This Is What Homophobia Feels Like

It's living in constant fear of violence.
Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

As I walked off the plane and through the airport in my home state of North Carolina yesterday, that all too-familiar feeling immediately hit me.

The unease. The stares. The anxiety. The pain.

With less than a week since the massacre of 49 members of my queer family in Orlando, Florida, for many of us, the old, familiar pains of feeling unsafe in public spaces have resurged and come to dominate our experiences as we navigate the world.

But what does it mean to feel unsafe as you walk down the street, through the airport, on the subway, at the grocery store? How do you communicate that feeling to people who have never had to feel uncomfortable and regulated because of their gender presentation or self-expressions of queerness?

No experience is universal, and everyone's experience of the world is informed by a number of intersecting factors -- especially if you are a person of color.

But homophobia, in general, elicits a very specific kind of unease in those it is directed at.

With LGBT people more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other minority group, this feeling is, at its core, the feeling of living in constant fear of violence.

It's the feeling of walking into a space and immediately assessing the level of threat posed by those around you.

It's having to consider how much street harassment you want to potentially subject yourself to while getting dressed in the morning and basing your clothing choices off of that conscious decision.

It's living in constant fear of violence.

It's being hyper-aware of how your body and hips move as you walk down the street -- and where you choose to walk.

It's being hyper-aware of the tone and inflection of your voice and the way you say things to strangers.

It's living in constant fear of violence.

It's watching legislators strip away and politicize your basic rights as a human being.

It's googling how a place treats its LGBT population before making any sort of travel plans.

It's living in constant fear of violence.

It's wondering if you aren't going to get a job you interviewed for because you came off "too gay."

It's worrying about harassment as you simply try to use the bathroom because you read as queer, trans or gender-nonconforming.

It's living in constant fear of violence.

It's fearing for the queer youth coming to age in a world where they just witnessed a massive slaughter of their brothers, sisters and siblings for being who they are.

It's worrying about the older LGBT population, many of whom have to go back into the closet as a means of survival in nursing homes -- and many of which will age and die alone because their families turned their backs on them.

It's living in constant fear of violence.

It's being afraid of showing a simple act of affection for someone you love in public.

It's worrying that you may get gunned down in the dead of night -- as you dance and drink and love -- simply for being who you are.

It's living in constant fear of violence.

In all honesty, I personally don't have it that bad -- especially compared to my trans, gender-nonconforming and POC brothers, sisters and siblings. I'm white. I'm tall in stature. And I live in NYC where I have the privilege of existing in a queer bubble.

But I still feel and become immobilized by the constant fear of violence that comes with being queer, and having to navigate the world being vigilant of my surroundings at all times -- even if I don't allow it to shape or affect my actions.

Homophobia is insidious, and it paints and colors every experience we have as queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people navigating public space. But we can not be afraid -- and we can not allow a violent, hateful world to muddle or dim our uniqueness, our magic or our love for one another.

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