These are my reflections from the past 36 hours about the Orlando massacre.
It is moments like this that make me wish there was on off switch for feelings. But then I remember that not being numb is its own blessing. To LGBTQ friends and loved ones, let us hold on to each other ever more tightly, hold on to the struggle against homophobia, and hold the victims and their families in the Light.
I keep thinking of the families who just discovered that their loved one was/is LGBTQ, only after they have been killed, critically injured, or survived this horror. Gay clubs are sanctuaries for so many queer people, where familial homophobia and the homophobia of the public sphere so often make it dangerous for us to hold hands or to celebrate our existence openly. I can't put into words the psychological effect of the violation of that safe space in such a grotesque way.
I'm fortunate to have a family who has been incredibly supportive and a mother, in particular, who after I came out to my parents, told me that the reason she cried was that she wished I had told her sooner, in order to be by my side during my journey of self-discovery. My heart aches for the mothers in Orlando who didn't have the opportunity to learn about this part of their child's existence and to demonstrate the unconditional love that they deserve.
It hasn’t even been 48 hours since the Orlando massacre and we’re expecting LGBTQ people, in the midst of mourning, to become authorities on the motivations of Omar Mateen, even after information about him is only tricking in. As LGBTQ people watch the right appropriate this tragedy for their political aims, we on the left are demanding a level of eloquence and over-intellectualization and political analysis from LGBTQ people that that is not only premature but is its own form of violence.
I’m watching queer friends being shamed on social media for not mentioning that a disproportionate number of the victims are Latinx, or that Mateen worked for a security company and was part of the prison industrial-complex and allegedly admired the New York Police Department, or that he is said to have beat his ex-wife so that a history of toxic masculinity must be taken into account.
We are demanding references to the reports about him being bipolar and the need to account for mental illness, or that we should be cautioning against the rise in Islamophobia, or the need for gun control laws, or to decipher what it means that Mateen declared allegiance to ISIS and ISIS has praised this attack, or that his family immigrated from Afghanistan, a country that the US has invaded.
We are expected to psychoanalyze Mateen’s father. We are also told to consider that Mateen was acting from a place of internalized homophobia given the latest reports about him frequenting the gay club. We expect queer people right now to share the academic lingo and to connect this to histories of empire and to use whatever other terms we think are appropriate for the narratives we want to project. Yes, it’s important to process this with one another, but not without first having the requisite details. We’re in shock, our tears are not yet dry, and we don’t even know the names of all the victims. Instead of rushing to the cerebral, which is perhaps a way to escape the pain, can we be given a moment to grieve? Can we first say their names?
An LGBTQ friend recently said that seeing so many straight people carrying on with their lives as if nothing happened, as if the largest attack on US soil since 9-11 hadn't happened, makes us feel like we are in in the closet again. Another friend has noted that the overwhelming majority of straight people have been utterly silent about Orlando. And yet another friend observed that many of those who have spoken refuse to utter the words LGBTQ or homophobia. Now is the time to extend condolences to the LGBTQ community, to publicly disavow homophobia, and to openly affirm allyship and that we are part of the social fabric of this nation and world. The epitome of privilege, and dare I say complicity, is not having to grapple with any of this.
In everyone’s flurry to disassociate from Omar Mateen, perhaps we can acknowledge that we all have contributed, in conscious and unconscious ways, to the environment that nurtured this monster. We easily recognize overt forms of homophobia, such as yelling epithets, bullying, discriminating, or enacting violence against LGBTQ people.
It is the aggregate effects of the more subtle manifestations of homophobia that erode the spirits of LGBTQ people over a lifetime and that are equally dangerous. It’s when many religious people see themselves as enlightened, saying to a queer person “I love you but not your sin,” while making all kinds of assumptions about what we do in bed (which is very different depending on the couple, and frankly no one’s business).
It is deeply hurtful when straight people look at us and start imagining our sex lives with disgust and aversion, even while smiling to our faces. We shouldn’t make assumptions about what straight people do or don’t in bed, nor do we define them by those practices. To define a queer person as sinful, even when invoking platitudes like “we are all sinners,” is a violation of our dignity and the love and sanctity of our relationships.
It is not enlightened to teach your children that they are to tolerate us now but that we will burn in hell for eternity. Implanting in that child’s psyche an image of us in hell is a form of homophobia, no matter how much pride you take in treating us “respectfully” in the run-up to that horrific fate you have prescribed for us in the name of God. And what if that child is queer? When we raise children automatically assuming that they are straight or expect them to conform to a set of predetermined gender norms, we inflict tremendous pain on our queer and trans loved ones.
It is also not enlightened to see one’s self as opposed to homophobia, just as long as it does not hit close to home, then exhibiting discomfort or practicing forms of rejection when a family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor turns out to be LGBTQ. It is not enlightened to vow not to articulate homophobic stereotypes about queer people, but to actually internalize them, such as the notion that we are more sexualized, more predatory, with a proclivity to disease, or more likely to engage in pedophilia, than straight people on average. Challenging the heteronormativity in each of our households is essential to combating homophobia.
Over the course of our lives, queer people have become adept at feeling, quite viscerally, how straight people are viewing us, through their eyes, body language, and in other ways. Hearts speak to hearts, often without our realizing it.