Today we are talking about Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which on June 12, 2016, became the site of the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks of 2001. And, the repercussions were felt worldwide- I remember how shocking and terrifying it was to hear about this happening in a country like America..
But, before it was the sight of this tragedy Pulse was a place where people came to meet likeminded queer folks, dance, be messy and forget their regular lives.
I caught up with leukaemia warrior and makeup artist Jared Lipscomb, who grew up in Orlando to talk about body image, first times and why that space will always have a special place in his heart. In lots of ways this is a very serious episode because we’re talking about a horrific incident, but in other ways it’s very joyous as we talk about what made the place special.
Follow Jared on Instagram, and give a wee listen to his podcast Back on Air (wherever you listen to podcasts)
Jared: but this was something different because it was the first time that I was like, Oh, my God, there are truly people out there like us, because up until this point, I had seen maybe Jack on Will and Grace, the gay character from Mean Girls and whoever else was in social, you know, on pop culture at the time.
But other than that, it was just side characters. And for once it was like, oh my God, it’s not just me. And my three gay friends in our school. It’s, grown-ups, you know, full adults all the way up to. The age of my grandfather at this club, like this includes everyone. This is a bigger that this is a bigger world than what I expected.
I am not alone.
K: This is a question I usually end with, but I’m going to start with this question. What do you think Orlando has lost since it lost Pulse?
Jared: Oh gosh. Wow. Um, well, you know, as someone who grew up within like the suburbs of Orlando and that area, I can say definitively, it lost just a place that. Young people really gravitated to young queer people who don’t, who didn’t feel like they had a place to go, uh, because Orlando as, as gay-friendly, as the city and the metropolis can be the outskirts and the surrounding small towns are.
So the opposite of that, they’re so small minded. So it was truly an escape. There are options for gay gay places in Orlando. Of course there are because it’s so gay friendly, especially now, but. Growing up, you know, I’m 33 now, and that 19 and 20 years old, there were, uh, maybe two or three clubs that accepted, uh, kids under the age of 21, you know, 18 and up clubs and Pulse was one of them.
So it really was one of those places that young people could go. You know, your senior year of high school, you’re finishing up high school and you’re exploring your sexuality. You had a place where you could go legally with your ID being 18 and up, and that was taken away. As well as the thought and the feeling of safety that was that we all just have had before you experienced something so devastating as a, as a mass, you know, terrorist shooting.
Um, so that sense of safety has taken, been taken away. I haven’t gone back out in Orlando, although I live in Los Angeles now, even when I go home to visit, I haven’t gone back out and Orlando as I don’t feel comfortable to do so still to this day, it’s a, it’s a mental, it’s a mental, you know, roadblock. So yeah, it’s been changed and it’s.
It’s been an impactful change.
K: Yeah. So I want to pick up on what you said about Orlando and the centre being gay friendly, but the outskirts not necessarily being that way. And actually, maybe my question is more about Florida
Jared: There’s a lot to discuss about Florida,
K: yes, for our international listeners, um, well, for anyone really Florida is often seen as like the laughing stock.
Jared: it’s like the genital warts on America’s anus.
K: Except there’s no cream for it.
Jared: There’s no cream. There’s no cream.
K: So like, yeah. I mean, we see, you know, we see stories about like, man having his face chewed off by a stranger crocodiles are like roaming the street, no Alligators. crocodiles, alligators,
roaming the streets. Like what is it like growing up
K: Florida? And what is it like growing up queer in Florida?
Jared: well, funny enough, um, because. Of the close proximity to Orlando, even though I, I did have to stop for alligators, you know, driving down the streets and there, and I’m not kidding. I mean, that was a very real, real thing of living near a swamp, you know, it’s, it was the proximity to Orlando and to Disney World, which is such an epicentre for tourism.
It was not as harsh as you would expect it to be. Um, there was a theatre program in my school. School, we were able to have access to larger Broadway shows, you know, that would travel through, um, through the, the ma the metropolises and whatnot. So growing up in Florida queer in the mid two thousands was not this, uh, terror.
Fear that you might expect. However, the more north you go in Florida, the closer you get to the south of America, which is like that Heartland you hear about, which is, you know, famous for the, for all the horror, horrible atrocities in America, which is, you know, the, the KKK and the slavery and all of that stuff.
So, so Northern Florida, Is actually a very scary part. And that’s where you get those parts of, you know, the real extreme homophobia. And I went to college in Northern Florida. So it was actually kind of a reverse situation where I went to high school was more accepting because it was closer to Orlando.
Then I left, went to a college town further away from Orlando, more in the swamp lands of the north. And that’s when it was like, oh, it’s the, Florida’s some Backwoods. These are some. You know, Deliverance people out here ready to fight and ready to be mad at you just for sounding gay. And you know, I’m not one who can hide being queer because it, you know, my voice is queer.
I’m queer. Just, I exude my, my queerness proudly. So it’s not an embarrassment, but it’s not something I can hide. I can’t play straight. You know, there’s no, there’s no trade going on here. So it was, it’s a, it’s a weird mind fuck. Living in Florida because you know, it’s just, it’s just so weird. You have Miami and Orlando and Tampa.
And then in between these major metropolises, you have these small towns where bigots, you know, reign Supreme. So it’s, it’s a weird, a weird dichotomy and it’s confusing at
K: And there’s like, there’s one town that is like the most populous queer town in
America. Wasn’t like, what is that?
Jared: I think it’s a key west. I haven’t actually been there, but yeah, there’s so many, um, pockets in Florida, which is what makes it so fabulous. Um, It’s D it’s definitely up in the Gulf of like the Mexican Gulf and yeah, there’s these little pockets where drag Queens, uh, have, you know, have fame beyond measure just in the small little town and, uh, queer people kind of run it.
And again, it’s, it’s its own little entity. It’s its own little pocket there, you know, in the midst of the beach town, the coastal town and. That kind of sums up. It’s a good metaphor for Orlando. It’s like, there’s the safe spot pocket there, safe pocket that you can, you can find yourself in where you’re totally accepted.
