Ariana Grande’s Concert In Manchester Wasn’t Just A Musical Event, It Was A Sacred Space For Teens

When safe spaces are no longer safe.

Almost a year ago to the date, 29-year-old Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, one of my favorite gay clubs on the planet and killed 49 innocent members of my beloved queer community. I was in Spain when I heard the news. I lay broken on the floor, unable to breathe, as I watched the news unfold in real time. It was the early morning. The sun was shining. I couldn’t see it’s light or feel it’s warmth. It was like the sun had been knocked out by something bigger than the solar system: evil.

I like so many of us, grew up in the gay club. The gay club was my home. It was the only place I ever felt safe and fully embraced as the weirdo, fashion-crazed, platform-wearing, dirty-humored, mascara-lesbian that I am. The outside world never knew what the hell to do with me. The gay club knew exactly what to do with me: celebrate me and my wild individuality.

The gay club was a place where no evil existed. When I was at the gay club, I breathed easily and relaxed into my tightly wound skin.

Isn’t that what a real home is? A place where you feel cozy, safe and comfortable in your body?

Last night around 10 pm I came home from dinner with my good friend Sam. We drank overpriced wine and discussed light subjects like the criminal justice system and mental illness, as we’re both inclined to do after we knock back a few drinks.

As we got our check, I felt happy. Feeling happy that I had a wonderful friend like Sam that I could be so open and honest with. People like her are lights to me.

I skipped all the way back to my apartment. My girlfriend, Meghan, was sitting stone-faced on our couch. Her energy was heavy. “I have something to tell you,” she said.

I could tell by the way in which she was tapping into the lower register of her voice that something bad had happened. Her voice clears and deepens when she’s upset. It’s like what she’s saying isn’t coming from the intellect of her brain, but someplace guttural, like her heart.

And then she broke the news to me:

An unidentified suicide bomber invaded the arena in my mother’s hometown of Manchester, England where Ariana Grande was performing. 22 innocent concert goers were dead. Most of the audience was kids.

Kids, who probably feel the same way about Ariana Grande concerts as I do about gay nightclubs, like Pulse. This concert was their safe space. This was a space that where no matter how badly they were teased at school that day, no matter how sad and disenchanted or dangerous their home lives are, no matter what kind of darkness is swirling through their complicated adolescent brains, they were free here. At the Ariana Grande concert.

They could breathe without the fear of being “found out.” They could dance with a reckless abandon, without the judgment of snickering mean boys who live to taunt and body-shame teen girls. They were able to feel, finally, wildly, wildly accepted. And when you feel accepted you’re able to unleash the most authentic part of yourself. You are home.

Photo by Shutterstock

Ariana Grande’s music is all about love, self-acceptance, empowered female sexuality, embracing your truest self no matter where you come from or what you look like. When you’re a teen, music like that can be the very thing that keeps you alive. Her voice and her words can be the very thing stops you from suicide. Because it expands your tiny world and connects you to something greater than your town and your school and your home life. And we all need to feel connected to something.

Music is a home. Concerts are homes. Gay clubs are homes. They are the warm light we search for when it’s so dark we can’t see.

Why does evil keep plummeting into our precious underworlds and destroy our sacred spaces: Concerts. Gay clubs. Spaces where people gather to express themselves in the most joyful, way possible.

Spaces where people are given permission to work through their heaviest emotions in the healthiest, purest way: through music and dance.

Music and dance serve as human beings most primal outlet. We’re outside of the madness that exists inside of our heads when we’re dancing. We’re present when we’re lost in the song. We’re in what my yogi friend calls a “flow state.”

Ariana Grande fans are particularly special. Because she is a true ally to the gay community, because she’s so blazingly positive and burns, burns, burns so brightly; her fans are mostly young girls with brilliant fires exploding inside of them, gay boys who feel inspired by her unapologetic expression of self, and BRIGHT entities of all ages that are drawn to that radiant, empowering light of hers.

Light attracts light, after all.

