Since the sun rose this morning, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about the attack in Orlando. I’ve always shied away from talking directly about senseless tragedy and death, even when it visits my own home, because I believe that some events are too grave for words – my words, at least. But in this instance it was different, because this particular tragedy wasn’t senseless at all; in fact, it was guided by sensibilities that I was all too familiar with. And yet from the moment that news reports began to filter into my Facebook newsfeed early Sunday morning – that a mass shooting had taken place, that it was the worst terror attack since 9/11, that the killer had pledged allegiance to ISIS before commencing his massacre – it was clear that the narrative surrounding what happened in Orlando was in the process of being shifted towards ISIS, towards domestic terrorism, towards gun control debates, and away from the more elemental facts of the case: as gay pride celebrations kick off across the country, Pulse nightclub was the site of historic violence against queer and trans people. As unidentified bodies still lay on the ground, the massacre was already being added to litanies of radical Islamist terror attacks and mass shootings that our nation and other nations have mourned, accompanied by a wearied, yet doggedly determined nationalistic solidarity, and pleas to do something about this violence that could happen to any one of us.
But going by the information we have so far, this particular attack wasn’t an attack on all Americans and it couldn’t have happened to any one of us. The victims of this massacre were primarily, almost exclusively, queer people who reveled in their queerness. Political talking points in relation to this event mean little unless they intersect with this unavoidable truth.
Being out and proud is not something that is familiar to me. I rarely talk about the fact that I am bisexual, even though it’s been over a year since I first claimed the term, two years since I first acknowledged it, and ten years since it first manifested itself in me. At twenty years old, I have yet to fully come out of the closet. Perhaps because the label is so new, or perhaps because I believed for so long that my feelings were flukes that had little bearing on my unquestioned heterosexuality, I don’t think about my being queer very often. And perhaps that is the reason why, at first, I was swept up into the media coverage and the public response that made the identity of the victims one part of the story rather than the story itself. In reading how shocking and unprecedented this massacre was, I lost sight of just how frighteningly typical it actually was. How typical – that the most passionately, fiercely, unmistakably queer among us are the ones who bear the brunt of this country’s and the world’s hatred, expressed either through dehumanizing laws and social mores, or brute violence. How typical – that the deeply radical existence of queer and trans people of color is pushed to the background of the narrative, marginalized even in the stories of their own lives.
It takes bravery to be an unapologetically queer person. But when we talk about bravery, we don’t usually mention that it, along with sacrifice, often comes from not having a choice. Because of the bravery of those whose very existence depended on fighting against compulsory heterosexuality, I get to rebel against that system without feeling immoral and isolated. Because of the sacrifices made by people who didn’t get a choice about being at the front lines of hatred, I get to choose how much of a role my sexuality will play in my life. Because of the awe-inspiring courage of brown and black queer folks, courage that is necessary in a world that doubly negates our existence, I am able to embrace my bisexuality and blackness without feeling that they conflict.
Before the sun rose yesterday morning, 103 people who embodied the radical, fierce queerness to which I and so many others owe our freedom were killed or injured in the act of celebrating that queerness. I pray that they rest in power and be remembered, and that their families and friends find solace before too long. Before the sun sets and the candles of the vigils dim, leaving us in darkness, I hope that in the midst of the embraces and prayers and outpourings of support, the people of this country begin to realize that those things do not let us off the hook. After rebuking the great evil that was done today, we are still accountable for the evils we take part in – the fence-sitting, the lack of urgency, the respectability politics, the apathy, the studied nonchalance, the paternalistic and dehumanizing debates over what rights queer people should be allowed to exercise, and the overt and subtle homophobic and transphobic values that proliferate in every one of America’s institutions, from our media to our education system to our medical field to our churches. Values that differ from those that drove Omar Mateen not in kind, but merely in degree.
And if you insist on pointing out what this is just another example of, don’t ignore the obvious: no matter where you are in the world, it’s never truly safe to be queer.
Photo Credit: 1