And then you have to be careful because whatever else, which is really what Pulse was, you know, it was a safe pocket for the people who were under 21, but above 18, to be able to go to a gay nightclub and experience gay culture anywhere within like the two hour radius of Orlando, it was that safe pocket.
And, you know, Florida does have some safe spaces despite, uh, all the news you hear coming out of it.
K: And so just quickly to help me understand. Cause, uh, like obviously I’ve only ever lived in countries where the drinking age is 18 when, when the drinking age is 21. So, but there are still some clubs where you can go if you’re 18, is it just like everyone who’s over 21 gets an arm band so they can drink or were there other rules?
Jared: No, it’s pretty much an arm band or a stamp. They they’re pretty good about making it something that you can’t copy. Uh, so it’s either like a stamp or something that like, if you don’t have it, Um, present I think a stamp is the most common one, because if you don’t have it present or maybe if you do have it present, it’s like so hard to wash off that they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t question it.
They, they have a couple of things in place. Yeah. So it’s definitely are. I remember armbands and X’s on my hand, but I just can’t remember in which order, you know, X means yes to drink or no, but anyways, they have, they have a system in place that they try to keep it. But let me tell you, if it is an arm band, you bring a little pair of nail clippers with you.
Slice that little buddy take some chewing gum. He can pop it right on. And then you can drink if it as a
K: oh, expert tip there,
Jared: yes, experts have chewing gum, baby.
K: then, so those kinds of places, are they mostly young people or is it, is it quite mixed?
Jared: That is what it’s, what’s so amazing about Pulse, because it really was my only gay experience, um, from 18 until 21. And then it continued to be my gay experience until I moved to LA. But it. It was so diverse and they celebrated this diversity in ways that I had never seen growing up in small town, Florida USA, you know, they had Latino nights.
They had nights that celebrated different cultures and they had, of course, just seeing a drag queen perform like these. They had these drag Queens performances, just like any bar would have, but for me it was, you know, groundbreaking. I had never seen that this was pre RuPaul being on TV and all of that stuff.
Like RuPaul’s Drag Race. And so it was a very diverse crowd. I mean, I was sitting with, you know, next to guys in their fifties and sixties having, you know, uh, friends re hanging out after 40 years. And you had us freshly turned 18 trying to sneak a drink. So it was a very cool mix of people. Now, of course, night’s focused on different things, you know, but, um, you were always welcomed no matter what as most gay clubs are.
K: So, can we then talk about your first time there? Do you remember?
Jared: I do remember my first time at pulse and it’s going to sell myself out a little bit because I’m only going to say this since it’s closed, sadly, but I snuck in illegally at 17 years old. And so it was very memorable. It was me and some of my friends from high school, they, you know, w someone in high school was dating an older, uh, gentlemen who had a connection to the nightclub
K: how old are we talking? Is it creepy? Old?
Jared: Oh, like. No, no, no. Like 21 old 21 in my friend is like 18 or 18 or 19 old. Um, not creepy old. And, but, but, oh, you know, we were all over age. Like we’re all adults like legally adults, but we were not 21. No, I was 17. Some of them were 21. Some of them were just over 18. It was a whole a mumble jumble of us.
Anyways, we snuck in the back door where the drag performers go in. And that was our way in somehow someone knew, a drag performer, whatever they let us in. And we walked in through the back. And even that is just such a scene from a movie, like burned into my memory of, cause you, I had no experience of going to a club and.
I had no experience with really queerness, besides whatever I had seen on TV, spoofs of characters. And so I’m walking out this back dressing room and you just can hear it and you can start to feel it’s warmer. And then the door opens that backdoor opens and you just see the lights are going off and.
You know, I’m seeing these men making out with each other and dancing with each other with no, like worry that they’re gonna, you know, just, it was, it was insane. It was absolute insanity for the first time to see that. And I saw, you know, I remember seeing a drag queen dressed as Catwoman, like the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman, obviously.
And, um, the yes. And I was just like, Excuse me like, and I, I mean, I went up and I don’t even think phones hadn’t even evolved to selfies yet. And I still somehow have a picture with this cat woman drag queen somewhere in my, in my files of, you know, old Facebook photos. But it was just such a moment of walking in and seeing just this livelihood.
And it wasn’t just, you know, I, I grew up. Vaguely religious. And so I was expecting a lot of depravity. I was expecting this like, to feel scared or to see like I’m going to walk in and just see people just fucking everywhere. And I’m going to get, you know, like I’m going to get an STD just by breathing the air
K: So then were you like, did you feel let down then when that didn’t happen?
Jared: that I didn’t chlamydia by nose. Um, no, it was just so wonderful. It was just not what I expected. And so it was like, Oh my God, this is a place where you can go and truly be yourself. And, and that was that feeling that rushed over me. I was like, this isn’t a bad place or a scary place where I’m going to catch, you know, a disease, which really was the mindset of a lot of, of my generation, how we were raised.
Cause our parents, you know, grew up in the Aids crisis. So it was like, oh, this is a place where people are just loving. And that’s what I felt instantly was the love. And as soon as Catwoman was nice to me, I was like, Because, you know, that can be intimidating going up to a drag queen. I know now after doing drag and like experiencing more larger drag shows, I’m like, oh, that’s a very intimidating thing to do, but she was so sweet.
And so whoever that Catwoman drag queen was, you know, made me feel very welcome. Thank you.
K: you, didn’t like you didn’t like inappropriately touch her hair or anything. Did you.
Jared: I did not make any, uh, faux pas, but luckily she had like a full on leather suit. So there wasn’t many faux pas I make. Um, and I was
K: could have grabbed her tits, I guess.
Jared: yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. That’s not my,
K: That’s not what you going to a gay bar
K: Um, so can we talk then about Jared at 17?
Jared: Yes, let’s
K: So, so you knew you were queer. Like, and you had a semi religious upbringing. What was the whole process of coming out like for you?
Jared: So my coming out story itself is very, um, linear and simple. Like I said, I
K: oh, boring. I’m here for trauma.
