We are Still Here: On the Orlando Shooting

We are Still Here: On the Orlando Shooting

I don’t know how to write this post. I know that I’ve been fairly absent from this blog for the last few months, for a lot of reasons (school, work, life in general), but after the shooting in Orlando yesterday, I felt compelled to return, hopefully for a more habitual stay.

Yesterday, in the middle of Pride month, our community, the LGBTQ community, lost 50 of our own, and 53 more were hospitalized. And everyone who was in that club when the shooting started will retain some scar from the trauma they endured. No one day should be so steeped in death and fear.

It is difficult to put words to the pain and the grief that I and many other queer people are still feeling in the wake of such a massacre. All that seems to circulate in my mind is a mantra of “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.” And it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that queer people are made to feel excluded from “normal” (read: straight/cisgender) bars and clubs. It isn’t fair that, when we establish our own clubs as safe spaces, they are then characterized as immoral and deviant settings. And it most certainly isn’t fair that one man should feel so offended by our mere existence that he can walk into our safe space and take away that feeling of safety and joy. He didn’t think we deserved to feel safe, to be ourselves, and now we must grieve the loss of 50 beautiful, brilliant lives in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

And now, not twenty-four hours after that shooting and the arrest of a man on his way to L.A. Pride with explosives and firearms in his car, politicians and the mainstream media are doing their damnedest to erase what this was: a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, especially our Latinx members and the trans women of color who were headlining that night’s entertainment. The same politicians who lobbied for bans on marriage equality, against anti-discrimination laws, and against stricter gun control are now offering up their “prayers” and “sympathies.”

Their sympathy and concern is as false and insubstantial as the hallucinations brought on by dehydration. They are no better than mirages that tempt you further into an unforgiving and infertile desert. Do not let them trick you into believing that they are tweeting condolences for any reason other than to earn brownie points with the people who are truly and deeply mourning the lives lost. Remember who denigrated and disenfranchised you. Remember who called your love unnatural and immoral. Remember who turned a blind eye to the assaults and the rapes and the murders that grew from the same turgid, rank, and poisonous ground these politicians laid during their careers. Remember and do not forget who has stood by you and who has tried to stand atop you.

And remember the facts of this tragedy, the names and faces and identities of those taken from us. Because I assure you, someone will come along someday with the idea that they can turn tragedy into entertainment. Don’t think for a moment that some straight cisgender writer isn’t out there thinking that the story of Orlando will make a great summer blockbuster someday. He will come for our story, our history, our pain and shape it into the kind of story that sells. The movie will follow the terrifying hours inside Pulse and the conveniently white, straight, cisgender male hero who gets caught in the crossfire. It will feature a mostly white cast, regardless of the fact that the club is primarily black and latinx in makeup. Except for the shooter, who will certainly be cast as Middle Eastern. Religion will be a big part of the shooter’s motivation, despite his wife’s testimony that religion was never a big part of his life. Maybe the credits will list the names of everyone who perished in the shooting, but don’t expect to see them represented in the movie meant to “memorialize” their lives and deaths. Instead, expect a heroic standoff between the white cishet protagonist and the shooter, a teary, inspirational speech with shots of the scared faces of club-goers interspersed throughout. Expect to see the director and producer and writers lauded and awarded for their dedication to honoring our loss. Expect the lead actor to win awards and earn his place in the hearts of viewers.

Do not expect them to ask our permission to tell our story.

To all the straight cisgender people who are thinking of doing just what I have described, I implore you to reconsider. Back away from our wounds and graves and death certificates. They are not yours on which to make a name for yourself. If you truly want to support us and help us in our time of grief, then do as we have always asked: boost our voices rather than speaking over us, confront your cishet friends and family who attempt to downplay the tragedy that is Orlando, and join us in pushing for stricter gun laws and better protection of our community. But stay away from our story. Do not put your hands on it. It is already covered in your fingerprints, and you have the blood on your hands. Every homophobe and transphobe who spread hate and prejudice against us, who dismissed our fear and pain, who denied us the safety and respect they give so freely to the people like them, you are all complicit in the 50 murders committed in that club. You are all guilty of assisting that man in killing innocent people you have so often decried as less-than-human. I blame you. I blame each and every one of you.

And to my fellow queer people who are struggling under the weight of so much death and pain and fear: We are strong. We are amazing. We are valid and real and worthy of life regardless of what others may say. In times like this, when the fear is so constant and the grief so deep, we must stand together and hold each other up. Reach out to your fellow community members, practice whatever self-care helps lessen the weight on your chest, and, if you are in the closet and unable to fully express the sadness in your heart, remember that you are loved, and you will always have a place in this community, closeted or not.

Orlando is a tragedy, as such events always are, and its aftershocks will no doubt be felt for weeks and months going forward. But go forward we must. We must endeavor to stay strong and see ourselves as valid and beautiful. That being said, it is important to understand that there is no shame in crying, in breaking down, in grieving what has happened. There are different kinds of strength, none more valid than each other, and we as a community will be here to support every kind of strength for as long as that strength is needed.

Which is, to say, until the end of time.