It is my experience for many reasons to shut trauma out of my life. On June 12th, 49 people were murdered at Pulse Nightclub’s Latin Night, becoming America’s largest mass shooting in history. Many of the victims were Latino and gay. What had been a safe space was invaded and attacked. Many of the victims were Puerto Rican. They looked like me and my friend Vince. Naturally, I became angry and afraid. As I usually do, I subconsciously blocked those feelings and many more out of my mind. Shortly after, my best friend Louie said “let’s take a Gran Varón trip to Orlando.” I was hesitant yet ready.
We arrived on July 27th (day after my
birthday). Over a period of three days we met up with several Varones that are
part of the Orlando community. When asking questions for our interviews, I was
present yet emotionally detached. Their stories of bravery, resiliency, and recovery
were inspiring. Each story weighed heavily on me and yet I still couldn’t connect.
Anthony interviewing Angel
That changed on our fourth day of the trip. The morning of July 30th we traveled to Kissimmee, Florida to meet up with Jorge. Louie had met Jorge online and shared with him that we were in the area capturing and archiving stories of Latino Gay men so that our narratives (as told by us) can be shared forever. Jorge, who had been disconnected from the world, said that he indeed had a story and was ready to open up. We picked him up and what was originally supposed to be lunch turned into 24 hours. Because of our interview schedule we had to quickly leave Kissimmee after lunch and travel to Orlando to do a few interviews. We always meet people where there are at and on their time. We keep to it. Jorge was down to tag along.
Anthony interview Miguel
Jorge watched as
we met up with two different Varones and gathered their interviews. He kept
silent but you could tell he was processing the stories being told. After our
second interview that day, I invited him to come back to our place for dinner.
Again, he was down. We traveled the 30 minutes it took to get to a supermarket
near the place we were staying. In that time, Louie separated with another to chat with another Varón in his car and I was with Jorge and Sean in our rental. We laughed from the heart
as we told jokes, we shared the music that gets us through our roughest times
(Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”), and told each other stories of our
families. I felt a developing connection with him, one that wasn’t connected to
Anthony interviewing Chris
After dinner, it was time to interview Jorge. He shared details of his background and of how he came to accept his identity. I then asked why he agreed to give up a Saturday and tag along with strangers trekking across Central Florida. That’s when he shared that he was with us because the universe kept him from going to his friend’s birthday party at Pulse that night. One of his friends, Rodolfo, did go to the party. Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33, was one of the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. In that moment, I knew the story that would follow and I felt myself detaching. Jorge wouldn’t allow me to do that. He shared a joke to make me laugh and continued to share his friend’s story with courage I’ve never seen.
Anthony interviewing Franqui
I was trying to hold space for him to share his story and instead he was holding space for me. His courage, his kindness, and his smile kept me present and in touch. Because of Jorge and the others we met in Florida, I was able to begin wrapping myself around the pain I’ve felt these last few months. The news won’t report on the strength of the survivors and those impacted. But all throughout the Orlando area, we met brave people that were pushing forward.
It tears at my mind and my heart that Jorge and I almost didn’t meet. The world tries every day to pin Latino Gay and Queer men from each other when it is through our love that we grow and thrive.
I am forever grateful for meeting Jorge and the
- Anthony Leon
Anthony & Jorge taking a selfie when they should have been eating