Jared: I know, and you know, I don’t have drama from my family side. I will say this. We grew up very religious and they, um, it was instilled in me that being gay was wrong. I had very young parents. And so at around. 30 years old.
Cause we’re only about 20 years apart. So around 30 years old, which is my age now they had a come to Jesus, if you will. And they said, my God, what are we doing in this, you know, kind of crazy religion where we’re instilling fear in our children were fire and brimstone, we’re just focusing on trying not to go to hell, like living life, really like that.
Like we were focusing on not going to hell and they had an awakening and quickly we did a 180. And like I said, I was queer my whole life. It was just obvious, you know, like I, I feel uncomfortable saying that sometimes. Cause I understand gender is not, you know, gender is a construct and being gay is a sexuality thing, but like I was inherently queer and.
Everyone knew it, you know? And so when I finally came out at 15 years old, my parents were accepting. I had a harder time with the bullies and that’s where trauma comes into play. And that’s where being accepted, accepted kind of came into play. And that’s when you get those weird backwards stories of Florida where I’m.
Being chased by, you know, 15 cars, uh, with baseball bats, from a guy who was convinced, I egged his girlfriend’s car and they wanted to lash out at someone. So the easiest person to lash out on was the new queer in town, you know, like that kind of. that kind of behavior. So while it was very safe at home for me, and I’m very grateful for that, it was very, um, hard in a lot of other ways.
So it was, you know, it was a wild time. No, nonetheless,
K: this incident that you’re talking about with the 15 cars was that after you’d gone to university or was that when you were still living at home?
Jared: I’m still living at home in high school.
K: Ah, so even in that, even in that relatively, um,
Jared: Exactly. Even in that small bubble where there’s the, the theatre kids and other gay kids, they’re still that outskirts of the, the, the kids who grew up in a different way who maybe didn’t move from a big city who grew up from, you know, the, the. It really is kind of the swamp lands and they grew up in these kind of like back lands.
And so you have these two forces at play. And for majority of time it was safe and sound for, for, you know, us queer people in my little town, but other times it would not be. And that was one of the instances that it was
K: uh, and then, so like at, at school, were you out or were you just kind of like no one pay attention to me?
Jared: I knew a group of theatre kids who were out and they encouraged me to come out because again, you know, it was apparent and they said, if you ever, you know, we, we, they brought it up in a very, very nice. Delicate way and just encouraged me or just let me know that they would be there for me no matter what.
I can’t remember the exact specific conversation, but was very welcoming and they were all openly gay. There was about three guys who were openly gay and I believe two lesbians. And just seeing that. You know, seeing five gay people in the school, um, they were still bullied to a certain extent of course, but because there was this power in numbers and because our theatre program was well-respected also, you know, in America they loved, I don’t know how it is there, but like they love sports and winning, winning prizes and
K: Well, this was the other thing. This is the other thing I was going to ask. I always hear about in American schools, the gay straight Alliance, or like some kind of like club, and I just find it like this really weird concept. Do those actually exist?
Jared: Oh, my God, they do exist.
K: what am, so what do you like, do they just make posters and put them up around the school? Like, what do they do
Jared: I mean, I don’t know. I, I don’t know if my, my school, by the time that I was out in my school. I don’t know if they were still relevant because I think it was a very much a generational. To the, you know, like the Matthew Shepard incident and all of that stuff. So I feel like it’s, uh, I think I miss that. I think my generation missed that boat a little bit in schools, but I remember them being like the remnants of the gay straight Alliance club.
K: I just find it. Yeah. I just find it really fascinating. Like who, like, not, not that it’s not aware of the cause or anything, but like who, if you were straight, like what incentive do you have to join that group? Like, I just don’t get it. It’s really bizarre.
Jared: I wish I had an answer for you. I don’t know the type of people who are yeah. What incentivises someone to be a straight ally or a straight person in the gay
K: yeah. Yeah. Like give up your time and stuff. Like, it’s just, it feels like, it feels like a lot. Um, so then this conversation, the, this group talking to you and being like, oh yeah, we know you’re queer. Were they like, just really overt with it? Or were they like skirting around the subject?
Jared: Hm. It was a mixture of both, because at this point we had become so close as, as like the cheesy theatre kids that you see in like Glee, you know, like the choir kids, like we were like that. So we were so close that it was a mixture of direct, like, Hey, we know you’re gay, but they didn’t want to embarrass me because they had all been there before.
So it was really like like-minded. So it, it was a really welcoming, like, all you have to do is say it kind of vibe, you know, they just said like, all you have to do is say it and then that’s
K: that’s terrifying.
Jared: no, just say it to them
K: No. No, I
Jared: say it to a friend.
K: even, even just, just saying it for the first time is just like, it’s terrifying. It’s like, you just want someone to say, ‘are you gay?’ So you can be like, and then that kind of like, just takes away the pressure. I remember when I was at school, I kind of, um, just rationalised it to myself and was like, I’m just going to get through.
I’m just going to be like asexual, I’m just going to like be non-sexual for this, this period. And then when I co like leave school, then I can just do whatever the hell I want.
Jared: but did you know you were gay at that point?
K: So I, I figured out when I was 12, um, I know it was just like, okay.
Just, just like survive for the next few years.
And I like looking back now, there was so many like gay guys in my year as go that were like trying to. To, to be like, oh, Hey, I’m gay too. And like have conversations with me about it. And I was just so
like, it was just so like, it wasn’t even that I was processing it and just not wanting to have the conversation.
I just was just like,
Jared: you know, when they were in the moment when they were coming up to you, did you know that’s what they were
K: No, no, yeah. That’s what I’m saying. Like, like looking back now, I, I kind of
Jared: Oh, so now you’re like, oh, I
K: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And like this, you know, obviously this is my perception and not necessarily reality, but I feel like I was the one or one of the ones that was bullied the worst for being gay. And then there were other like gay males in my year, but they kind of didn’t get
the same level. oh there’s one other person actually I can think of that would have been bullied to the same extent that I was, um, And so I was just kind of like non trusting, absolutely everyone. And if anyone was having a conversation with me, it would just be like, why are you talking to me? Are you like trying to like, get some information in order to bully me?
