“Your voice reminds me of Nomi from Sense8–have you seen that? Do you know who I’m talking about?”
Todd and I met on a whim of chance. It’s Gay Days weekend, an event that partially extends to the Walt Disney World resort, and it’s the first since what happened at Pulse. Todd came to the concierge counter to assist us, even though a woman was already at that station, also available to help us. Within the first few words we exchanged, I knew that Todd was gay, and he knew that I’m trans (even if he, like many others, are not quite certain of ‘where’ my transition journey is headed).
Todd speaks with the affect that’s shared with many other gay men. It’s a phenomenon that spans several generation brackets and regional spheres. I speak the androgynous language that’s shared among hormonally transitioning persons of all genders: not quite feminine, but not totally masculine.
We know we belong with each other.
Todd has a ‘hospitality voice‘, because Todd is what Disney refers to as ‘on stage,’ meaning that he, as a cast member, is representing the Walt Disney Company to me, a guest. But sure enough, Todd’s hospitality voice steadily dropped in level to a warm, personable volume, until we were at the same level.
I leaned up out of my wheelchair to lean against the concierge counter. Todd leaned forward from behind the computer.
“Can you believe they canceled it? With that ending! You know what I loved about that show? It made me feel aware of how much we need each other and made me feel grateful for when we have each other. Like in the show, whenever a character feels long, to have eight different personalities come in and say ‘but you’re not alone’ is just so powerful.”
I nodded enthusiastically.
Todd speckled the conversation with some cast member tricks of the trade while he took my information, which also served as unsuspecting ice breakders. ‘Where are you folks from?’ turned into ‘They have hipsters there?’ and hence begat ‘You know, I was a goth back in my days, too, back in NYC in the 80s. Where do goths hang out here?–now?’
We admitted there weren’t many ‘goth-centric’ spaces in Central Florida–not like what Todd pioneered–but we told him that our place used to be Pulse. But as it turned out, we still had some shared spaces.
“Have you been to Dandelion? I love it. And Drunken Monkey.”
I’ve been visualizing the happy memories of Todd in black garb with jet black hair and heavy jewelry in the East Village circa 1980s. This version of Todd frequented spaces that his modern doppelgänger was surprised to hear were now considered ‘legendary’ rather than forgotten by time. He saw bands that disintegrated years ago. His favourite band, though, was the Grateful Dead.
“After all these years, I just found out what that means. Do you know? It means karma. Charity. I had no idea. Did you?”
The motif of a cycle of folk tales which begin with the hero coming upon a group of people ill-treating or refusing to bury the corpse of a man who had died without paying his debts. He gives his last penny, either to pay the man’s debts or to give him a decent burial. Within a few hours he meets with a traveling companion who aids him in some impossible task, gets him a fortune or saves his life. The story ends with the companion disclosing himself as the man whose corpse the hero had befriended.
(per Funk and Wagnalls New Practical Standard Dictionary, Britannica World Language Edition and as also seen in Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend)
Todd assisted us graciously as a cast member, so much so that we wrote an extensive email to Disney corporate to commend his services. He also admitted that we reinstated his faith in Disney guests, who in all their diversity were more and more starting to reflect the world Out There and bring it to this liminal, magical space. But more than that, Todd reached me as an older gay man, one who Was There and now Is Here.
In the ‘grateful dead’ story, there’s no clear binary of ‘who was who’ in my brief but touching conversation with Todd. Was he the Dickensian ghost of our LGBT elders’ past lending me his guiding light to persevere, or am I a timeless spirit who promises to carry the pain and the pride of all of my siblings’ and foreparents’ histories with me?
In either version of this tale, one of us is giving and one of us is receiving a beautiful gift. In both cases, my gratitude comes from the same place as my fear.
I’m so happy to be here, both in this liminal, magical space and in this authentic experience, because I’m so afraid that one day I and everything and everyone else will be gone. Because over the course of the same weekend where I was able to celebrate Pride with my partner and my partner-in-crime, several headlines rolled in.
One was a suspicious package left on the Pulse property.
Another was an update that Orlando has been denied funding for anti-terror surveillance.
Yet another was to mark the release of the police body cam footage from the shoot-out.
Much like Todd said of the protagonists of Sense8: We’re here, and we’re here for each other. But they’re still out there, too. They still hate us; they still want to hurt us. They are going to remind us in these days that we’re here celebrating our lives, and they want us dead.
Which is why it is so important that Todd found me (that I sought out Todd?)–now some part of him lives with me, here, forever.