I woke up today to news that an American citizen went to Pulse, a queer nightclub in Orlando, FL, and shot and killed at least
50 49 people and injured at least 50 more. This is the worst mass shooting in US history on US soil in recent history. It was aimed squarely at QUILTBAG folk (and on a club’s “weekly upscale Latin night”).
When and if you talk about this mass murder to others, do say it was aimed at queers. Do mention that it was on a night
when Latin culture was being celebrated when most of the guests were Latin. This is a hate crime.
Rather than discuss this murder in detail I’m reposting something I wrote three years ago about the personal consequences of growing up queer and hated.
Hate is still thriving out there. We still have a lot of work to do. The best way to start? Talk about this. Talk about it clearly: this mass murder is not about gun policy, it is not about Islam, it is about the fear and hatred of queerness.
Most people who meet me think I’m lucky to have escaped the prejudice of the world. I don’t look damaged. I don’t look like a victim. I don’t behave—or write—that way.
But every year or two I wonder: who would I be, how might my life have turned out, if I hadn’t grown up facing a strong wind and having to walk uphill?
Some years ago I had a conversation with a friend (she is still a friend; she will remain nameless) who thought that prejudice was a thing of the distant past, something for the history books that maybe only happened to a vague and shadowy group of Disadvantaged. I told her that, no, it happened a lot. It happened to me. She just couldn’t accept it: I don’t look or behave like a victim. I’m not a victim, I said. She asked me some questions.
This is a paraphrased transcript of our conversation.
Well, have you ever been physically injured because you’re queer?
Yes. I was beaten by several men in a club and ended up in the emergency room with a broken nose, concussion, etc. Also, three men tried to burn the house down, and rape me to show me what I was missing. Oh, and someone threw a brick through my window (I got out of bed and cut my feet to ribbons). And two men shotgunned the bedroom window of the flat I’d just moved out of. And, well, the list, frankly, is almost endless. (Seriously, one day, when I have nothing better to do, I’ll write it all down. I bet I could come up with more than a hundred incidents.)
Have you ever been denied education for being queer?
Yes. I had to give up my degree course because my parents wouldn’t fund their part of the cost (this was in the UK before there were such things as student loans). “Why bother?” my mother said. “No one will give a lesbian a job, anyway.” And the fact is, no one would give me a job.
Have you ever been denied benefits for being queer?
Yes. I had to fight for five years to be able to get my Green Card. It cost somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 (at a time when, between us, Kelley and I were earning less than $30,000 a year; we maxed out three credit cards). My case made new law. It took years to get free of the psychological stress (I had nightmares) and the burden of debt. If we had been legally married it would have been smooth and automatic and virtually free. In addition, I couldn’t get health insurance on Kelley’s employee ticket; this was before domestic partnership provisions. We were monumentally broke. I couldn’t get a job. I was sick. I had no health insurance. All because I’m queer.
Have you been been denied access to healthcare for being queer?
Yes. A gynecologist once tried to refuse me a Pap smear. Also, once in a very scary health situation, Kelley was told she would have no say should anything go wrong. Fortunately, we could leave. We did. (Again, I could make a list.)
There were many other questions with the same basic thrust: Did I really have a hard time? And all my answers were the same: Yes, I really did; I have been harmed physically, mentally, emotionally, legally, financially.
I don’t generally dwell on this. I am not a victim. I am not a pitiable figure. I choose—willfully, daily—to focus my energies on moving forward, on staying open, on interacting with the world as humanly as possible. I’ve seen what it does to those who get bitter and wary and overly defended. They retreat further and further from the mainstream. They become even more Othered. I honour activists who live in the war zone, and I understand those who retreat behind their fortress walls, but that’s not my path. My choice is to remain as undefended as possible, to share—in person and through my work—how it feels to be me, to help others understand and empathise. To be human not Other.
Perhaps because so many of us have somehow managed to weather this tide of prejudice without visible damage it’s easy for some to believe We’re All Equal Now. We’re not. Yes, as a class queers are becoming more politically significant. But those who argue (go listen again to the Supreme Court arguments about same-sex marriage) that we don’t need to dismantle prejudicial legislation right now are wrong. Individuals can and do still have a very hard time. Anti-queer prejudice is real. The legal and therefore social issues involved in the fight for marriage equality go far beyond being able to have a fabulous wedding.
Anti-queer prejudice in most parts of the US and UK is less than it was, certainly. But many of us over a certain age carry scars that influence our interaction with the world. I am smart. I love my work. I have a partner I trust with my life and heart. I have a home. I have a community (I have several interconnected communities). I have a vocation. I have friends and family. In most ways I am lucky. I have a magnificent life. And still, sometimes, every few years, I wonder how it might have been. I wonder how the world will change when we have marriage equality and its concomitant rights. A change in the law will lead to even faster and deeper change in the culture. It will make life easier, safer, richer (literally and metaphorically). It might help some of us let down the barriers, just a little. And then, oh, the world will need to get ready. There will be such a flowering of human art and joy and innovation…
For me and millions of others, tens of millions still to be born, this is not an academic exercise.
5 thoughts on “Mass murder and the consequences of hate”
thank you so much for writing this!
Wow. It sounds like you have PTSD and no freaking wonder! I will never know what it is like to walk in your shoes, but I know evil when I see or hear it. I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends. They add a dimension to my life that I would not possess in any other way. Just as all of my other friends do.
Hate and fear have done so much to limit humankind. We’re supposed to be so fucking intelligent yet we can’t seem to get away from those two curses. My sympathy and love to the families and friends of those people lost to the dark side of our ids last night.
Moved, so very moved, by this. Profoundly disturbed, too. Recently heard via “Quirks and Quarks” on CBC 1 (Canada) that homosexuality in the “natural” world is entirely “normal.” What is our human problem? Hard to wrap my head around this ugliness. Wishing you well, sending love.
Like Sisyphus, we’ve just got to keep on pushing that boulder up the hill. It’s so disheartening, but so necessary.
Thank you, Nicola. It helps to be reminded that it is both anger and love that will get us through this sickening, dispiriting time.
I hesitate to bring this up because it’s so tangential to the topic of homophobia, but I’d like to correct the misapprehension that’s being repeated so ubiquitously that the horror inflicted at Pulse was “the worst mass shooting in US history.” It’s vitally important that we not forget all the other blood with which United Statesians have drenched both US and the global soil, including the genocide of Native North Americans (so many massacres that just a small fraction of them comprise their own category on Wikipedia). Abroad, the massacre at My Lai, Vietnam was just one of the more publicized atrocities the US has committed throughout Southeast Asia and so many other regions unfortunate enough to have been visited by the United States military. While the US has no monopoly on massacre, the country must come to terms with the fact that it has been engaged in warfare continuously since its inception two and a half centuries ago and that this xenophobic murder culture has unsurprisingly metastasized within the nation on every level from the home to the public commons. The only hope I can see is the perseverance of strong love, which cannot stop bullets but can change people if it prevails.
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