Or in order to like, you know, it was just, there was never any kind of like pure intention behind people having a conversation. But anyway, I remember this one. Yeah. There’s one guy. I mean, this is just laughable that it just did not even clock. I was just like, in this conversation, this one guy who was like, trying to tell me his musical tastes and he was telling me about, um, He was telling me that he’d bought this album from Dana International, who was, who is, um, uh, the winner of Eurovision in the, nineties and was famous for being, um, the first trans woman who, who won Eurovision.
And so he was like telling me that he’d bought this album and that he’d been listening to it and he loved it. And I was just like, yeah, it’s just, it’s not really my type of music. I’m not really. Yeah. So I’m no, there’s nothing I can talk to you about this. And it was like, it was just like him, like just really trying to tell me they was like really trying to like, be like, I am queer.
Jared: thickest olive branch.
K: And I was just like,
yeah, I don’t really listen to that kind of music. Um, yeah, I’ve got nothing to say. Sorry.
Jared: And again, so you were just like saying that like out of sheer protection, you were like, I am not like it did, it didn’t even register in that moment or you were just like, I’m, I’m
K: Yeah, yeah, no, yeah. It wasn’t like, oh, he’s trying to tell me he’s queer. Oh, oh, oh, like scramble, scramble. It was just me just genuinely being like, oh yeah. I don’t like, yeah, I’m not. Yeah. I don’t like that.
kind of music. I’ve got nothing to say to you. Sorry.
Jared: that just proves, I mean, you know, everyone at their own pace because God, we are, you know,
K: I, yeah, I just feel so bad for him. I just feel so bad that you’re just like, he just plucked up the courage to talk to me. And I was just like, yeah, nah, yeah. Sorry. No.
Jared: Oh my
K: Um, and so was this group then there from school, the group that you went to the first time to Pulse?
Jared: It was, yes. So, uh, the, the, the, the gay boys and I were the ones who had the connection to get in through the back and whatnot, and yes, so that was our little group. Um, and I think it was only two of us from the actual who were in high school. School. And I was the only one under age. Um, I think they were both 18, so it was really a mission to sneak me in.
But, um, but yeah, we did it and someone else must’ve been under to make it such a big hoopla to go
K: Oh, no, you’re
Jared: or, or it was just my memory, you know, or my memory just is like, oh my God, I snuck in. So.
K: like being there where you just terrified the whole night, or were you able to just enjoy it?
Jared: um, like I said, I was terrified walking in because I just had this Sodom and Gomorrah fear that I was going to walk into just like a nightmare of sex and be and be propositioned for sex and was just so scared because again, my very
K: a side note. Don’t you wish clubs were like that, like now? Yeah. well at the time but
Jared: I do
K: my God, how
Jared: now. I’m like, yeah, damn. Can’t they all be like this can’t they all be like my worst nightmare when I was 17. Um, which is now my dream, especially after the pandemic. Damn, but, um, Yeah. So, I mean, besides once I opened that door, I mean, I was fearful of getting kicked out.
I’ve had so many other fears of that moment that when the doors opened and I was in and I was like, whoa, I’m in. Um, yeah, it was nothing. There was no, there was no more fears except that occasionally I would see like a security guard or somebody walked by and I would be like, you know, hide making sure they somehow wouldn’t know that I was 17, 18 and not 17 or
K: Yes. Hiding is non conspicuous. Yeah,
Jared: Yeah. Just head in the corner, but yeah, so it was, so it wasn’t scary. It was a very, um, you know, like I said, just like this, it’s just insane. Just hearing music that I loved remix. I mean, just all those minor things that you just never thought about. Like, cause I had gone to so many, um, uh, teen clubs in high school also with like my straight girlfriends, which they have in America.
So they’re, uh, they’re designed for 17 and under. And so it’s basically a nightclub where, you know, they serve diet Cokes and regular Cokes and juice and stuff, and they were, they would be like these pop-up things. They were really big in the mid two thousands. And, um, parents would kind of be using like to babysit their like older kids.
So they would drop them off at like the teen club and then they could go and do like, you know, I don’t know the whole backstory of it, but so besides this experience of going to these teen clubs where it would be. You know, 12 year olds, 13 year olds, 14 year olds up to 17 and they’re playing edited version like, oh, whoever was the popular music, you know, you know, uh, Usher and stuff.
And they’re playing that kind of, you know, whatever. And it was just very heteronormative. It was just, it was like prom all the time. And so just not fun for a queer person, you know? So again, I go into Pulse and I’m like, Oh, my God, what’s this. I hear blasting through the speakers. This is a song that I love, you know, is this just everything that I love in one place that I didn’t know possible?
You know, you just, you forget when you’re so young and all this time passes, you forget like how important a place like that is. And. Even just talking about it, I’m like, oh my God. Like I can, I can visualise, I wish I could share the visualisation. I’m just seeing like the laser lights and like the Catwoman in the corner.
And, you know, I just, it was just so crazy.
K: and smoke machine
Jared: cool. oh yeah the smoke
K: Um, do you remember talking to anyone, maybe flirting with people or dancing with strangers on That first night?
Jared: first night, my friend’s boyfriend, who was the one who was above 21, who knew the drag queen. He had a friend who he introduced me to, who I was kind of, you know, w we, even though we were doing something so grown up as going to a club, we were still very high school. Cool. So it was very much like you are going to be set up with this person.
Like my best friend was telling me, like, my boyfriend is setting you up with his friend. So like in our fantasies, like we would be double dating and all of this stuff. So I did have someone there who understood that I was 17 and that like, you know, they were. And I think they were probably 20 years old, but at the time they
K: A hundred.
Jared: could have told me they were 70.
Yeah. And I would have been like, I believe. Um, and so they tried to force us together. You know how that goes, like, they’re like, okay, you guys go off and get a drink. You guys go out and smoke a cigarette in the back or you guys go do this and that. And we just weren’t having it w it was not a right connection for us.
