The High-Heeled Shoe That Saved Lives At Club Q
The strength of queer community, and the power of a supple mind
Sunday I shared a social media post about the horrific shooting that left five people dead and nineteen people injured at Club Q. I live in Colorado and was shook by the devastating details of that night. I felt extra tender again today, when I learned that a trans woman helped take down the gunman with her high heeled shoes. This image brought to mind the Stonewall riots, particularly Marsha P Johnson throwing her heels at cops who were thrashing their batons against the skulls of people for the crime of loving, dancing, wearing the wrong clothes. In 1969, if a person was caught in less than three articles of clothing befitting their gender, they were commonly incarcerated, and very often further brutalized behind bars.
I attended a gay bar for the first time in 1998. Or rather, I attended the parking lot of a gay bar. I’d spent the entire week before meticulously picking out my outfit, but as soon as I arrived I couldn’t get out of the car, fearing I’d be shot or spotted while walking to the door. Back then, being spotted in a queer space felt as dangerous to me as being shot. In my mind, both meant my life would be over. I sat in the parking lot for nearly two hours before heading home, mascara tears staining the first shirt I’d ever bought in the men’s department. Wearing that shirt was both an act of resistance and an act of self-love. For many femmes, wearing stilettos feels the same. But I didn’t always know this.
Growing up as what everyone called a “tomboy”, I thought of heels as a sign of weakness––obedience to the demands of patriarchy. As I got older, femme friends gave me a mighty education on femme empowerment and the wrongness of my thinking. This lesson was further solidified one day when my friend Denise and I were trekking the concrete hills of San Francisco. Denise was wearing stilettos, and I was struggling to keep up with her in sneakers. After that, I thought of stilettos as the epitome of toughness.
Just a few weeks later, I tattooed a stiletto on my arm. I did so to remind myself that whatever I believe at any given time could very well be wrong. I did so as a commitment to be someone whose mind and heart could be changed with every new learning. As I read the news this morning, my tattoo meant even more to me. I look at it now and am overwhelmed with love for my community. For the ways we protect each other, care for each other, pull each other through. Each and every time I have visited Colorado Springs, I have witnessed these traits to be at the core of the local queer community.
For those who have never visited––the city is one of the most beautiful in the United States. That said, it’s a hotspot for the far right. It’s the home of Focus On The Family, a group notorious for their hatred of the LGBTQ+ people. It has a huge military presence. And it’s the city in which I, as a young activist, learned riot cops are willing to throw tear gas at children regardless of how peaceful the protest is. Maybe because of this, the queer people of Colorado Springs have always seemed to have an extra heart inside of them. I’ve never attended an event there in which there wasn’t a communal energy of having each other’s backs, going above and beyond to show up for friends and strangers alike. Because of this, I imagine they are grieving tenfold right now. And because of this, I trust their resilience as they hold each other through the unfathomable grief of this time.
As we all ache and scream and cry and pray for a world in which such hateful events no longer happen, I want to offer the image of the stiletto as a touchstone to return to. The stiletto, because our strength can come from unexpected places. The stiletto, because toughness does not equate to war and weapons as patriarchy has taught us. The stiletto, because it’s time to stand taller. The stiletto because the key to evolving as a planet is to keep our minds supple, open to being taught, and changed.
In what unexpected places are you finding strength today? Thank you to anyone who shares in the comments.
In Love, Grief, and Hope,
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