There is very little to say about what happened in Orlando, FL.
There is so much to say about what happened in Orlando, FL.
The noise that emits from your TV and your radio, the words that appear on your Facebook feed, the rainbow flags, the rainbow profile pictures, the prayers, the moments of silence, the platitudes, it is just noise.
My only response to this nightmare—both the one we woke up to on Sunday morning, and the one being perpetuated by the politicians and the media—is to try and find the nuances I believe we all need.
First of all, we need to talk about who the victims are. If we do not understand who the victims are, we are easy prey for the machinations and manipulations of every person with an agenda.
A few broad statements are true: the victims were “American” in that they lived on American soil and engaged in activities made possible because of the political landscape of the geographic area known as “America”. The victims were members of the LGBT*Q*A*/Queer community, because they were in a space dedicated to that community.
But we have lost a particular specificity: these were Latinx Queer individuals.
Let me say that again:
THESE WERE LATINX QUEER INDIVIDUALS.
I cannot speak to the experiences of that community, I cannot speak for that community, I can neither know nor imagine how that community feels. It is not my community. And I will not add to the voices trying their best to do those things.
This massacre may not have been intended to target specifically Latinx LGBT*Q*A*/Queer identified individuals or their community at large. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you whether the perpetrator’s plan selected Saturday night because it was a Latin night at Pulse, maybe it was simply the best weekend for him to commit mass murder. I do not know if, when planning an action intended to inspire fear and grief, when planning to violently manifest hatred and prejudice, you stop to inspect the calendar of events for the sanctuary you are intent on violating. I do not know if this individual’s plan was to strip the LGBT*Q*A* community at large of their sense of safety, or specifically to wound the Latinx community in particular.
Ultimately, as we take time to think about the victims, the perpetrator’s intention does not matter. What matters is what he did: he stabbed a blade made of petrified hatred through the heart of the Latinx LGBT*Q*A* community. He robbed, not generally but specifically, the Latinx LGBT*Q*A* community of their sense of safety, and his act will reverberate most strongly through their community.
Second, we can begin to ask questions about what could bring a person to commit an act of violence so heinous it is the worst act of mass murder in American history. This is where we must be extra vigilant about the narratives promoted by people with an agenda.
We must take a moment here to discuss a specific kind of noise coming from your television, in the form of a debate about nomenclature, centered on “radical Islam”. An agenda is the only thing that could explain why, in the wake of the worst act of mass murder in American history, you have the time or the energy to quibble about whether or not any person is using the term “radical Islam” to describe the unknown motivations of a pathological, anti-social individual.
Specifically, I have two major points of contention with the argument that “radical Islam” is the clear source of this man’s actions, regardless of whether or not he called the police ahead of time and declared his allegiance to the Islamic State.
- I do not believe the man to have been stupid, unfortunately.
Anyone who has lived in this country (or been aware of the politics of this country) for any number of the years following September 11, 2001 and during the subsequent, still ongoing wars in the Middle East, can tell you that if you want people to pay attention to what you’re doing, make it about “terrorism,” specifically “radical Islamic terrorism”.
Our news media and politicians have proven that we will not care about anti-gay, or anti-woman, or anti-reproductive rights, or anti-Black, or anti-Islamic, or anti-government terrorism. If you shoot up an abortion clinic, you will not be labeled a terrorist, even though the label is appropriate.
If this man wanted to insure that his act of anti-gay violence made headlines and stayed there, declaring allegiance to the Islamic State is a very easy way to do so.
- Even if he is really a “radical Islamist” he’s still pathological. No one decides to open fire on a roomful of unknown strangers (or even a roomful of friends/family/acquaintances) because they are of sound mind. Just as anyone who travels to Syria to decapitate “infidels” is unlikely to be deemed in full possession of their faculties.
The tie between politics and individually perpetrated acts of excessive or mass violence is psychological imbalance, not religion or affiliation or identity.
This was not an act of violence undertaken against the whole of American society. This was an act of violence perpetrated against the LGBT*Q*A*/Queer community, and potentially the Latinx community within that community. To use it to promote a rhetoric of hatred against Muslims or immigrants or some other American minority, is to avoid the undeniable. Homophobia, violent homophobia, is alive and well in America, and we have more than enough “legitimate” anti-gay rhetorics and politics to incubate it.
Because I am not interested in becoming someone with an agenda, I will not look at the courts, or the filibusters, or the Constitutional debates. I will instead ask that we, as a society, consider the murder rates among trans*women of color, the assaults perpetrated against members of the LGBT*Q*A* community (hate crimes), and the bullying, the rates of homelessness among LGBT*Q*A* youth. We cannot deny that there is a precedent for violence against the LGBT*Q*A* community, and especially the minority communities within the LGBT*Q*A* community. To side step that precedent is to create a false image of reality, and to deny a reality composed not of individual experience but of statistical fact.
Third, and finally, we must ask ourselves about how to solve the problem of acts of mass violence perpetrated with guns. Living in a country where we have to even attempt to demarcate the importance of one act of mass violence, and furthermore have to spend time ranking them, is to live in some Twilight Zone reality.
Here we reach an impasse, because here our politics has ejected the means of objective quantitative reality. The NRA has ensured that collecting the necessary data to develop a statistical reality—that is, a reality which, even when compelled by emotion, is formulated within the bounds of consistent, universal standards, and is independently verifiable by anyone with access to the same data—is impossible. Without that basis of concrete, verifiable conclusions, any argument can be denounced as purely emotional/subjective/rhetorical.
With that in mind I can only repeat that which has been deemed un-Constitutional, weepy liberal bullshit, but which I can only defend as common sense: it is very hard to murder people, especially in large numbers, when your access to weapons and/or ammunition is limited and/or monitored. Though I am against a culture where people keep guns in their homes with the idea that they may well be used against other human beings (guns for “protection”), because I believe it promotes fear and violence, I would happily lose the philosophical battle to win the political war.
We have left behind a question of whether or not guns are a right, and we are faced with the absolute, undeniable, overwhelming, painful evidence that a society with open access to semi- or fully-automatic handguns and rifles, and other military grade equipment is one where its citizens are not safe. We allowed the massacre of school children to pass without action, and maybe it is time, if we will not change the law, to admit that we do not care that people will continue to die.
Without a change to the law, it is time to do away with the noise. Without a change to the law, we should do away with outrage, with moments of silence, with acts of solidarity, with open displays of grief, with a sense of community, with love, with empathy. Anyone who opposes changing the law should make it clear that they are as against civil society as the people who perpetrate these acts of violence, and that they are against us, and they are with the terrorists, whom they are happy to arm and enable.