts teacher’s thoughtful suggestion that I use my major work as a platform to explore my sexuality. I immediately hardened with defensiveness. Not a fucking chance, I thought. I might’ve been gay, but I sure-as-hell didn’t want my sexuality to DEFINE me.

Even though, up until that point, it kinda fucking had.

The majority of my childhood and school years had been involuntarily compartmentalised into various stages of confusion, self-loathing, needless speculation and bullying as a result of my “coming out”. My sexuality was directly reflected in every facet of my life; in the pile of magazines I hid under my bead, in the pop music I turned down on the bus so as not to be overheard, in the way I tried so desperately to control my mannerisms and tone of voice.

It was in my slouched posture, in my occasional stutter, in my apologetic tone.

There’s no denying it. I was my sexuality.

I still am my sexuality.

Since then, I’ve come to realise how incredibly fortunate I am to be living in a society that is largely tolerant of the LGBTQI community. As a result, I’ve admittedly made some level of conscious effort to broaden my interests (be them writing, film etc) beyond my community and personal experiences of being part of it – which at times has felt forced and unnatural.

Sure, I’ve reasoned, the ongoing plight for marriage equality pales significantly when compared to other pressing issues. What’s a piece of paper in comparison to the indefinite detainment of children in Nauru? What about the gay men facing abuse and possible execution upon release from Manus Island? What about poverty? What about the ongoing genocide against Yazidis in Siria?

Am I so desperate for a sense of identity and purpose, I’ve thought, that I’m holding onto a fight that no longer holds the same weight or consequence it once did?

But the shootings in Orlando have made me realise that it’s rightly impossible to flip from a childhood stuck in the defensive to an adulthood cruising in neutral. Even though I might no longer face significant adversity because of my homosexuality, it’s become screamingly apparent that far too many still do.

Look, I’d love nothing more than for my future children to be reading awesome inclusive articles on a website called Heaps Human. But until there’s absolutely nothing separating us, until all legal and social points of difference both here and overseas have been erased, until members of the trans community no longer have to watch cautiously over their shoulders while walking home at night, until the effeminate kid at school is no longer being hit with sticks and bricks and damning insults, until our relationships are no longer devalued and dismissed as hurtful political pawn-pieces, until our love is no longer viewed as mere leverage in a campaign for power…

Until then – whenever then is – I’m going to keep being the gay guy drinking in gay bars, writing gay shit for gay people.

And it’s an absolute privilege to be defined by my sexuality.

(PS. The cover image for this story was slipped under the staff-room door at my friend’s gay bar in Indiana. There were 49 of them.)

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