This will not be a rant on gun control. Other than the insinuation I have made above, I will not mention it again. Nor will I comment on the many talking points currently circulating in regard to this man's religious affiliation, or whether or not he may have had any ties to a particular terrorist organization.
Initially, I was extremely hesitant to write anything about this. I have felt, in the succeeding days since this senseless attack that has taken the lives of so many innocent people, and forever devastating hundreds of others, that, although a certain light should be shed on it, so we may learn from and hopefully prevent it from happening again, there may be a disdainful temptation by some on social media to profit from this tragedy in the form of dramatically increased views or readership. The thought of it disgusts me. It turns my stomach to think of it now, and I want nothing to do with that kind of pseudo-altruism. And, of course, this blog has been a means to disseminate potential insights into human metabolism and physiology. I am a budding scientist, not a source of pop-culture news. I didn't want to put anyone off by appearing political, and changing the course and tone of the dialogue so dramatically. But the longer I sit in silence and contemplate the nature of this unspeakable act, solemn and alone in the recesses of my mind, the more I realize how wrong it would be to say nothing, to let the events of the previous week fall away without acknowledging the simultaneous seriousness and senselessness of it all, and reconciling how lonely and petrified it has since made me feel. As distasteful as it may be for some of us who would like instead to forget that this happened and move forward with their lives, without having to relive the idea of it, we mustn't rush to dismiss all that lies in the wake of this terrifying ordeal. And some of us do not have the luxury of putting it on a shelf, out of sight, and forgetting that it happened.
Though I might otherwise have a lot more to say about this, from a variety of intellectual vantage points, I will spare you the vast majority of it, as I would rather sit beside you in a grassy field on a clear day and iron out the finer details of our thought processes, together, as fellow human beings. As a couple of short-lived creatures with an equal platform. Since that's clearly an impossibility, I should like instead to touch briefly on a few key things that have plagued my mind, and how this horrific tragedy, which will go down as one of the worst mass shootings in our country's history, has made me feel, as a member of the LGBT+ community.
I want to preface the remainder of this post by saying that I have not been directly affected by this event, in the sense that I did not lose any friends or loved ones at the hands of the killer, and I would never in my wildest dreams pretend to equivocate the pain this is causing me with the agony the victims in Orlando must be going through. I honestly cannot even begin to comprehend this from that standpoint, and I hope to God to never be forced to. That said, although I live over a thousand miles away from the Pulse nightclub, I have been powerfully affected by this tragedy (as have millions of others), albeit indirectly, as an openly out and proud gay man. It may be difficult to imagine why this should be the case, but I think it is true for many people in my community, at this time. For some, you may already have an all-too-intimate familiarity with the feeling of the desperate isolation and misunderstanding that comes with being "different" from the people around you. Friends, family and colleagues may conform to a certain normative standard, but you... well, you've always been different in some not insignificant way. To those of you that have been fortunate enough to have escaped the agony and social pressure to conform - even when conforming is not in the cards for you - which others of us have been forced to endure from a young age, please allow me to paint you a picture of how terrifying that life can be.
As an impressionable young child, vulnerable to the vicious mental attacks made by so many people around you, sometimes unwittingly, you are often made to feel as though the traits that make you different are not things that make you special, but chinks in your armor, the bits and pieces of your soul that are rotten and should be changed wherever possible. This has a tendency to make you wish you were someone else, someone "normal," whatever that means. Cut to adulthood, where you have spent the last few decades of your life trying to emulate the status quo, misappropriating masculinity where there was little before, or femininity where it feels unclean and un-You, adopting an idealized sense of self that has been forced upon you, because what you are inside has been conceptualized as wrong, or even bad. As a gay person, it is not uncommon for one to feel as though everyone walking past us on the street believes us to be perverted pedophiles, just itching at the opportunity to get our grimy hands on some poor unsuspecting children - whether or not this is in fact what they happen to think. Thankfully, times appear to be changing, what with the recent Supreme Court ruling to federally legalize gay marriage, etc., but the unfortunate fact is that the mental image you are cultivating was and often still is the reality for those of us a few standard deviations away from the mean.