I just can’t wrap my brain around why all of this evil darkness is fueled with desire to blow out all the light in the world? Will we be living in total darkness—a black void with no music, no gay clubs, no young energy, no diversity and no public displays of self-expression before we know it?

After the Pulse shootings last year, it took me a while to put my finger on what I was feeling. The only word that kept lingering in my brain was this: homeless. I know that “homeless” is a loaded word not to be used lightly when so many people are suffering, cold and in danger, with no physical roofs over their heads.

But I couldn’t help the way I felt and I couldn’t control the word from entering my brain. I  felt like my sanctuary had been kicked down and I was suddenly exposed, raw and alone. Just like My family had been killed inside the one place, throughout our gay history, we’ve been relatively safe.

And now my heart is breaking because these kids, these young kids, have lost their sanctuary and their family.

No matter what was going on in their turbulent lives they were able to find solace in an Ariana Grande concert. And that’s been taken away from them.

A long time ago I went to a Paramore concert. It was in a huge arena, in Orlando ironically. The audience was full of teenagers. The energy was amazing! I hadn’t felt such unity and excitement since I’d been at the gay club weeks prior! All these young people were just screaming along to every single song lyric, moving their bodies freely like they fucking belonged in that space! It feels so good to belong, doesn’t it?

I was seated next to a girl who was probably around 14. She reminded me of myself at that age. Hormonal zits peppered across her oily forehead. Plastic, sparkly bracelets littering her arms. Suspicious hello kitty band-aids on the inside of both of her wrists. She was by herself. She was a superfan, adorned in an old-school tattered up Paramore shirt she probably bought off Ebay with all the money she had saved working at Hot Topic.

At one point the lead singer Hayley Williams noticed her. Of all the thousands and thousands and thousands of people packed into the arena, she had noticed the tiny 14-year-old girl creature standing next to 20-something me.

“Hey!” Hayley screamed into the mic, pointing her finger right at her.

“She’s pointing at you!” I frantically whispered.

“ME?!” she screamed, so bewildered her eyes lit up like Christmas lights.

“Yeah, YOU! I LOVED that concert shirt! How did you find it? That was my favorite one we ever did! Rock on, girl!” Hayley shouted before breaking into song.

I quietly observed the girl next to me. At first, she was frozen; she was in shock. And then this warm, delicate, stream of tears began to flow down her face.

I could intrinsically feel what was happening to her. I understood her tears was about. She was crying because it was the first time in her entire life she had been seen by anyone.

The tears gracefully flowed in a steady stream down her face for the rest of the two-hour set. Chills made their way up my spine and hiked across my whole body.

I knew that moment I had witnessed was magic. A disconnected, unseen, teenager now knew that she belonged somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t in her high school. Maybe it wasn’t in her family. But it was in this arena, full of people like her, and full of music that made her feel like she wasn’t the only one. She wasn’t alone. She had a new family now.

And I’m sure so many people at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester had the same beautiful experience before the hate crept in.

The magic of the music was making an entire audience feel seen and understood, maybe for the first time. They felt at home! Finally.

And now their home has been taken from them. Music binds people together in a way that is as deep like family. All Ariana Grande fans are family–even if they don’t know each other or live on opposite sides of the universe. It’s how I feel about queer people. We’re interconnected by a force greater than us.

And what, what is a home without a family? It’s no longer a home.

I’m praying for Manchester. I know there is no way to console all affected by this senseless massacre.

There is a wicked force trying to blow out all the light in the world. And beautiful lives are being snatched away, stolen, and with each life that is taken from us, the world becomes more void of light. People are lights. When people are taken the world becomes darker and darker and that is heartbreaking.

However, I believe in the deepest pit of my heart that music is magic. It really, truly is. And nothing can kill magic. And that magic will live on inside of every music venue, every gay club, every art gallery and every sacred space the terrorists are targeting.

Tap into the magic as much as you can. It’s energy. And it will always be alive. No matter what happens.