after my 18th birthday i convinced a friend to drive me down to halo. i grew up in a small town in texas which is a polite way of saying i survived (we love euphemisms down here) which is another way of suggesting that almost a decade later i find it difficult to swallow when people say ‘happy birthday.’ it feels like a stale piece of cake in the fridge: beautiful until you bite. like im living on stolen time. 

halo was a gay bar downtown: a folklore passed down from high school seniors, a place of whispers, nudges, innuendos. i couldn’t believe it until i went. nothing like that could exist ‘here,’ & by here i mean the town i learned magic tricks: how to disappear myself, how to make them think i was still there. & by there i meant the baptist church around every corner, the persistent drone of ‘faggot’ ‘pussy’ ‘sissy’ flung at me like a morning prayer. a baptism in their spit. in god’s name, a-man!

i have never understood why they call it “coming out,” as if removing their arms from my neck is about my emergence & not their erasure. but at 18 i clung onto words like ‘gay’ to hold up a white flag among the wreckage. “i surrender.” less about the accuracy, more about indicating a sign of life. 

& i found myself at halo week after week too shy to ask anyone to dance (still am), that 18 year old messy girl on the stage getting her life (in more ways than one) until close, that flaming queen from texas, setting the stage on fire. it was me & “britney bitch!” & the goths & punks & rebel middle school teacher & old cowboy from 3 hours away, & that lady i recognized from the grocery store - it was “us,” one of the first times in my life i remember experiencing “us.” halo was that place where ‘we’ the discarded things, the children they did not talk about, the misfits, the queers, where we came to dance — or rather, live. 

here i am almost a decade later with a new gender & an old shirt. & so much of who i have become is from this bar & this town: learning to love difference in myself & others despite everything we were taught, saying “hello” like our lives depended on it, needing each other because we had nothing else.

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