As a writer, I know better than to write about happenings when they evoke intense emotions, straight away. The consequence of this tends to be anger and a skewed message. It tends not to be the truth of what one has to say. So, for days now I’ve tried to keep quiet while everyone around me spoke about the murder of forty-nine people, and the attempted murder of fifty-three others. This is the journey I’ve been on since 12th June 2016.CREDIT: WalterPro/FLICKR CC
Let me get this straight, I’m not from Orlando. I wasn’t even in Orlando at the time of the shooting. I was at home in Liverpool, England, in my bed, probably dreaming about cookies and books. But in the morning, I heard. People in Orlando were dead, shot and killed. People who identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender +, and their friends, were targeted because they went to a safe place to be themselves: a gay bar. How many of us have been to gay bars, how many of us go every weekend?
Within twenty-four hours, many cities illuminated town halls, buildings of importance, with the colours of the rainbow; the rainbow flag hung at half-mast above town halls; people took to the streets with candles and prayers, not just to mark their respects, but more importantly to show solidarity. But underneath those expressions, we held our partners closer, made sure all of our family and friends were safe. We were thankful.
I had to work hard to avoid interviews with the parents and friends of those who had lost their lives. I wasn’t ready for that, and to be honest, I’m still not ready. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I sat down to watch a news report and heard more about Omar Mateen that the full impact of what had happened struck me, full force right between the eyes. I couldn’t hold my tears back, and had to go out of the room, away from my mum. It could have been someone I cared about, or knew. I thought about my nephews and niece and my friends children, who I’m so close to.
What world are we leaving for them to inherit? It’s still filled with hate based on a person’s religion, skin colour, background or sexuality. I don’t want that for them, especially if one of them grow up gay. This hate crime wasn’t committed in a country where homosexuality is outlawed, punishable by death. This was America, the land of the free. It could easily have happened here in Liverpool. I became angry and frustrated. How dare he. How dare he have the right to own a gun, bought from a store, and take it to a safe place and gun down innocent people. How f***ing dare he! I was glad he was dead, too.
It was dubbed a terrorist attack. I don’t know how I feel about that label. When I first heard it, I knew it didn’t sit right with me. This wasn’t a plane hitting a building, or bombs on a bus, this was someone taking a gun, bought entirely legally, to a group of other people. But then, isn’t that terrorism? The purpose of terrorism is to promote terror, and on that night this objective was violently met. I’ve read a dispatch where Mateen states, “… I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.” If Mateen has done this in the name of Islamic State, a terrorist organisation, does this not make it a terrorist attack? Or was it a justification, a way to vindicate his actions? We may never know.
It’s confusing, trying to piece together the fragments we’re fed by the media, and finding the facts among the quagmire of theories and rhetoric is daunting and almost impossible. Inevitably, we are left to draw our own conclusions, which is what I did next. I read more stories about Mateen and his many visits to Pulse, and his profiles on gay dating and sex mobile apps. I told myself there had to be more to it, because of this. I had his reason for doing this all plotted in my head, bound and ready to present to anyone who would listen. Mateen was a man whose supressed sexuality had driven him to violence. In my mind, his lifestyle, his upbringing, perhaps his parent’s staunch religious beliefs meant it was impossible and impractical for Mateen to come out as gay. His mind had become distorted and he was unhappy, seeing LGBT people living as themselves right in front of his face, and nobody batted an eyelid. I was upset that our society would allow organised religions to spout ancient teachings in a modern world, that people like Mateen had nowhere to go to be told ‘it’s okay to be gay, despite what your family and friends think.’ I think organised religion is the most dangerous thing in the world. I believed in my invented Mateen story right up until I started work on this piece, when I’d finally come to accept what happened. I’m just about ready to see the reactions and aftermath of the shootings, the gaps left in family circles.
Even in the wake of such hatred, there are ripples of abhorrence toward homosexuals from some areas of the world. Twitter was brim-full of Tweets about how the gunman had done right. How ‘fags’ deserved to be killed, and what a good job had been done. Have you ever scrolled through Twitter and found messages of hate about a community you belong to? It’s sickening. Even more sickening that they were still there some days later – no immediate removal.
I still maintain that Mateen may have been struggling with his own sexuality, and couldn’t cope with the pressure he placed on his own happiness. But then something dawned on me, it plucked at the tattered edges of theories and ideas, and unpicked every loose stitch. Perhaps, I thought, Mateen had visited Pulse, had downloaded gay apps, as a form of research, to get to know faces and names … to plan. Now that idea haunts me even as I type. How horrific. I know that we will never fully comprehend what happened in Mateen’s mind that night, but you know what? I feel lucky …
I don’t have friends who ask ‘you weren’t in Orlando, why are you upset?’ or ‘it’s not like you knew them’. They get it. I’m a member of a community that has been ridiculed, imprisoned and hurt just for existing. Like any community that has endured this kind of treatment throughout history, we won’t give up fighting and speaking out and kissing our partners, because we know there can be something better; you can’t fight hate with hate because there’ll be no victor.
As I come to my conclusion, and read over what I’ve written above, I realise something more. I have psychologically processed grief from the time of the shooting up to now: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That is what separates a human from homosapiens.
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