So I decided to kind of leave my post and. You know, we were, we were able to drink thankfully at that, you know, that was part of the sneaking in process was we were able to get our wristbands, our Xs or whatever, and drink. So I decided I’m going to get drunk and do what you do want to get clubs. So, yes, I kissed several people
K: Holy shit. Okay. So, so then before having been there for the first time, had you ever been with like, had you ever snogged someone?
Jared: I had, yes, I had actually already had sex. I had sex when I was 15
K: Oh, oh,
Jared: so this was not so, so it was a weird mixture of like, I was comfortable in certain aspects of my sexuality, but I was very uncomfortable with it on full display. And I was very uncomfortable with it in this, in this, in this setting of so many people, um, seeing me be gay, you know, seeing me.
And then of course, once you have the liquor in you, you’re like everybody look, I’m making out with a, you know, like. Whoever, and I’m sure I was making out with someone at this point. Like, I’m sure it was someone who was 70 years old. Not, not just like, oh, I bet you like, I was
K: Wow. Okay. So it’s probably like too much to ask if you remember any of those gentlemen.
Jared: yeah, that’s too much to ask because now I’m starting to think of like, everyone I’ve ever kissed in the club and now it’s like, I’m having, like, I feel almost as if my life was flashing before my
K: Oh my God. Could you imagine if that actually did happen when your life ended, if every single person you snogged like flashed up in front of your eyes. I’d be like alive for another six months.
Jared: Well, don’t even throw in fucking, like, could you imagine that I’d be the life for about four years? Damn.
K: uh, so is there anything else then from that first night that stands out in your memory?
Jared: You know, I just remember the next day waking up and feeling like. Not just like a bad-ass because like, obviously, like I snuck into a club, I drank, I was hung over and, you know, you have that experience about you you’re you all gather with your friends and share your, your, you remember when this happened and oh my gosh, this happened, you know, and you, you enjoy all that moment, but it wasn’t just that simple thing.
Cause I had done that before, you know, I’d been to high school dances and gotten drunk and we’ve had those moments. Yeah. But he was And teen club. Um, but, but this was something different because it was the first time that I was like, Oh, my God, there are truly people out there like us, because up until this point, I had seen maybe Jack on Will and Grace, the gay character from Mean Girls and whoever else was in social, you know, on pop culture at the time.
But other than that, it was just side characters. And for once it was like, oh my God, it’s not just me. And my three gay friends in our school. It’s, grown-ups, you know, full adults all the way up to. The age of my grandfather at this club, like this includes everyone. This is a bigger that this is a bigger world than what I expected.
I am not alone. And one of my big things about my journey with like being queer and then having, you know, getting diagnosed with cancer in my thirties is just the concept of isolation. And so for me, it was so comforting to see that there was this, there was no longer isolation. Once I woke up that next morning, I knew.
In my mind. I knew that that club would still be there the next Saturday, even if I wasn’t there, you know what I mean? Like I knew it always, there was always be a place for me now. I just had to wait to turn 18 to legally go in. But that being said, there was a place for me and I knew it. And, and I woke up with that excitement and that excitement beat the hangover and also being, you know, 17 beat the hangover, but it was just like, wow, there is a place.
So it was really, really waking up the next day was. Was like the coolest hangover I’ve ever had, you know,
K: and then, so did. Did you find that that did play out then in reality? And the reason I ask this is like I had, that, you know,
so I said before I was surviving, I was just like, I am going to just get through this. And when I get to the end of school and when I become an adult, I can go to gay bars and people will accept me and it will be cool.
And then I like, my experience was that I got there and I was like, hi everyone, like, Hey, I’m here. And then everyone was just like, oh yeah, whatever. And, and I like didn’t, I didn’t find my tribe, I suppose. So that’s kind of the reason that I’m asking, like, did you feel that way that it was just like, yes, I belong.
This is, this is where I should be.
Jared: Oh, that’s a nice nuanced question. I really appreciate that actually. I would say that I did not feel that feeling of like I’ve found my tribe of people. I feel, think I felt more, this overall sense that there is a place that I belong. And I think that I had the benefit and the luxury and the privilege of having my friends.
Who were my age, who were also gay act as my tribe for that time. So I, I wasn’t seeking out an act of tribe for instance, in the nightlife scene. So my tribe was already with me, with my friends from high school who were, you know, sneaking in and doing all that stuff with me. So I wasn’t. So the feeling of like, oh, I’ve connected with my tribe.
Wasn’t there. It was the feeling of there’s a space that I know I can go to. That is. Not just queer friendly, but specifically for queer people. So it was less finding my tribe. I didn’t find a tribe until probably I moved to Los Angeles. That’s a whole ‘nother topic of, of being accepting in the gay community and not judging someone by their looks and a whole, a whole ‘nother battle of dealing with that.
K: we, can we talk about that or should we not?
Jared: I mean, if you want to, I want to.
K: Well, so what do you mean about, uh, not being accepted for your looks?
Jared: Well, you know, I moved to Los Angeles, which is where I’m at now. And I live very close to West Hollywood, which is of course, one of the gay centres, at least in America, very well known for, you know, The Abbey and whatnot, but it also has a reputation for being a very closed minded, um, cis- white, muscular masculine leaning side, uh, Uh, type of person is what celebrated in that in the West Hollywood community.
Obviously as years go on and we diversify and a more inclusionary, this changes. But even when I moved here to LA, you know, nine years ago and I went to West Hollywood, I did not feel, I felt what you’re saying, that the feeling you’re talking about, that’s how I felt coming into West. Hollywood’s saying, you know, as, even though I’m six foot five and I have all these great traits and whatever, I still didn’t have masculinity and I didn’t have a six pack, you know, and, and a lot of people value that.
K: I’m just really hairy as well. that. was always my problem. Like just all these, like how, like just hairless bodies. I just don’t understand.