As a gay man who has grown up in a relatively conservative, rural part of the northeastern United States, I have been hit, harangued, bullied, kicked, spit on, and called names I don't particularly care to repeat on more occasions than you might imagine. I have been physically and emotionally abused and taken advantage of, robbing me too soon of my innocence in a manner that took me ten years of therapy to process through and recover from. I have spent many of the precious days and nights of my teens imaging what, if anything, it might be like on the other side of Life. There are still states in this country where it is legal for the employer of a gay person to fire them for their sexual orientation, as if their proclivities in the bedroom have anything at all to do with their successful performance on the job, and there are no laws in place in those states to protect them. There are still states that refuse to allow LGBT people to adopt children who need stable, loving homes, because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Some of you might feel inclined to cry out, "This is the 21st Century, for God's sake, what's going on!" I understand it's difficult to wrap your head around, if you are on the progressive side, and of course I agree with you, but as these words leave your lips, gay men and women are being slaughtered and stoned to death in real time in other parts of the world. It is a crime to be who they are in some countries. Just take a moment to imagine that, would you? To walk this earth knowing that the very essence of who you are is punishable by imprisonment or death. But don't be fooled. In no way is this strictly a third-world affair. Violent crimes and various other physically and socially aggressive acts are committed against members of this community, on a daily basis in the purportedly "civilized" western parts of the world, as well. And, from the standpoint of policy, We the United States are regressing as a nation, with bills passing to limit the rights of transgender individuals to use the bathroom they feel safest and most comfortable using, and the ability of gay consumers to take advantage of certain business establishments in the same way that their straight peers would be allowed to do. (Imagine refusing service to an Asian person because she was Asian, or going back to the dark days of black and white segregation. Would you turn away a black person because he was black? I thought not. So why is it okay for us to accept policies that would do the same to a gay person, because they happen to be a member of the LGBT+ community? It is not a choice. If it were, I can attest from personal experience, only a Munchausen's patient would seek it out!)
I'm not even legally allowed to donate blood to help save lives, unless I have been celibate for 12 months or more. Despite the daunting and undeniable fact that we are now entering a blood crisis, particularly in the wake of tragedies like the Orlando shooting, and the lab techs and pathologists test the blood extensively, anyway, I am still seen as too much of a risk to donate, even though I am a safe, exceptionally healthy, non-promiscuous and exclusively monogamous individual, and none of the victims who have survived can give blood at the hospitals in order to help save their friends. This is an utter travesty! As a gay man in particular, I am viewed by our healthcare policy-makers and politicians as significantly less than former prostitutes and IV drug users. But people don't hate or discriminate against gay people anymore, right? Where is the outrage!
When I eventually came to terms with who I am, and finally understood that I was not alone and I could actually build a life worth living, predicated not on who I was told I should be, but who I felt I needed to be on the inside, I felt an unburdening of proportions there will never be sufficient words to describe. I'm sure this resonates with many people in my community. I do not pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, but this seems to be a common theme with the "It Gets Better" movement; self-acceptance, other-acceptance and life-acceptance has led to an unimaginable improvement in the quality of my life (and probably the quantity, if I'm being honest with myself). Still, a great many of us are not as lucky as I have been to grow from these experiences, both positive and negative, and make it out the other side alive, where the birds of life can be found singing once again. So, you might imagine how horrifying it is for us to know that the one place which is ours, the one place for those of us who have been so lucky, to be able to seek refuge from the pressure of societal conformity, and the perpetual angst we feel to reign in who we really are on behalf of a shell of ourselves we don't really believe in - our sanctuaries, so to speak - no longer feels like the haven of safety and protection it ought to. It's not about dancing and loud music, it's not the thumpa-thumpa of the subwoofers and the glittering lights sparkling about the room. It's not about the muscles and the madness, or the party. It's about the fact that being in a room full of people like yourself, where you should get to feel perfectly safe and happy, elicits a cascade of warm emotions truly difficult to explain adequately, which set our souls on fire, and make us feel as though we have finally come home.
As the days after this terrible shooting trudge by, as if swimming through thickened mud, I am left imagining a scene where my friends and I go out for a Friday night and dance to the beat of the music, under the incessant flashing green lights, barely illuminating the room for but a second, feeling the heat of a hundred sweaty, smiling men and women all jumping up and down within a 600 square foot space, when those obnoxious hip-hop gunshot sounds go off in the song, because the DJ happened to have missed a set of them when (s)he was wiping them from their records. Everyone ducks and screams, terrified we are going to die. Heartbeats pounding in our ears, lungs on fire, we all look down and around at each other, checking for blood. Tears immediately streak from our eyes, as the DJ shuts off the music and apologizes profusely for the mishap. Was it a mistake to come back so soon?
Or perhaps our previously steadfast belief that everyone in that bar is just like us will go soaring out the window, and we won't be able to dance freely with other men and women, meeting new friends, new lovers, new brothers and sisters with the same ease, because we may not be able to shake that intense feeling of fear that we don't really know them. What if they are not actually like us? Can we ever really know anyone? What if they want to see me dead? Are they going to be the next mass murderer? How could I know one way or the other? Are there signs I should be able to pick up on? Are they putting on an act, to get me to let down my guard? Can I... let my guard down? Where's my sister, is she still here? I can't see her anymore....
Other than the streets of Key West, West Hollywood or Provincetown, LGBT-specific establishments such as Pulse are some of the only places in the world where we have been able to feel safe, truly ourselves, and now all of us will be left with a hole in our hearts that may never again be filled in quite the same way.
