Sitting on the edge of my bed, I scrolled through Twitter and came across yet another hashtagged name. I was reluctant to click on the tag because I knew that Black Death would present itself to me on the other side, but I clicked it anyway. I clicked the tag anticipating video footage of another police officer gunning down yet another Black person. Though that is not what I was met with, what I found still seemed to have ripped my heart out of my chest.

After I read the few details around his death, I stared at the first image I saw of him. It looked as though he were staring back at me. Through his eyes, I felt that I could see his soul; a soul that had not yet been given the space to understand itself as undying.

Orlando Boldewijn was a 17-year-old Black boy from the Netherlands who, on Sunday, February 18, left to meet a person from Grindr—a dating and hookup app used by many queer and trans people—and never returned home. On February 26, a week after he went missing, divers found his body in a lake. Details around the cause of his death are unclear, considering that as I write this, Dutch police have not yet released the results of his autopsy. However, with a statement from his mother noting that his last texts were inconsistent with his usual texting style, and the police refusing to discuss his autopsy, I believe that it is fair to suggest foul play.

With that, I think that it is imperative that we talk about the dangers that many queer and trans people—especially of color, and especially youth—experience while attempting to navigate sexuality and learn about what it is that we desire in sex.

I’ve no idea what the parameters were between Orlando and his family. What I do know, however, is that many queer and trans youth are often forced into unsafe and unhealthy situations, attempting to learn about sex, because we are not free to do so with our parents.

We captain our ships in secret with hopes that we’ll reach land where sex and sexuality are not so restricted.

At 17, I had not yet come to terms with my queerness; I didn’t do that until I was 19. However, I remember what it felt like to engage in those first few hookups as a teen. The excitement, the nervousness, and the fear. Excited to finally be free enough to engage in the sex that you wanted, but nervous because you weren’t quite sure how the two of you would mix, and fearful that involving yourself with a stranger had the capacity to turn deadly at any moment. As you become more experienced, there is less nervousness but the fear never subsides. You send your friends your location while you’re out and set up a time for them to check in with you about your whereabouts and how your night went/is going. You went to the hookup’s house—or invited them over to yours—with the intentions to engage in enjoyable sex, but you are not so lost on that, that you ignore thinking of an escape plan as you walk through the door of their home or as they walk through yours. I do not know where Orlando was on his journey to queerness, but I imagine that on that Sunday when he left to meet this person, these thoughts raced through his mind.

In my time spent on Grindr, Jack’d, and the like, I ran into several sketchy situations. Men who were insecure in their own masculinity, unsure of their sexuality, or just downright hateful of queerness sat perched like birds waiting for food that they could chew and spit out. This was especially true when I used these apps specifically for sex work. I found myself in a tough and uncompromising situation which forced me to use one of the only things which I had control of to live: my body. What I found, though, is that many men have no interest in you having control over your own body. Their sole desire is to strip you of your autonomy. So I came to find myself in many unappealing situations, some of which resulted in assault, but most of which I was able to escape because of the privileges attached to being read as masculine and the dehumanization assigned to larger bodies. To my knowledge, Orlando was not a sex worker, but because of these experiences, I relate so much to his story.

Orlando is not to blame here. The blame rests on the backs of those who may have taken his life. The blame sits at the feet of a world which prefers to see Black queer bodies lifeless rather than full of life. Orlando was merely a child; a 17-year-old baby whose chances at experiencing all that life had to offer him were stripped away. One of the few spaces in this world where living as someone who exists outside of cisheteronormativity should be safe led to Orlando’s death. That is the fault of nothing and no one other than this irresponsible, cisheterosexist world.

I have zero intentions in making this story about statistics. Orlando Boldewijn was a very real person with a very real experience that supersedes all statistics and numbers about Black LGBTQ+ youth. Instead, my hope is that this forces us all to reckon with how we understand and interact with theory. Black queer and trans people have real life struggles that cannot be expressed through a number. People must engage us as humans, first, not mere parts that make up a whole theory. There must be a commitment to talking more with our youth on safe ways to navigate hookups; we have to dedicate ourselves to making hookup apps safer for youth to navigate.

As I often say: living as both Black and queer, freely, means that one is actively choosing their happiness over their safety. “He could’ve been me” does not capture the depth of how personal this story is for me. Orlando’s story is not his alone; his story is mine, too. He is me.







Originally penned for: RaceBaitR