Jared: I do not know, understand either. And yeah. I mean, it’s a lot of upkeep. I know a few people who do like laser and all that stuff. I’m fairly hairy too, but, um, I could, it doesn’t, you know? Yeah. It’s a, it’s a God, it’s a weird world out there.
K: like, if you get waxed, right. How, how often do you have to do that?
Jared: I mean, I don’t, I don’t really know. I would imagine you’d have to do it.
At least once a month. Right?
K: Just like who can be bothered?
Jared: I mean, some of these guys can really be bothered.
K: But I guess what I’m talking about is like the people who are just born without hair anywhere, like, that’s
Jared: That is, yeah. That is wild.
K: fascinating. I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone out there, just like, I’m just fascinated.
Jared: No. I mean, it’s not offensive. It’s just, it is, it is a fascinating thing. And it’s kind of lucky if you fit into the stereotype, because then if you can throw a six pack in and act masculine, then you can waltz into The Abbey and skip the front of the line, skipped to the front of the line nine. So
K: So in, in that context then, um, when you got there nine years ago, how do you navigate that culture? When there’s no obvious place for you?
Jared: Hmm. I mean, I don’t know if I knew how to navigate it and I don’t know if I knew that’s what I was getting myself into. So I think it was a learning curve. I think I learned, um, you know, I think from 17, 18, 19, I didn’t, there was no learning curve because I was very much in that youthful mindset of I’m just going to surround myself with my friends.
And it was more about getting wasted and partying and just making out, I wasn’t trying to like have a boyfriend or hookup with someone. So I didn’t have, um, even though I had already had, you know, I already had had sex with people in my age. I wasn’t quite ready to. I wasn’t going out to seek partners or anything like that.
I was going out with friends. So I don’t think until I hit 21, 22, when I started to be more interested in. Well also having my own place and being able to bring people home and all of that. I think that’s when I realised, oh, people care about when you take off your shirt, they’re going to judge you based on, oh, you have more hair than I expected.
Like you seem so, you know, like my arms are very. Light hair. And I used to be much blonder, um, when I was younger. And so, you know, they maybe would think I would be a twink or they would think whatever thought they thought I would be, or because I’m six foot five, they thought maybe I’d be this giant dominant, you know, create, you know, masculine man or whatever the case is.
That’s when I learned that. It’s a joke. It can’t for all the positive and all the inclusionary. Um, it can be very judgmental and, and not inclusive too. So that was that kind of journey of that. Luckily during the first few years of exploring Pulse and nightlife, cause I spent my. Obviously sneaking in 17 and then countless weekends there.
But I spent my 18th, 19th, and 20th birthday at pulse as well. Like it was very, you know, it was very part of my growing up process. So those first three years, it was just all about the acceptance of the community of like having a place to go. It wasn’t less about feeling, feeling like I fit in on that level.
I hit 21/22, then that’s when body image issues not feeling good enough as the next person, all of that kind of came with growing up, you
K: Hmm. So then are you saying that. Are you saying that Pulse wasn’t that type of place where you were made to feel othered by people if you didn’t fit particular stereotype? Or are you saying that you, because of the group that you were with, you were a bit oblivious to that?
Jared: Oh, I was first going to say exactly to the first one, but I think now that you said the oblivious part, I think you nailed it. I think it’s a, it was a beautiful mixture of the two. I think I was perfectly just oblivious enough, but I just, my, my faded memories of being able to chat with so many diverse people in this nightclub, um, You know, and I, I mean, I was living in my, the town that I living in was small enough that I was not used to seeing, you know, minorities for instance.
So just being able to go to pulse and have like a Latino night where they’re playing different music than I used to, even though I live in Florida, which is there’s Miami there and all of that stuff, it’s still, like I said, there’s just, it’s so small minded that. Pulse was inclusionary for a lot of people, um, beyond just, it was a safe place, but I was also oblivious.
And that’s the short version of that very long winding answer.
K: Uh, don’t you just isn’t it just wonderful when you’re in that oblivious bubble of like naivety and youth. Don’t you wish that could just like hang around?
Jared: I do miss it often, then I wish there was a pill we could take for it just to feel
K: Well, you know, just that, like when you’re like 18 and know this is going to sound really hackneyed and patronising, but where you’re just like, well, of course this is really simple. I’m just going to do this and then I’ll do this and then everything will be fine. And then yeah, as you get older, you’re like, there’s just no point I’m crap rubbish.
Why am I bothering.
Jared: well, I definitely, and that’s why Pulse is such a beyond the. The history and the tragedy that it will have in American life, for and queer life for a long time beyond all of that, it was such a special place for me. And that’s, I mean, that’s a, you exactly. You summed it up. It was this time in my life. It represented that bubble of night.
When you say that word
K: nah, nah, nah, you just started me off naivety
Jared: yeah. naivety. Yeah. So it is, so I’m going to tell, I’m not saying that word again, but that bubble, it did represent that bubble and it did represent my youth in a lot of way, and it welcomed me into the queer community. And I wonder if I wasn’t welcomed.
And again, I, I realised the privilege I had with my friends and being able to sneak in and all of this safety that I had around me, but. You know, I wonder if I didn’t have such an amazing experience, would I not have the confidence that I have today? Would I not be as proudly queer as I am today? You know, there’s just so many factors that you just will never know.
And so I’m so. Just so grateful that I had that experience at pulse and being young and dumb and full of cum and just ready to dance and party. And it, you know, it was just a beautiful, beautiful time and it really is a beautiful space. And, you know, I don’t want my dumbness and my oblivious, my oblivion to count, you know, to counteract the fact that it really was, there were all shapes and sizes there.
There were all ages there. I remember chatting up someone truly with, you know, a full. Full white hair and white beard, little, little Potbelly in a cane. I remember chatting up so many different types of people there and, um,
Jared: it, it was a special place.
K: So, you know, like picking up on what you said about being young, dumb, and full of cum, and also knowing that you had your 18th, 19th, and 20th birthday parties there, are there any like, particularly messy nights that you might want to tell me about?
