My mom worked at Disney for 41 years, retiring a couple of years ago. She has felt rather useless since, applying here and there for server jobs, but when they see how she teeters while walking, they tell her “Thanks, but no thanks.” This inevitably leads to tears, my comforting her that she is not worthless and she will find something. Something that helps others, not just herself.
As we know, on June 12, 2016, the horrific slaughter happened at Pulse Nightclub here in Orlando. As dawn presented herself on that Sunday morning, the LGBT Center opened its doors as hoards of terrified and in-shock community members flooded in for companionship in their grief.
I’d called my mom about 3am and we watched as the terror unfolded, sick to our stomachs and our hearts breaking more with each passing moment.
When we heard The Center had opened, she got herself dressed and headed over. She spent the next twelve hours, holding, crying and touching hands with complete strangers, yet precious hurting humans. While mama isn’t on the LGBTQ spectrum herself, I am a Dyke, my niece a lesbian and one of my daughters is bi. She felt these people in front of her were, quite literally, family.
Over the next three weeks, she went to The Center several times, not sure what she could do, but always finding someone needing her grandmotherly love and attention. I could not be more proud.
Filling Out the Application
Without telling me, mom applied to volunteer at The Center. When she told me, I am sure I squealed with delight. She said, with tears in her eyes, “I think this is what I have been waiting for, to be with the LGBT community.” I beamed a smile and said I absolutely agreed.
She didn’t hear from them for several days, but she kept going down there anyway. She mentioned they hadn’t called and I thought it kind of odd, so asked what she’d said on the application. She said when it asked, “Why do you want to volunteer at The Center?” she answered, “Because I’m bored.” My eyes bugged out of my head. “WHAT?!? Did you, perhaps, mention the number of Dykes in your family?!” Blankly she looked at me and said, “No, should I have?” (Such innocence.)
I marched her down to The Center myself and met with the Volunteer Coordinator who had mom fill out one of the extensive applications as we talked. On the app is a list of skills you can offer The Center. I could see her out of the corner of my eye that she was not having fun with this part. I asked what was going on and she stammered, “I can’t do anything!” I said that was bullshit, that she had so much compassion to offer, just write in capital letters at the bottom: LOVE.
The Volunteer Coordinator said, “You start Monday.”
Inner Work in Progress
The LGBTQ world has shifted a lot in the last decade, and at ever increasing speeds. I’ve found myself, a lifelong Dyke, struggling with my own inner homo/trans-phobia. When I learned about them/they pronouns, I was really unhappy. Angry is a more apt description. My partner of over 2 decades transitioned from female to male, me gritting my teeth the whole time, begrudgingly supportive and gradually dissolving all tenderness about the situation. And the idea that someone could wake up one gender and go to bed another completely baffled me.
I’m not really proud to say these things out loud, but there you have it.
I’m working on it.
It is with this knowledge that I felt I should try and get mom up-to-speed with lingo lest she find herself talking to someone whose gender doesn’t “match” the outside trappings or she constantly discounts that she heard no pronouns at all.
I prefaced the lesson with what I shared above, that it was all confusing even to me, so not to feel she has to learn everything immediately or worry if she makes mistakes or even has to ask for help or clarification several times. I also let her know that definitions can shift depending on who was speaking and that all the words people shared were valid and right.
When it comes to asking personal questions… “What is your birth sex?” “Have you had any surgeries?” “Are you a boy or a girl”… are incredibly invasive and inappropriate. So while I encourage asking questions, there are, most assuredly, some that need to remain unasked.
I, most especially, let her know that I am a neophyte with the Non-Binary community and that these words/concepts I share are a mere outline of the scope of language and identities out there, so to please know I am not the best educator… that those that claim/use the words are the leaders and guides. Once again encouraged her to ask for help and clarifications any time she wanted/needed to.
1. denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.
1. a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.
