As a gamer, I know how it works. You play the game until you lose, but when you lose, you get the chance to continue. Back in the 90s, when I played the likes of “Street Fighter 2,” the continue screen did its best to lure you back in. The announcer would count down in a booming voice, and your character would stare back at you, beaten and broken. But if you hit that “Start” button, they would jump back into the ring, completely refreshed and ready to go.
I’ve been thinking about that continue screen a lot lately.
On Sunday, June 12th, I went out with my partner and her family. Before I left, I saw a snippet of a news story on my feed, but didn’t have time to delve into it. There was something about a shooting, and I’m sad to say that I’ve gotten used to seeing stories of that nature. So I put my phone away and spent the day with my in-laws, which ended with her uncle hugging me and telling me to “take care of her.” At the time, I thought it was a sweet gesture, and I relished in it. Her family’s acceptance has been years in the making, so I always cherish any moment that ends with an acknowledgement of our relationship – which happens more often these days.
While we were driving home, I finally checked my phone and the news I had glimpsed at that morning was everywhere. The horrifying details sank in. Shooting. Orlando. Pulse. Gay nightclub. When we got home we sat in silence, armed with ice cream and silly YouTube videos as I tried to articulate my thoughts.
My phone rang the next day. It was my mother.
We talked about what happened and went through a range of emotions. The fear. The anger. The exhaustion. She wants a better world but is near the end of the continue screen. If I had to guess, I’d say the announcer has counted down to “1” and my mother isn’t in the mood to hit the “Start” button. I don’t think this is a momentary bout of exhaustion. I don’t think it’s a, “I need a day to sort things out.” I really do think she’s done. “I do worry about y’all,” she said in reference to myself and my partner. “There’s crazy people out there. They just go and shoot you for not liking you.” In the middle of our conversation she added, “Did you hear about the other guy? The one who was on the way to L.A. Pride?” I knew who she was talking about. They caught a guy with an assault rifle and explosive-making materials.
Mentioning Pride made her switch gears, and she spoke the words I dreaded hearing, but I knew they were coming.
“I’m so tired,” she said to me. “I’m tired of all of it. People need to stop focusing on it. Pride Month. Black History Month. All of it. I’m just tired of it.”
Normally, when people tell me that they don’t see the need for our months, I get defensive. I’m not at the continue screen anymore. I’ve hit “Start” and I’m ready, already hitting the proper commands to unleash a devastating blast of knowledge. We need those months to show people that they’re worth it. We need those months to show people that they’re not alone.
But this was my mother. My exhausted, black mother. The mother of a black, queer woman in an interracial relationship. And I realized, in that moment, that she didn’t want to be at the continue screen.
She was ready for the end credits.
“People should just be. That’s it. If you’re gay, you’re gay. If you’re black, you’re black. The end,” she said to me.
In terms of video games, when you reach the last stage, you fight the boss with all your might. Then, when you win, you’re rewarded with an ending, then the credits roll. Back in my “Street Fighter 2” days, I’d fight with Chun-Li, a Chinese girl who sets out to avenge her father. When she wins, she pays her respects to him, then proceeds to go out and “be a normal girl.” She’s done fighting, because she doesn’t have to. Not anymore. The game is over: she’s won.
That’s what my mother wants.
As we talked I thought to myself, what must it be like, being a 62-year-old black woman with a queer child? She was alive when segregation was abolished, versus me, who read about it in February – only February. She was alive when that particular month in February started, versus me, who always had it as a norm. She was alive when news of Stonewall hit, versus me, who learned about it in great detail when I took Queer Studies in college. My mother is 62, versus my 32, and has lived through the history that created my world. So when she tells me, “I’m tired of it,” she’s coming from a different place.
To her, these movements and months were supposed to be temporary. We have a month for now, but eventually, it’ll be acknowledged as general history. Black and Gay won’t be treated as Other, they’ll be treated Equally. We won’t need a month or movements, because we’ll be treated fairly all year round. My mother, like so many others before me, fought, lost, got to the continue screen, hit start, and went at it again.
And it’s frustrating for her to see that, after 60-plus years, she’s still at the continue screen.
Even worse? I’m right there with her.
She wasn’t supposed to call me for the number of black people who are unjustly killed. She wasn’t supposed to call me for the Pulse night club. She wasn’t supposed to call because those incidents weren’t supposed to happen. We’re supposed to be beyond that. All the nonsense was supposed to be back in her day. To her, I wasn’t supposed to even know that there was a continue screen. I was supposed to sail through the game, no continues necessary.
But we’re still at the continue screen.
Together, we’ve all played through these rounds of hatred and we deserve to get to those end credits. Somewhere, at the end of all our attempts and continues, I know there’s a celebration to be had that’ll congratulate us for making it and surviving these battles. I’ve seen glimpses of victory. I’ve seen moments of success.
I know we can make it.
We just have to continue.
[Header image courtesy of Wikia.com]