Late on the 12th of this month, a young mother received a text from her son, from a bathroom stall, where he is hiding from the shooter, who is just outside the door. The text reads: "I love you mommy." After asking whether or not he was okay, he responds that "he's coming," and "I'm going to die." The assailant entered the restroom and killed him and the others seeking refuge in the stalls beside him.
One of the young female patrons was a mere 18 years old. She had dreams of earning a college degree, and was said to be one of the happiest and kindest girls her family and friends had ever had the pleasure of knowing. She is now dead, because of one hateful individual with an agenda.
A boy recently came out to his mother, and, afraid that she would not accept him, was relieved when she expressed acceptance after all. To demonstrate this to him, to prove her love and affection, she was actually in attendance, dancing with him at the Pulse nightclub. Fortunately, the young boy survived the attack. His mother, on the other hand, was killed in the crossfire. Can you imagine having only recently come to accept that you are a gay man, and then because of a demonstration of support for your new identity, your loving mother is murdered over it? How is that poor young man supposed to go on from this, and not harbor the resentful feeling that who he is got his mother killed? Of course, we all know implicitly that this is clearly not the case. But do you really suppose that he will be able to think that rationally about it? (If so, you should consider spending some time observing the irrational fears and resentments that worm their way into peoples' psyches, which rear their ugly heads during psychotherapy.)
Some of the victims of the shooting had presumably not come out to their loved ones, because many of those in our community still keep knowledge of this limited or exclusive to a few select confidantes. Members of their family did not know they were involved in the incident, but also couldn't have fathomed learning that not only was their child keeping a life-changing secret from them out of fear that they would not be accepted, they were murdered and now were never coming home again. The thought that this child's mother will never be able to hold him or her in her arms and tell them that they will always be loved, and that they could never be a disappointment to them, is heartbreaking.
One man was said to have held his partner's hand while he died. His partner of three years bled out and died before him, and he could do nothing to stop it, but lie beside him and simultaneously pray that he wasn't next, and then presumably feel terrible pangs of guilt that he felt that way, while his partner's life quickly drained from his body as he waited for the shrieks of horror and the pop, pop, pop of the rapid gunfire to subside.
I will agree that, first and foremost, this tragic mass shooting is an attack against humanity, for we are all human beings. In some ways, it may also be an attack on America, or at least all that She hypothetically stands for. This kind of extremist perspective (whether religiously-fixated or not) isn't exclusively anti-gay, it is anti-everything unlike itself. So, yes. Naturally, anyone who shares these so-called "American ideals" - whether American or not - was the intended target. But setting these important acknowledgements aside, please do not downplay the powerful impact this massacre has had and will continue to have on LGBT+ people all around the world, for all the reasons I've alluded to, and many more I have not, and the fact that it was directed explicitly at us. As well as being a crime against humanity, this was indeed a hate crime, and it has sent devastating shockwaves throughout the LGBT+ community that, at least in this moment, is hard to envision fully recovering from. This is the fear that currently pulsates through my veins, as I write this.
The ultimate point of my writing this, however, is to rise up and say that we cannot let this defeat us. I do not mean for this to be aimed exclusively at my fellow LGBT+ community members alone; I say this as a reminder to us all. The principle objective of terrorists is exactly that, to terrorize. We must not allow ourselves to fall victim to the fear mongering that is essential to their cause, or we are actually supporting their ability to cause more death, mayhem and civil destruction!
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that I am afraid. It would be a lie to suggest otherwise. I am terrified, right now. I've also been confused as to what to do, next; where do we go from here? After this attack, I walk the streets of my city differently. I think many of us are doing so, regardless of whether or not we happen to be a gay person. But, when an act like this is directed at your brothers and sisters, your kin, in this way, when who you are on the inside has three inch bullet holes in it, it's difficult to raise your stare from the ground as you pass people by and not wonder if they might be one of those who thinks the world would be a better place without you in it.
Side Note: To the ultra-conservative, regressive, right-wing politicians - and, of course, the mentally handicapped within the group; looking right at you, Mr. Trump - who, instead of doing anything helpful, have turned to parading around like buffoons on television, pretending to offer up their pathetic, insincere "condolences," while having spent the rest of the year working their tails off to prevent us from being able to use whichever bathroom we feel most comfortable and tirelessly trying to revoke the laws that allow us to marry the ones we love, I would like to offer up a big 'ol fuck you. You can keep your condolences. I, for one, don't give a rats ass about your favorability ratings, and I doubt anyone in Orlando does either. You don't see us as equals, and never have, so don't pretend to now. It doesn't become you. This senseless massacre doesn't change that. It's just a ploy for you to reign in some sympathy votes, and no one is buying it. You come across a little like an opportunistic infection in that way. If you truly meant these otherwise seemingly kind words, it would be a meaningful gesture of standing beside Orlando and the LGBT+ community in solidarity, but that's not what this is, and you do a shitty job of hiding it. It's a means to an end. We are not your means, but ends in ourselves. These are our lives. Just do your damn job and shut the fuck up. (As for those select few of you that may have had an awakening after this tragic event, I applaud your new insights; welcome to the reality where we are human beings, too. It's good to have you.)
