In 1992, I went with my partner to see the Names Project quilt when it was brought to Minneapolis. This was a new-ish partner and we weren’t just going as queer people. We were going because her brother had died of AIDS and she had just made a square for him.
The quilt was already too large to be displayed indoors. Five years previously, the quilt had come to Minneapolis and been displayed in its entirety in the Metrodome, our then indoor stadium. Five years later, in 1992, it was too big and only some of it could be spread out on the stadium floor.
My partner had been working for months on her square, choosing the right colors and getting elements from her brother’s family, friends and lover to include. It was, as so many of them are, a deeply personal and important memorial honoring a much-too-early death. She had sent her piece off to the Names Project and now, as the quilt was unrolled on the stadium floor, she saw her brother’s piece for the very first time, no longer alone but part of this ocean of collective grief. It is not surprising that she fell to her knees, grabbing my arm as the weight of her loss pulled her down.
As I felt her tumble, heard the rawness of her crying, the sound of it and the space it took, everything inside me went the opposite of down. I went up up up — up with fury and indignation. I was red hot inside and my words were racing from my brain to my heart and back again. I can remember these words, spinning back and forth, clearly even to today: how dare she assume that I would be there for her, that she would have my support without even asking for it. How dare she just take up this space with her sadness and her need? There were hundreds of people surrounding us. Other people were crying or just politely moving through this exhibit. So many of them were queer and I felt panic-exposure start to lift up, to lift lift lift, we were too visible, this was not ok, and so I turned stone on the inside while the outside went through the motions of being a supportive partner.
It took awhile, like months and maybe even years, before I could see what was happening. I still cringe when I remember myself internally asserting: I have been through MUCH harder things than SHE has been through in her life and you don’t hear ME losing my shit. No one has been there for me so how…