Jared: There were several messy nights. One that comes to mind specific is. Getting kicked out of Pulse. My beloved Pulse my home away from home for being so belligerent that I refused used to not only not stop smoking cigarettes, but continued to smoke cigarettes and tried to prove a point by. Inside and tried to prove a point by lighting four cigarettes at once in my mouth.
And then I had thought I was such a bad-ass that I was somehow I drove there before and I was like, I’m just going to park my car in the street and it’ll be fine. So I parked it at some little like shop next door. And then when I got kicked out, my car had been towed. I was wasted. I couldn’t find my phone.
Friends. Um, I had flipped a table. I got a temporary ban. They forgot about the ban. It wasn’t that serious. Thank God. But they told me I wasn’t allowed to come back, but I was back the next weekend. So don’t worry. And, um, yeah, that was the most. I remember only because, I mean, I don’t remember it, but I remember it through the, my friends telling me about it.
And they did love the part where I stuck three more cigarettes in my mouth and tried to light them all at once and started to cough. And then they said, you know, no more, please get out.
Jared: And then I had to get my parents involved to get my car back and, you know, it became a multi-day process. So that was probably the most memorable or messy,
K: Okay. So I need to, I need to ask a safety related question here.
K: would, you drove there and then you’ve got wasted. Were you planning on driving home? Okay.
Jared: No, I was planning on leaving my car at this. Well, I’m going to say the name it’s called a Dunkin’ donuts. I don’t know if that’s like global or international
K: I know what it is.
Jared: Anyway. So the point is. Uh, it’s a 24 hour donut shops. So I thought I was this genius who was going to leave my car parked there overnight and ride meet up with my friends and my friends.
We would all who lived in Orlando, we would all ride back, you know, with the designated driver crash in Orlando. Um, overnight. And then in the morning, come pick up our cars at the doughnut, the 24 hour donut shop, because I thought, oh, it’s 24 hours. They’ll never notice. Well, it’s right next door to a nightclub.
And every other person had this idea to crowd the night to crowd their, their parking lot with. Cars for the night. So we all got towed and, uh, yeah, so, so, uh, it was my plan, cause I wasn’t able to ride up with everyone. So I was like, don’t worry. I’ll just park it overnight. And lesson learned. I have not done that again.
K: I mean, yeah, at least you had a plan that you weren’t going to drink and drive, and that’s not something that we can do.
Jared: oh gosh, no. Oh my God. No, there was, yes, not a.
K: I mean, one of the best things about going out dancing all night and getting really sweaty is then going to like a kebab shop or a.
Dunkin’ donuts or somewhere afterwards, and like reconvening with your friends. Are there any stories from the Dunkin’ Donuts. that you can share? Okay.
Jared: um, there,
K: Oh, oh, that smile. There was a BJ in the bathroom. Wasn’t there.
Jared: How are you? So perceptive of that? I will say we. I didn’t someone, like I said, I wasn’t exploring my full-on sexuality. I wasn’t comfortable with like, hooking up with guys quite yet that I didn’t know. So I wasn’t to that place mentally, but. I did take a guy over to the Dunkin’ Donuts and we did go into the bathroom after shutdown happened.
And it was because it’s crowded. The Dunkin’ Donuts is crowded, and we did continue on in the bathroom for, I mean, what felt like an eternity, but was probably truly about 60 seconds of the sloppiest, most tequila making out before I ordered a giant chocolate donut. And, you know, I don’t know, puked out the back seat of my friend’s window as they drove me
K: So wait, so you stopped making out with this guy, so you could have a chocolate donut.
Jared: I’m sure. I mean, I can’t tell you that’s what happened, cause I can’t remember, but I’m sure that knowing me, I’m sure that as a series of events,
K: did it have sprinkles?
Jared: I’m sure knowing me, it probably had sprinkles.
K: Okay. Well, I mean, I, I think, yeah, I can, I can understand why you’d have that decision making process.
Jared: know, when you’re wasted, it’s like, is it sex or is it food? And sometimes it’s food.
K: Why can’t it be both?
Jared: I mean, but sometimes you only are. You can only keep like, you know, when I’m talking to them, like one eye is staying open and it’s like, you got your, your choices. Like you can either hook up with this guy in the bathroom or you can eat the donut.
And I’m proud to say I chose donut.
K: Yeah. So this is a bit of a sharp segue, but do you remember hearing about the, uh, oh God, I was going to say the incident, but that sounds really like polite the, uh, the attack,
Jared: you can call it
K: Where were you living at that time? Were you in LA?
Jared: I was in LA. Yes. And I remember it very vividly. Um, it was my dear friend’s wedding. I’m in Northern California in a beautiful vineyard area. And I was there doing her makeup as I’m a makeup artist and her friends. So it was my wedding gift to her. Um, and I woke up, you know, we had a beautiful wedding ceremony.
That’s I believe it was that Saturday night that it occurred. Um, and I didn’t hear anything of it, except I was. On California time. And I got all these calls from the east coast that I woke up. Cause I was crashing on a couch after the wedding. And so around what would have been, um, maybe three or 4:00 AM, California time.
I started to get these messages from people who are waking up to the news because you know, a lot of my friends had already moved out of the Orlando area. So I wasn’t getting live updates.
Jared: the night, but I was getting the people who were waking up, like my mom who woke up at 7:00 AM. So that’s 4:00 AM LA time texting.
I was getting checking on my cousin who. Um, is also gay. Uh, my first cousin who lives in Florida, who also would go to Pulse with me, he’s a few years younger than me. So he was behind, behind, he went wouldn’t and go to Pulse with me during these times that I’m sharing with you. But he would frequent Pulse regularly with his husband, his now husband, who was also Latino.
Um, and it was, you know, famously, it was a Latino night. And so we had that worry of trying to find Louis and Chase and finding out to make sure they weren’t. In the club because they would frequent Latino night, you know, once a month, because it was a very fun night to be a part of. So I had that personal issue of worrying about people that I know.