“a younger generation of self-proclaimed genderqueers explicitly reject ‘transgender’ as an identifier”
Genderfluid – “Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances. Gender fluid people may also identify as multigender, non-binary and/or transgender.”
They/them pronouns – “What is a gender-neutral pronoun? What does English need a new pronoun for, anyway? Many people have expressed the need for a singular gender-neutral third-person pronoun: that is, a pronoun to use when someone’s gender is unknown or when the individual is neither male or female. Such instances occur when addressing transgender and genderqueer people who don’t feel comfortable being addressed with masculine or feminine pronouns, computers or robots with artificial intelligence, sexless fictional creatures, angels, and the God of many monotheistic religions. ‘He,’ ‘she,’ or ‘it’ won’t do, ‘one’ doesn’t work when speaking of a specific person, e.g. ‘Samus washed one’s dishes,’ and in some cases even a singular ‘they’ just won’t work – specifically when a name is used, e.g. ‘Charlie tied their shoes’ or ‘Sam thought they were late to the party.'”
I initially wrote this on my Navelgazing Midwife blog, but it needed to be shifted over to here. It was written on July 4, 2016. I remain endlessly in awe of those that responded to the call for help in saving lives on June 12 and 13, 2016.
I have wanted to write this since 3am on June 12, and every day since, but it took awhile to even begin to formulate the right words; there was simply emotion and incredible sadness hindering my fingers.
I was a midwife and doula for 32 years, holding lives in my hands many times, resuscitating babies and stemming the tide of postpartum hemorrhage in mothers. Yet I have but a whiff of what our First Responders (and others named below) experienced the night of June 12 and all these days since. I have tried to think of a way to thank these people, have an intense urge to seek each one out and hold them close to my heart while whispering, “Thank you,” over and over again.
The scope of actions from those that were there… are there… for my gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and straight family, Latinx or Anglo, (for they are family to all of us) is enormous. The incredible amount of love, care, detail, sweat, tears and even shock must be acknowledged. As a care provider myself, I listened to the incredible unfolding of the hospital staff’s descriptions of their work as the waves of dying and injured flooded through their doors. I sat through their first press conference with survivor Angel Colon front and center, enraptured, yet sobbing with gratitude and awe at their choreographed and executed dance to save lives.
I know I could never begin to thank every agency that pulled together those first 24 hours, but I need to try. Each profession or organization I list is a thread in the whole, beautiful tapestry that is #OrlandoStrong.
Please feel my overwhelming love and gratitude… and know there are thousands and thousands of others who feel the same. You people, my Superheroes, are a gift to humanity. Never, never let the finger pointing touch you. Do not claim that bureaucratic static that will certainly grow to a cacophony before too long. Stay true to your knowledge that you did everything right, you saved so many. You did the very best any of us could ever have done. No, you did far, far better than most of us.
Thank you a hundred million times plus 102 to those mentioned below. If I have forgotten you, just add yourself to the list; it was merely an ignorant oversight. You, too, belong here.
Thank you to:
– The entire Orlando Police Department who risked their lives, over and over again, to save as many people as possible. I am filled with so much gratitude, my heart overflows with tears streaming down my cheeks.
– Everyone at the Orlando Sheriff’s Department who also risked their lives multiple times and kept communications between the different agencies running smoothly. I also weep with gratitude for your agency.
– Orlando’s amazing SWAT Team who found ways to get into the building to save people and then removed that evil animal from this earth. You all are incredible.
– All the tireless Paramedics who used their minds and skills, even when the solutions were unorthodox, to help save lives.
– All the Ambulance agencies that responded and tended to the wounded while getting them to the hospital as fast as possible.
– All the EMS personnel who had many roles to fulfill in saving lives.
– All 911 Dispatch Operators… my heart aches for you wondrous folks who comforted the injured and dying throughout the several-hour ordeal. You gave genuine love to those that died while you were on the line with them and helped keep others alive until help arrived. Your professionalism and note-taking will not be forgotten as the information continues being disclosed. I send you special wishes for emotional and spiritual healing from this horrific experience.
