As the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week after the Orlando shooting spree ends, a review of some of the most read and shared reactions to Orlando across the web found that many, in fact, focused on explaining LGBT reactions (and specifically Latinx and Muslim LGBT reactions) even more than offering insight into the event.
It’s tough when the ears of the world open for a rare teaching moment at the same moment that you might prefer to close ranks and find comfort and understanding in the tribe. But the media cycle demanded it and many articulate voices stepped up and attempted to explain our lives to the world.
They’re taking on what it means to be gay; why it’s not offensive for two men to kiss in public; why gay clubs are different; the daily mental math we do to navigate the world. Most essentially they are explaining why this incident that seems so isolated to the mainstream — it’s Florida, an LGBT bar, in a community of color– seems so immediate and fear inducing to many of us. And it’s not just that we feel things more deeply…
It’s that shared common experience of fear and anxiety that eventually made us all do something; find others, get strong. It’s not that we all agree on everything, or almost anything for that matter. It’s very difficult to explain. But taken together these pieces are one of the best descriptions and rationales for this amorphous group of communities we call the LGBT community. And whether we focus it on gun control or just protect it for the next generations to count on, it is powerful and it is real and you are probably just a little more aware of it this week reading Facebook, attending a vigil, talking with friends, or dancing over the weekend at a club. (Don’t miss the list of links below!)
It’s a Queer Thing: Fear in the Heartland
Hard as it may be to believe, adults attending college right now are too young to remember 9/11. Orlando may be theirs, and they’re frightened. My cousin’s daughter Elizabeth Jayne Wenger, a sophomore at University of Kansas studying Literature and Russian, posted to Facebook early in the week,
I woke up yesterday morning, June 12th, in Arkansas next to my girlfriend. I looked at her as I often do: recognizing the beauty in the way her face curves in the morning light and the way her eyes look when she first opens them. We went out to the main room and found our friend, also queer, watching the news. She told us what had happened. How they had first announced 20 people. How now they were saying 50. We sat and watched the news. Waiting for more information, for some sort of explanation for the senselessness that had occurred. We watched the same clips played over and over again, everyone scrambling for an answer. We did not turn the TV off. Our other two queer friends woke and joined us. The group chat we have with other queer friends set our phones buzzing. We didn’t know what to say, yet we had everything to say.
We say how awful it is. Say the pain we feel for the families and loved ones of those who were injured or killed. Say the things we wish were different.
I immediately began to wonder about what the next few days, weeks, months would be like. I expected people to hop on the Islamic Community as if they held the gun with the killer. I expected people to run to their own guns and cradle them, switching the focus from lives lost to tools which are manufactured for violence. I expected this would be an LGBT+ issue as well as an issue of American policy, culture, and life. What I didn’t expect before yesterday’s shooting, is the extent to which my fear would grow. Fear that had already existed. Fear that exists in some part of every oppressed group. My fear for my girlfriend. My fear for every friend in that room. My fear for the children I will someday have who may be targeted for my love. My fear for my family.
I wish for so many things. For people to speak out. To not look to back with angry fists, but to look forward with hopeful eyes. I don’t know if there will be a day when I can wake up next to my girlfriend, take her hand and tell her I don’t fear for her. That she will never have to worry. That we don’t have to be scared for our lives the next time we go out with friends. That we won’t have to pull our hands apart when we walk through certain cities. That no person will have to fear for their lives because they love the wrong type of person.
June 26th, last year we rejoiced at a forward step for America. June 12th of this year we mourn.
You’ll Always Have Paris
Later in the week, Jennie Livingston, whose film Paris is Burning contributed language and tools for describing gay
communities, posted what she expected from allies and described how Orlando had affected her personally.
If you posted about Paris or Beirut or Sandy Hook or Eric Garner or Ferguson or Sandra Bland….or any number of unjust killings…and you haven’t acknowledged what happened in Orlando…then it may be time.
Everyone you know who’s gay or queer or trans is talking about it. How invaded, frightened, traumatized we feel, and how this was not a white queer community, but a queer community of color, making some of us feel that the shooter targeted not just “gays” or “queers” but chose a particular part of the queer community where hate and prejudice are compounded.
Some of you have already acknowledged all this, and done so elegantly. Thank you.
I don’t know a queer person who hasn’t been assaulted. Or almost assaulted. Physically, verbally, dangerously. Or who isn’t aware that what happened in Orlando is not hard to figure out, given the prevalence of hate speech in our world, despite gay marriage, gay and trans TV, and gay pride.
So, could be time for you, yes, you, to reach out on Facebook, and in real life, because while I can’t speak for all LBTQ people, I can say that every single queer person I’ve talked to feels totally shaken, and would appreciate your acknowledging that you agree that this isn’t a random thing, or a Florida thing, or a nightlife thing…it is a hate thing.
Many of us lived through, and remember, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 90s, when thousands of people died, and the POTUS wouldn’t say the word AIDS, and the newspaper covered the whole thing with barely concealed fear and contempt. That’s when I came of age as queer, not hundreds of years ago, but recently.
So here’s a story from me this week. Two days ago, at the Food Coop, I stopped at the freezer section to get some tortillas. I stopped next to a broad bearded white guy standing there with a cart. After I stopped he said, “Excuse me!”” and I said “What?” and he said, “I was ABOUT TO GO INTO that section of the freezer, and then I said EXCUSE ME, and you still didn’t move, and WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED???” He then glared and fumed some more, and I guess I was supposed to apologize for not reading his mind, but instead I backed off and let him get his whatever.