And like I said, most of my friends had left Orlando, so it was mainly my cousin that I had to worry about and then just friends of friends. And so I was fielding these phone calls just in absolute disbelief, because then I remember reading the horrific reports of how it occurred, but I just remember the design of Pulse and the design of the space.
And. It just is nothing that you can’t think of, but how horrible it must be, because that place is so knowing the layout of it. It’s so small and there’s not a lot of exits. And I know that because I, I been in through the back one. And so hearing that and thinking that, and seeing it blasted on the news and seeing it, and it was Pride in LA was.
Was I think the same day, like I think it happened Saturday and then West Hollywood’s pride was that Sunday, the very next day. And it was a debate of if they were going to keep it, if they were going to shut it down because they were afraid of more attacks. Like, I mean, it was just so much. And then I remember seeing on Facebook that, you know, one of my friends.
Had their friend die. And then I was like, holy shit. Like, this is very close to home. This isn’t just, okay. Thank God. My cousin, wasn’t there with his husband. Okay, we’re good. This is now I’m seeing my friends post the links to their friends, funeral Memorial services. And I’m seeing this all on my timeline.
I’m not searching for this. You know, I’m not looking to find out who, the people who passed away during this horrific mass shooting, uh, attack. I’m seeing it on my own feed. In real time. Seeing these updates, seeing people say, marking themselves as safe from the, you know, on Facebook, you have the option to say I’m safe from this event.
Seeing that happen. People asking me for getting that. I moved to LA you know how it is. It’s a big world. Some people keep out, fall out of touch with you and forget, you moved to LA, they’re texting you out of the blue. Where were you? Are you okay? You know, it was very, very, um, it was just so in your face.
So it, it was consuming that day and I had to drive back the, um, I rode back with my friends to LA from Northern California that day. That Sunday that it happened. And I just sat on my phone and I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t process it. And I just, until I got home, it was about a six hour car ride. And I just sat there reading.
Yeah. New stories, sharing things, you know, posting about it, talking about making sure I’m safe, just con just consumed. And then I finally got home and when I shut my bedroom door dropped off my luggage, you know, on, by my closet. And I just. I mean, that was, you know, I just lost it for the rest of the night because it just was like finally sunk in.
It was truly, truly traumatising. No other way to
Jared: And then for the people involved even more
K: And then moving through the the the weeks that came after, how did, how did that feel?
Jared: um, I mean, it was hard because. A lot of people connected, um, again, via social media people through, you know, you have to remember, I was part of the theatre society community in, uh, the outskirts of Orlando. So that included a lot of schools, a lot of high schools. So. For all the three of us who went to pulse from my school, there were so many other queer kids from the theatre programs of other high schools that would go to Pulse.
Again, it was 18 and up most nights. So we connected, you know, we reconnected on digital platforms and that was nice in a way, because it’s nice to connect after something so horrifying and, and, you know, just so, so awful, but it’s also. A downside connecting because you’re constantly thinking about it over and over.
And even though I, again, I didn’t have a direct involvement. It was such a, I can’t remember the term, but like that when something happens, like when a celebrity dies and you feel the, the, the world feels the mourning it was that same feeling. Like I would wake up feeling as if I had gone through that same experience.
And that’s not to belittle the people who, who went through the experience cause trust me that. Nothing will compare to what they’ve they endured and, you know, but, but you still can relate, especially if you’ve been to that nightclub. Cause you just know everything about it, you know, the layout, you know how, wow.
It must sound to hear those sounds of gunfire and it’s just, um, yeah, it was, it was, it’s just a hard thing. And then I had to go back to Florida a couple by the end of summer. And by that point, Pulse was memorialised. And I was able to go and pay my respects and visit the, what Pulse had become, which was a Memorial.
K: and so what was that like?
Jared: Devastating. Even I probably visited in September, October after the shooting, which happened, I believe it was June, uh, 2016. Um, so a few, you know, fall and it was still packed. There was people lined up to, to walk by people by this point. So many artists had drop-off renderings, so many beautiful sculptures had been made so many there.
It was just so beautiful. Um a hodgepodge of memories of these people and you see notes written from their loved ones. You see drawings, uh, by people who don’t know them, who wanted to sketch them. Um, You know, I just remember this one painting, uh, or not a painting, but a sketching. And it was framed of just, uh, a girl looking down and just an outline of a single teardrop.
And she just said, we, it just had in script, we will love you forever. We will never forget you. We will never forget you, you know? And it was just like, I mean, it’s just devastating. It’s just devastating. I don’t, there’s no words for it. There’s no way to, to express it. You know, it’s something that I’ve never experienced, even though I lived in America, in America, my whole life I’ve yet to experience a mass shooting, which seems rare at this point.
Um, given the fact that we have one almost every day and I wasn’t even directly affected by it. And it still felt so directly affected. And that Memorial is, you know, I try to honour every year. I, I all, I post that same portrait of that picture that I took, because, you know, you just don’t want to forget those people who were there just trying to have a good time.
Like I was when I was 17 and it’s just like, fuck
K: Mm. So I’m going to return to a question that I asked at the top of the interview, which is, what do you think Orlando has lost?
Jared: I think Orlando has truly lost a piece of it’s queer soul. You know what I’m saying? Like how, how cities have these places and have these things that are just part of their history and part of what makes them magical. And I know Pulse, it was like that for not just me, but for so many people. And I think without it, the void is one less safe place that these, that queer people can go to.
And especially one for young queer people. So it’s just this void it’s just this queer void left, that will never be, you know, it’s irreplaceable because of the tragedy that impacted it. So I don’t know what, you know, I dunno what Orlando’s lost from it besides. A piece of its heart and soul and a, and a feeling of safety that all of us in the queer community have.
And I’m happy that there are other gay bars that are thriving now, obviously, you know, five, six years later. But, um, yeah, there will never be another, and I’m sure people will always be looking over their shoulder or be a little bit more tense in Orlando as they go out now. And that’s, you know, that’s a disappointing.
Way to, to end that thought process of what Orlando’s loss, but it’s loss of sense of safety and it’s lost a piece of its queer soul.