I’ve sat on this post for a while, not knowing what to say, but knowing I had to say something for my own healing. As a friend and fellow blogger noted, there are plenty of blogs and articles and think pieces out there by people more informed, more connected, and more articulate than I. But I have to write. So, here goes.
Early in the morning of the 12th of June, a heavily armed gunman entered Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire. 49 people were killed, 53 people were injured, some still in a serious condition. It was Latin night at the bar, so many of the victims were Latinx or coloured. Most of them, as has been reported, were members of the LGBTIQ community.
Australian television reported the event as breaking news. Not once was it reported that Pulse was a gay bar. I didn’t discover this fact until the next day as I was trawling Facebook. An already horrific event just became all the more terrifying.
I am a cis, white, femme woman. The way I look invites assumptions that I’m heterosexual. The only time you would know I’m bisexual is if I tell you, or if you see me holding hands with my same sex partner. I came out to family and friends 20 years ago with little fanfare. I have never experienced random homophobia unless I am holding hands with my same sex partner. My ability to “pass” as straight has afforded me the privilege of living relatively free from fear. I’m also tough and opinionated, so the times I have been met with stares and looks in public whilst with my partner, I have defiantly returned the looks and stares. Homophobic epithets yelled from passing cars have been laughed at because I think it’s ridiculous.
My wife, however, is a cis, coloured, androgynous lesbian woman. She screams gay. To look at her, you could safely assume she’s gay. She has had a different experience all her life. She does not feel safe holding hands in public. She has to check who she’s with before she refers to me as her “wife” rather than her “partner”. She has experienced discrimination, hatred, thinly veiled contempt, and violence in the form of homophobia. She has felt a fear I haven’t.
We have both, however, taken refuge in our community. In our clubs and bars we have felt safe. Surrounded by LGBTIQ people we have felt at home, free, able to be ourselves.
Now, in the wake of Orlando, for the first time in my life, I am afraid. I know I shouldn’t be. I know that I shouldn’t allow the hate of that act to change who I am in the world, but it has. Because it could happen to me. It could happen to my wife, my friends, my dad, my family. In that one place where we go to take off the armour of staunchness against society’s view of us – us queers, the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals, the transgendered, the intersex, the ones questioning, the ones uninterested in labels but who know they aren’t straight, the “others” – we are no longer safe. And it scares me.
The day after the Pulse shooting happened, I was on a train going to rehearsal. A man and his girlfriend were sitting next to me, arguing loudly. As they left, the man yelled out to an Asian man opposite us that he was a “filthy fucking chink pig”. Usually, I’d call out this behaviour. Usually, I’d apologise to the person abused for being subjected to that. This time I didn’t because I was afraid. There was too much hate that weekend for me to stand up against this.
Our community has had enough. This is not to say other minority groups haven’t; we have all had enough of hate. But the LGBTIQ community have been fighting for decades – for generations for our rights, to be treated equally, to be recognised as human beings who are as we are, not as degenerate, or mentally ill, or perverted, or criminal. We have fought not to be brutalised or “corrected” or killed for being not straight, for being born “different”. We have fought for our freedom to marry our partners, and to walk down the street holding hands without being heckled, abused or bashed. It seemed like it was getting better. It seemed like we could relax for a little while. Then this happened.
Not only has this act of the worst mass shooting in America’s modern history slammed the fact in our faces that we’re still not safe, the refusal of the heteronormative mainstream media – and some of our country’s leaders – to recognise the homophobic element of this crime has made us feel that we are invisible.
Yes, this was a crime against humanity and a crime against our freedom to be as we are – all acts of terror are – but this was also, unequivocally an act of homophobic hatred. There have been reports that Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the shooting, was a regular at Pulse and a closeted homosexual. It is still a homophobic act. Growing up gay in a world that tells us being gay is wrong and evil will, in some cases, elicit feelings of self-hatred so intense that they explode in violent acts against others. That’s homophobia.
Oh, and then there’s the hoaxers – the people who believe the shooting was a false flag to further the “gay agenda”, Islamophobia, gun reform and Obama’s “black politics”. You know, the people who post videos, vehemently insisting the victims don’t exist, demanding photos of gun shot wounds from survivors to prove they aren’t “crisis actors”, giving “evidence” that the whole incident didn’t happen. You know what? I’d probably take these opinions more seriously if their videos and opinion pieces weren’t littered with homophobic tags (e.g. “aw, look at the poor grieving faggot”), racism (“it was only them spiks that were killed”), and general insensitivity.
Look, I’m not going to deny anyone their right to express their opinions however abhorrent I find them. I’m not a big fan of blindly swallowing whatever the mainstream media feeds us, but for fuck’s sake, people are dead. Those who are using Orlando as a platform to vent their anti-government/authority/big corporation/whatever viewpoints aren’t serving the greater good. They’re just augmenting the hate.
People are dead.
Fuck, it hurts. It really hurts because I’ve realised that I haven’t seen myself in any of the terror victims of the past. I haven’t recognised the fellow fallen humans in Baghdad or Paris or London or Syria or anywhere at all. It’s not until my community – MY community, MY identity, MY place of belonging – is threatened that I am affected. That saddens me. I may not have been at Pulse. I may live on the other side of the world in a country with gun control. I may not be connected to any of it other than the ownership I have as a queer woman. I may not know any of the victims or survivors, but I see myself in them. And it’s made me aware that I see myself in all victims of violence, and that’s overwhelming.
Enough. Enough hate. Please.
Having said that, having admitted my fear, K and I have been going out to our local gay bar for the last couple of weeks because she is competing in a drag competition (she’s a drag king, and she’s hot as a guy, and more on that later). There was so much love, so much acceptance, so much the gathering of like-minded and love-minded people that all my fear dissipated, even if it was just for a few hours. I love our community. I love the supporters of our community. In spite of all that’s happened, we will keep on dancing. We are dancing.