As he walked away a woman who’d been stocking shelves looked at me and told me how frightening and random his behavior was. I was happy for her reality check. Normally, I would have come right out with something like, “okay, whatever you need, Mr. Angry, Entitled Bully-Dude,” because I’m outspoken like that and because this was in the fricken hippie food coop, but honestly, all I could think was, you’re the kind of guy with an automatic weapon at home who’s going to walk in somewhere and kill people.
I’m sharing that story, because normally I don’t impute murderous thoughts and/or future mass murders to random rude angry guys, but this is where many people I know are at this moment.
And we would like you to show you’re not silent, not unconcerned, and that you understand what happened in Orlando is not only about poor health care, and poor gun control, but also about systematic and prevalent discrimination, the kind of discrimination, hate, and violence that happens in many spaces and to many kinds of people for many reasons, but which, in this case, that happened to us. If you have a queer friend or relative, saying “thinking of you,” would go a long way. If you have something simple to say here on social media (you don’t have to venture solutions, or pledge allegiance to anything, cause love doesn’t require that!) just acknowledge you understand how things are right now.
The way you did with Paris…
It’s An LGBT Thing: Explaining The Gay
And then there was Alex Darke who won Facebook (and Tumblr) last week with tens of thousands of people across the country sharing the essay he posted on his personal page and on his website. Alex is from Iowa, but has lived in San Antonio, TX for the last 15 years working for Rackspace. He’s married to Matt who he met at work and they live with three dogs.
Earlier today, a friend remarked: “I don’t understand. The way you are reacting, it’s almost like you knew someone in the club.”
Here’s the thing you need to understand about every LGBT person in your family, your work, and your circle of friends:
We’ve spent most of our lives being aware that we are at risk.
When you hear interviewers talking to LGBT folks and they say “It could have been here. It could have been me,” they aren’t exaggerating. I don’t care how long you’ve been out, how far down your road to self acceptance and love you’ve traveled, we are always aware that we are at some level of risk.
I’m about as “don’t give a shit what ANYONE thinks” as anyone you’ll ever meet… and when I reach to hold Matt’s hand in the car? I still do the mental calculation of “ok, that car is just slightly behind us so they can’t see, but that truck to my left can see right inside the car”. If I kiss Matt in public, like he leaned in for on the bike trail the other day, I’m never fully in the moment. I’m always parsing who is around us and paying attention to us. There’s a tension that comes with that… a literal tensing of the muscles as you brace for potential danger. For a lot of us, it’s become such an automatic reaction that we don’t even think about it directly any more. We just do it.
And then… over the last few years, it started to fade a little. It started to feel like maybe things were getting better. A string of Supreme Court decisions. Public opinion shifting to the side of LGBT rights. Life was getting better. You could breathe a little bit.
What happened with this event is pretty dramatically demonstrated by how Matt and I are reacting to it. Matt came out fairly late, during the golden glow of the changing tide. He’s never dealt with something like this. It’s literally turned him inside out emotionally because all that stuff he read about that was just “then” became very much “NOW”. For me, I’ve had some time to adjust to the idea that people hate us enough to kill us. Matthew Shephard was my first real lesson in that. So this weekend was a sudden slap in the face, a reminder that I should never have let my guard down, should never have gotten complacent… because it could have been US.
Every LGBT person you know knows what I’m talking about. Those tiny little mental calculations we do over the course of our life add up… and we just got hit with a stark reminder that those simmering concerns, those fears… they probably won’t ever go away. We’ll never be free of them. Additionally, now we just got a lesson that expressing our love could result in the deaths of *others* completely unrelated to us. It’s easy to take risks when it’s just you and you’ve made that choice. Now there’s this subtext that you could set off someone who kills other people who weren’t even involved. And that’s just a lot.
That’s why I’m personally a bit off balance even though (or because, depending on how you look at it) I live in Texas and was not personally affected by this tragedy. Don’t get me wrong: nothing will change. I will still hold my husband’s hand in public. I will still kiss him in public. We’ll still go out and attend functions and hold our heads high.
But we will be doing those mental calculations for the rest of our lives. Those little PDAs you take for granted with your spouse. They come with huge baggage for us. Every single one is an act of defiance, with all that entails.
So do me a favor. Reach out to that LGBT person in your life. Friend, co-worker, or family. Just let them know you are thinking of them and you love them. That will mean the world to them right now. I promise you.
Reactions to Orlando: From all over
…And some of the more shared, praised and quoted writing about our communities last week.
Washington Post: In praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club
ArabHumanists.org: As An Arab, The Middle East’s Reaction To Orlando Left Me Speechless…
The Atlantic: The complicated pain of America’s Queer Muslims
Global Comment: 7 things straight people aren’t understanding about Orlando
Washington Post: How to talk to a queer person who is afraid of dying
Orange County Register: After Orlando: In wake of violence, gay Americans say struggle continues
And a few on Towleroad:
Ari Ezra Waldman: Silence Equals Death: Why We Need to ‘Come Out’ as Gun Control Advocates
Susie Bright: Get Out. Keep Running. — Susie Bright on Orlando
Sarah Schulman: What Does #StopTheHate Really Mean?
Leo Herrera wrote in his post earlier this week, “Across the globe, the webs of interactions that make up our small gay world are vibrating with love and sadness. If you don’t feel this way, this is a reminder that you should do everything you can to join and build community.”