There’s an ultimatum you’ve got to accept early on when you’re growing up queer in the South: Nobody gives a fuck about you.

Many people, including some straight and cisgender folks, had that epiphany again Sunday morning, when we woke to the news that forty-nine members of the LGBTQ+ community were dead in Florida, murdered by a man with an assault rifle and, so far, little motive other than the fact they were gay. These people have left this earth because of their identity, and all anyone can offer are their continued “thoughts and prayers.”

We who loved Madonna when we should have loved gospel had that realization years ago. Living in Chatham County, I’ve learned to recognize the ultimatum, to understand it, to carry the weight of it wherever I go, even in so-called safe spaces. You see it written on the faces of your coworkers, your friends, your family, yourself. We know it best of anyone.

I knew when my father told me, a six-year-old, that all gays would go to hell.

I knew when my mother said that she wished I were “normal.”

I knew when my best friend thanked me for helping her combat biology by purchasing estrogen, because if she couldn’t have gotten it, she would have killed herself.

I knew when another transgender girl did. After years of isolation and abuse from her parents, she exists now six feet under, in a suit.

I knew when I saw members of my community topple to violence, when I saw friends carve the hate they saw into their limbs, when quiet bruises on Michael’s arms pinpointed just where his father tried to beat the gay out of him.

I knew after my first attempt. I knew again after my second.

I knew when my nonbinary friend Henry came to me, fearfully, to say their classmates and teacher had discussed methods of stabbing transgender people.

I knew when we dropped like flies due to AIDS in the eighties, when we dropped like flies due to hate crimes in the nineties, when we dropped like flies due to suicide in the aughts, when we’ve dropped like flies for all of time.

I still know when we get clocked in the head for using a restroom, when we’re kicked to the curb for dating, when we get fired for wearing a skirt, when the chances of me celebrating my thirtieth birthday are slim, when the chances of my friends celebrating with me are nil.

When injustice after hate crime after murder after suicide stands, all we get are thoughts, prayers, and the backs of hands.

We know. And we weep. Nikolai Toivo Mather