– Orlando Regional Medical Center Hospital, especially for their readiness drills that helped set them up for success with extreme situations such as this. No words can possibly express my pride in your response, care, and skill when you were least expecting it.
– The ORMC Trauma Team, all those years of study, school and thousands of hours working in the hospital and learning specialized skills culminated on June 12, 2016, saving untold lives.
– The Emergency Room Team, thank you for always being ready for anything. You were there. You were there for all of us that night.
– The dozens and dozens of Doctors – ER, OR & ICU – for utilizing everything you’ve ever learned (and things you surely had only heard about) to save so many. There really are not enough words to offer my gratitude and love for you all.
– The Orthopedics teams… your amazing skills working with the back and muscles was most assuredly crucial that night. I am sure you saved so many from being paralyzed with your gift during surgeries. Thank you so very much.
– The Microsurgeons, your extremely specialized skills surely saved so many from bodies that would be unable to feel or move properly once healed.
– The Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons, your specialization was crucial with the horrific injuries to the chests of too many. Thank you for keeping so many hearts pumping.
– The beloved Nurses – Trauma, ER, Triage, OR, ICU & Surgical Recovery… it is beginning to sound trite, but I promise, I am absolutely speechless with gratitude for your gifts of kindness and skilled caring. Nothing that night (and since) could have been done without you incredible human beings. You are the Angels of Mercy.
– All the Surgeons of an endless variety, thank you for specializing in your individual areas and to the General Surgeons, thank you for attending to the multiple types of injuries that night. Thank you all for remaining strong and focused during the assembly line of cases that surely seemed never-ending at times. Your hands, in the most direct way, saved so many lives that night. Thank you.
– Residents – who used every moment of training to step in wherever you could.
– OneBlood blood bank personnel including Blood Collection sites, thank you for assuring there was ample blood at the hospitals for all the cases that needed it. Thank you, too, for opening up sites on Sunday to collect blood and organize getting that blood back to those whose lives depended on it.
– The Phlebotomy team, your job had to have been incredibly challenging that chaotic night of terror, finding veins and arteries, keeping the vials organized and then running the thousands of stat samples to the lab, over and over again… thank you for your skills and dedication.
– The Radiology team – your job was infinitely complicated by the sheer numbers of people working on each person, yet crucial to examining the patient in a life-saving manner. Thank you for knowing how to peek inside the bodies that needed so much help.
– The Respiratory Services team who were called into action to keep massively injured people breathing, either from the assault or the incredible shock and fear they were experiencing. You all are wondrous healers for those who cannot breathe.
– To Environmental Services, who were said to have cleaned and set up a room in 30-45 seconds; miraculous! It is challenging enough to keep things pristine and safe from cross-contamination under normal circumstances, but that you worked with all that blood, tissue, drapes, gauze, tubes, gloves, and then cleaning beds, rails, the floor and emptying the contaminated trash while patients were waiting for a place to lay… doing all of this in mere seconds, really is worthy of immense gratitude.
– To you amazingAnesthesiologists and Nurse Anesthetists… while I know you are highly-trained for emergencies and working with people in dire pain or unable to communicate their medical history, I am sure this night multiplied the need for your skills and knowledge dozens-fold. That you were able to anesthetize our precious friends and family so they might be saved under such circumstances is a miracle to behold. Immense gratitude.
– ToORMC Laboratory Services, the tasks thrown at you June 12 and the days immediately after had to have been enormous, yet you were there as the backbone for the entire health and safety of the injured, getting blood to whomever needed it, organizing the lab results so all providers could coordinate proper care, the list surely continues endlessly. Thank you for your amazing skill and meticulous attention to detail under extreme duress.
