Content Warning: violence murder gun violence homophobia biphobia transphobia burning burned alive
His father said: he saw two men kissing
in the street, and it made him angry.

I was eighteen the first time I
spent the night with another girl,
walked back to campus with her
the next morning, wanting to hold
her hand, afraid to.

This is what I was afraid of:
that my parents would somehow hear,
that they would stop speaking to me
would cut me off. That my sisters,
friends, would turn away, repulsed
by thoughts of what two girls might do.

There were incidents on campus.
Gay-bashing, injuries. We wore pink
triangles in solidarity, passed them out
on campus, asked our straight professors –
please. Stand with us. Many did.

Matthew Shepard, a student, was tortured
and murdered a few years later, in 1998.

I didn’t think anything would happen
to me. I reached out and took her hand
or maybe she reached out to me. Kissed
her goodbye, knowing already that it
was over, not regretting anything.

Later, my friends and I went to the gay
nightclubs and danced, the straight girls
glad to be able to dance as freely and
sexually as they wanted, without fear
of harassment. I danced on a table, hoping
the gay boys knew, somehow,
that I was one of them.

Twenty years ago; now I’m wife and mother –
husband, two kids, dog, and a house
in the suburbs. Still bi, and poly too, but
living as safe a life as one might wish for,
as parents might hope for their children.

The death toll rises, now up to fifty dead,
the worst mass shooting in American history
the worst mass murder of gay people in America
since 1973, Upstairs Lounge, thirty-two burned.

I took her hand, and later, madly in love, I kissed
my girlfriend in the street, knowing always
that it might make someone passing by
angry. In love and defiant, knowing enough to worry.

I didn’t know we’d have to worry about this.


Bio: "Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins), The Stars Change (Circlet Press) and ten other titles. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. Mohanraj founded the Hugo-nominated magazine, Strange Horizons, and serves as editor-in-chief of Jaggery, a South Asian literary journal ( She received a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women for her work in Asian American arts organizing, won an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and was Guest of Honor at WisCon. Mohanraj is Clinical Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lives in a creaky old Victorian in Oak Park, just outside Chicago, with her husband, their two small children, and a sweet dog.