The largest American mass shooting of the last century happened in the early hours of Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida, at a gay club celebrating a Latinx dance night featuring transwomen performers. This happened during Pride Month, and Ramadan. The same day, another armed shooter was caught on the way to LA Pride. You probably know this. Or at least, most of this.
I’ve been in Bali, glued to my computer since the story broke. Far away from all the candlelight vigils and blood bank donation lines, all I’ve had is the Internet to keep me connected to my communities.
The first article I read called the shooting an act of terrorism, but didn’t tell me who the shooter was. I guessed (with a sense of impending dread) that he wasn’t a white guy, or they would have been throwing around the phrase “mental illness,” and we were probably about to hear a Muslim name. I was right.
Hate is hate is hate is hate
Shortly after the number switched from 20 dead to 49 dead, 50+ wounded. I couldn’t look away as we, the collective online existence, learned that the shooter beat his ex-wife, was on an FBI watch list, had become publicly enraged at two men kissing, had legally been allowed to buy an assault rifle.
I read all the stories about cops coming into the nightclub hearing the discarded cell phones ringing with calls from desperate family members. I learned how the shooting was forcibly outing victims. I saw my queer POC community and my Muslim/Middle Eastern community band together in a united front as if to say: Our grief is not an invitation for hatred. My feed flowed with political ideas, urges to fight, petitions, calls to change policy, reminders that Pride Month started from a raid in a gay bar—but also—photos of queer people kissing, holding candles, putting on drag, choosing joy. A fund was started to support the victims and their families. Gay Muslims were posting to remind the world that the two identities are not disparate. Straight/Christian allies were fighting on our behalf in the media, reminding people that the toxic everyday homophobia that we live and breathe in America is deeply rooted in conservative Christianity. And while this hate crime was perpetrated by a recent Muslim, he was also a US born-and-bred citizen, picking up all the hate that fundamentalist Christians have been putting down. Extreme Islam is not alone in preaching homophobia, and frankly, his prejudice was documented far before he identified as such.
What it feels like to be a queer Muslim right now
And all that news leaves me—a Middle Eastern queer person, raised Muslim—barely able to get out of bed today. My neck hurts from spending 24 hours with my head over my cell phone hoping to ease the isolation. Because, yes, a tragedy of this scale has the potential to inspire deep change. It may be change of the terrifying variety, pushing through the 200+ anti-LGBT bills introduced this year, increasing attacks on Muslim folks, shutting out refugees. Or it may be change of the welcome variety: an open admittance to how homophobic rhetoric brews toxic conditions that led to this tragedy, more empathy between the oppressed, and policy change.
And I know that I will do whatever needs to be done. I will donate to the groups, and march in the marches. But first I need space to grieve: the loss in my extended community, the loss of my safe spaces. I spent much of my young adulthood at queer nightclubs, calling the dance floor my church, and dancing my meditation. It’s where I went to be less harassed, it’s where I went to kiss girls without men thinking it was an invitation, it’s where I went to just catch up with friends without worrying about patriarchy.
It’s not an accident when black folks get shot in a church, it’s not an accident when women get shot at Planned Parenthood, and it’s not an accident when LGBTQ folk are shot at a gay club. The hate is designed to make you feel less safe, to breed mistrust, to shrink you, to cause you to hesitate in living your truth.
it’s okay to heal before you fight back
Today, I wish I wasn’t in Bali. I wish I was at home, hugging my queer Latinx Floridian roommate. Because when you’re starting to feel small, there is strength in numbers. There’s healing in talking. There’s something powerful in catching one another as the shock throws us, and holding on through all the numbness, the sorrow, the rage.
And so, APW, here’s your space. For all of you, who like me, may not be close to people to support you. Or for those of you who want another place to speak your truths, or talk politics, or just get a virtual hug. Healing comes before going back out into the battlefield, and we need all the strength we’ve got.
We’re here for you, APW. Talk about whatever you need, share your Orlando stories, how the loss affects you, what you read that was funny, kittens, whatever your reactions are.