– To the Orlando Medical Examiners, especiallyJoshua Stephany for your immense sensitivity in keeping that madman separate from our lost souls. The unbelievable task you all gently and respectfully undertook is appreciated beyond words.
– To the Physical Therapists who began working with the survivors almost immediately so they could have as full a life as possible once they are recovered, thank you for your skills and knowledge of the body and its nuanced possibilities through movement and touch.
– To theChaplains of the Orlando Police Departmentand the others around Orlando, thank you for rushing to the spiritual aid of our First Responders, the families of the injured and dying and praying with the mass of disbelieving friends and relatives in their moments of spiritual questioning and anger towards God. Thank you for your love and patience with so much inner pain.
– To our Mental Health Therapists & Psychiatrists who flooded the different locations where families waited for news of their loved ones, knowing crisis counseling was an immediate need and you provided it, with zero regard for payment of any kind except knowing you were helping someone in emotional pain. Mental health needs will reverberate for years and years for so many of us, so thank you in advance for all you will do for everyone as time unfolds the mental and emotional anguish of this horrific night.
– To the Pharmacists at ORMC, your enormous task of providing the correct medications for scores of critically injured patients has not been overlooked. Filling order after order in the middle of the night had to have been daunting, yet when you, too, called for help, it came in in droves. Thank you for your education and extreme attention to detail.
– To the LGBTQ Center of Orlando, who immediately opened their doors to anyone who needed a place to talk, be held, cry or mourn. No words can express my gratitude for all you have done, are doing and will continue to do for our incredibly awesome and diverse community. May our Center grow as much as our hearts have for you after this disaster.
– To the Cell Phone companies for keeping those injured and dying in touch with loved ones and 911 operators.
– To those inside Pulse that struggled to save lives as the horror unfolded, who shielded others with your bodies, who comforted the injured and dying as you hid anywhere you could, who held friends as they bled to death in your arms… no amount of tears and thanks can explain how full my heart is for you beautiful people. Your unspeakable pain will never be forgotten or taken for granted. You are incredible human beings who were in a horrible situation, but your soaring kindnesses outshone any evil that man tried to snuff out. Bless all of you.
– To those who work at Pulse for your belief in human rights and dignity – you will never be forgotten… especially Barbara Poma – you are so loved.
– To the civilians who just happened to be in the area and helped the injured, comforted the dying and transported anyone they could to the hospital, thank you. Clearly, we needed you there that night.
– Special note to the Religious Community… Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and many denominations of Christians… who pulled together to pray and offer support to all who needed it. In the days afterwards, church services were held to assist the mourners who found solace in religious healing.
One national speaker, Victoria Kirby York of the National LGBTQ Task Force, spoke at a local church service and she must be held aloft and applauded. In a sea of religions not understanding the LGBTQ community, Ms. York stunned everyone with her ability to use Scripture to affirm the LGBTQ experience and right to love who we choose. Her words were a spiritual salve for so many who have been alienated by the religions in our neighborhoods and the policy-makers’ pens.
To the hypocrites among the religious folks (you know who you are), I hope you are able to rectify the doublespeak you drooled off your tongues after our tragedy because our LGBTQ family keeps dying because of your hate and damning judgment. It needs to stop. Now.
Ongoing Love & Support
While the above list, surely not complete, reflects the care and love from only the first day or two post-massacre, I could continue for another three days thanking the multitudes of restaurants, airlines, hotels, businesses, those that brought Comfort Dogs to love on those that needed a tender doggie hug, and then the ongoing monetary donations to the Pulse GoFundMe Page.
I must also thank the rest of the United States and the World for their endless support through vigils and moments of silence for our 49 beloved murdered friends and 53 recovering victims.
Please take a moment to offer thanks to everyone I’ve mentioned and those I have forgotten to name.
And lastly, please remember the families of those who have died and been injured. Their lives are forever changed. May they find at least a moment of peace through all of our love.
To our most precious doves, we will never forget your names or who you are: