No pictures or food today, just words and thoughts.

It's ironic that I'm writing a post about acceptance when I've always said I've never needed anyone's permission or approval in my life. But after Saturday's events in Orlando it made me realize in many ways I still think about acceptance and rejection on a daily basis. These are two words that I know I will constantly battle throughout my life. I didn't realize how hard Saturday's events would hit me, it made me think and I wanted to write, I wanted to share my thoughts here. You will either agree with me or you won't but I urge you to keep an open mind when reading through this post.

It's been years since, I came out as gay. It happened a couple of months after I moved to Cincinnati for school. I've always known that I was gay as a kid, there was no confusion there but I also knew to life a happy life, I would need to be accepted and I knew the United States would be safe home away from home. And so I hit the books, I took my entrance tests, an education in America is expensive and I knew my only way to a better and happier life would be through this path, I managed to secure a scholarship, I took that flight from Bombay and moved to Ohio. A lot of folk don't get these opportunities and I am thankful for every single one that has come in my life. My coming out wasn't eventful, it wasn't dramatic even with all the fears I possessed inside my head. I remember calling up my parents who were supportive and told me they loved me no matter what. My mother had a harder time with her Catholic upbringing but she eventually came around. I have a much more fortunate story than most gay kids do, especially those that live in non-westernized countries, both sides of my family accepted me for who I was. Two Christmases ago, my 90 plus something highly religious Catholic grandfather met my husband, there was no weirdness, I think my family likes my husband more than they like me sometimes. 

Coming out was the easy part, I found it harder to meet fellow gays in school. It was lonely, my classmates knew, I was out to them and I never hid my sexuality. But they were all straight and even with their acceptance, I felt disconnected. There was a gay bar where I lived on Ludlow Street in Cincinnati, it look scary from outside. Every weekend, I made a pact to myself, that I would squeeze the door handle and open that door and walk through. But I'd chicken out every time and it took me somewhere around three months to finally gain some courage to grab that door handle and I walked in and sat at the bar. It wasn't a crowded night, I was nervous. I couldn't even order a drink properly. I fumbled and mumbled, I uttered gibberish to the bartender who quickly realized I was a newbie. He asked me if this was my first time to a gay bar (the signs were obvious), he asked me to relax and I got a cocktail. We chatted and he introduced to a few of the regulars that came there, many of them were students (since we lived in a college town). I said to myself, who would have thought, there were so many gays in a school! I felt safe, I could be who I was. Over time, I found out there were several gay bars and clubs in Cincinnati, many of my closest friends I eventually met at some gay bar or club even though we attended the same school. Gay bars and clubs were my safety haven. I eventually found out that my school had an amazing and very supportive network for the fellow LGBTQ students and professors, they organized potlucks and picnics for us to meet and network, I felt part of a larger family. I knew I had finally found out what I was missing all along. The feeling of being part of a family of likeminded people, I began to accept myself for who I was.

After graduation eventually moved to Washington DC. DC has a much larger gay network than Cincinnati. I spent 10 years in this wonderful city, it's where this blog was born, it's where I met my husband six years ago, nonetheless at a gay bar in Dupont Circle. Just like Cincinnati, most of the friends I consider and call family, I met at gay bars and clubs in the nation's capital. We've celebrated holiday's together, from Thanksgiving, to New Years to Christmases. They've been with me through thick and thin. When I couldn't be with my family (geographical reasons), they were there, they are my family away from family. Gay bars and clubs were my safety haven, I never had to think twice about who I was or any of that crap that comes with being a minority. I felt safe. Now that we live in Oakland, I miss not having a local gay bar to visit. A long Saturday/Sunday brunch with gay friends or a casual drink in the evening to meet friends, I miss that. I used to think that as gay culture gets more accepted and becomes the norm, the number of gay bars and clubs will decrease. It's becoming the new normal. But then Saturday happened and it remind me that we still have a long road ahead of us. Most people don't understand the significance of the gay bar or club beyond it being a place to meet people or dance or drink, it is so much more to us as a community. It's where we've forged lifelong friendships and created new families based on our desire to be accepted for who we are without any judgement. Thought rights for the LGBTQ community have made significant and monumentous strides over the past few years, it's clear we still have a lot of work to do. We still need a place to feel safe. Everyday there is a kid out there looking for acceptance, their stories will not be as nice as mine, gay bars and clubs are so much more than just that, they give us as a community a safety zone. We need them. 

I feel blessed to live every day of my life in a country that let me be me. I feel proud to call this country home. I grew up here, I found myself and it made me proud to be who I am. I am thankful!