It is with a heavy heart that I have spent the last few days thinking about what has happened to the victims involved in this tragedy. The resultant casualties have been immense, the pain our fellow man must be feeling is gut-wrenching and unimaginable.
I grieve for those people of Orlando who were killed in the shooting, ripped from life long before their time. I grieve for their families and loved ones, who must now arrange funerals for those people they never in a million years would have imagined they'd be burying early. I grieve for the people in my community, both here in the United States and abroad. I grieve for my family, especially my mother; no mother should ever have to beg her son not to go out dancing, because there's a chance he might never come home again. I grieve for myself, because I have, at least transiently, wondered whether my city might be next; whether I might be caught in the next shower of bullets. I have spent too many hours, as of late, contemplating how lucky I am that it didn't happen in my city, and subsequently feeling pangs of guilt for thinking it. It could have been me and my friends. It wasn't, but it could just as easily have been us.... And I grieve knowing that there are still many thousands of people out there who cheer this callous and inhumane behavior on, and wish it to continue. I feel very sad for them. To me, they are pitiable. I know that if they had their way, they wouldn't hesitate to do the same to me, and to my friends, all because we're supportive of the "gay agenda." Which agenda is that, pray tell? The fight for individual liberty and a life of happiness? Well, if that's the cause, I would choose to stand up and fight every single day for the rest of my days to secure that. I would die for it, should it ever come to that, because I could never accept living in a world where my basic human rights are denied, on the grounds that I refused to pretend to be somebody I am not. I will live free, or I will die free, but I will remain free. No one will ever again take from me what took a lifetime of struggle to realize.
There is room enough in this world for all of us, irrespective of our religious, sexual, cultural, and socioeconomic differences in belief and backgrounds. But, whoever we are, the fundamental platform from which we base our lives should not be predicated on hate and remorse, but on compassion, helpfulness and understanding. As do all human beings, we each deserve to be happy, to be loved, and to live a life of freedom, unafraid to be who we really are.
From my vantage point, I feel we mustn't stoop to the level of those who should seek to destroy us, for we are better than that. We are and should continue to be better. I understand the weapons are not identical, but perhaps the best way to combat their message of hate is with one of love. After all, we will get nowhere fighting hate with hate, we'll only propagate a further propagandized message into future generations of brainwashed individuals who have bought into the lies that have been sold to them about our nature.
Now is the time for grief. So, let us grieve. Let us mourn the loss of our fellow men and women, whether they be gay, straight or any of the myriad forms we humans take. But then, whenever that time should come - and it may be different for each of us - let us (each and every one of us), stand together and abolish the victim mentality that people like this shallow-minded, mentally disturbed murderer and his sympathizers should like to force upon us. We will not be victimized. But neither can we resort similarly to hate, lest we become precisely like these contemptible terrorists, and, again, they will have won. We must keep our dignity intact. We must strengthen our resolve. We must unify and come together. We must prioritize love above all else, and protect and help one another through this trying time, and the many yet to come.
I don't know that any of the victims of this attack will ever find themselves reading this, and, frankly, I would almost rather they didn't, so they might begin to move on and find some kind of solace and inner peace following this tragic horror story they have been living. However, should any of them be reading these words, I say only this directly to them: Although there are no words that could ever satiate the ache left in the wake of this horrible tragedy, I want to express my deepest sympathies for what has happened, my undying and unconditional love for you and your family, and apologize from the depths of my soul for all the hurt you must be feeling. I wish there was something, anything, I could do to right this wrong, to take away your pain, and to bring your loved ones back.
Let us all remember the love we feel for those we have lost, but not memorialize the fear and panic that is meant to scare us all into conforming back into what we have fought so desperately to break free of in the past.
If you are a straight person reading this, please understand that no matter where you happen to be from, or who you are, there may be multiple LGBT+ people in your life who are silently afflicted with an unspoken fear, anger and terrifying loneliness they may not be able to put into words, and it will not pay to brush this act of domestic terror off as though the hate crime part of it is of little concern, because, let me assure you, it means everything to them right now.
Our trust is broken, our faith obliterated. But, in the face of terror, we must unite and stand stronger than ever.
Let us find the capacity to forgive, but never forget.
Rest in peace, my friends.
With love to you all, whoever and wherever you should be.
- Ian Lane