Like many of you, my Sunday morning was rocked by nightmarish headlines. I left one dream for what seemed like another, only this one coldly caressed my senses in the way chilling realizations often do. If you are a feeling thing, a being of empathy, you’ve known this sensation. It’s the feeling that follows sad truths and at first bears no apparent purpose, only it becomes meaningful later on in life. It’s the feeling of hugging a close one, after watching them hurt earlier. The feeling of breaking through the film of willful and blissful ignorance; the feeling of waking up, only there is no more air to breathe as your world is now submerged in the waters of anxiety. It always feels like the beginning; it always feels like the end.
Queer communities are small and our circles are never truly as large as we think. For so many of us, the name of a victim is only an acquaintance away. We shirked the pain away when babies died in Sandy Hook, because though we knew it was sad and that it likely hurt, the tragedy was still a world away. San Bernardino appeared to be the same. It has taken shooting after shooting to build the armor many Americans don when confronted with true tales of tragedy. Our protective shells have allowed us to intellectualize the senseless, project blame on institutions we’ve long been suspicious of, criticize the human condition, devalue it, or to forget it altogether.
Still, with the Orlando massacre--and this is what we are describing: a massacre--even though the losses in a great Southern queer mecca demand to be held close, we have failed to transcend those defenses. We have failed to ignore the rhetoric of those politicians and demagogues who made these deaths possible. We have failed to fuel our anger until the flames rise high enough to form the incendiary beast of change. Orlando did not just lose 49 people (the shooter is the 50th victim), Orlando lost the equivalent of a limb. A limb which was part of a collective Queer body, that dared to thrive in the semi-rural and intolerant atmosphere of Northern Florida.
This shooting. It’s different.
Queer lives have not known value in America for quite some time. Even now when our rights are beginning to make themselves known as inalienable, the political coliseum pits American disdain for the lively, irreverent, and deviant against the Queer desire to simply exist and thrive. We have been at the center of a dog-fight serving to distract the collective eye from the real missteps of American leadership. This has forced me to acknowledge that religion--regardless of my ideological condemnations of its sheer existence--is not to blame. And it is not just Queers who should remember this as it is also imperative that anyone who feels immense sadness at this tragedy do so as well.
American policy--both domestic and foreign--has forced the new normal of mass shootings to take on its present vibrancy. There is no singular cause for the perfect Dionysian mating of so many failures that late night at Pulse. It’s important that we avoid the temptation to blame any one institution for what happened, otherwise none will be truly accountable as they’ll attempt to shift blame endlessly. The deregulation of guns and a perpetually emboldened NRA are what made it possible for Omar Mateen to purchase a .223 caliber AR type rifle and 9mm semiautomatic pistol legally, even though he was previously investigated by the FBI twice.
The Bush administration's blatant imperialist and exploitative play on the collective American pain stirred by 9/11 that gave way to the War in Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein is why Omar Mateen became radicalized by Daesh. After the war, the Fertile Crescent collapsed to form a power vacuum which gave way to the rise of what was then considered a Sunni liberation army. This was in response to the birth of a corrupt Shi’ite government in Baghdad following American occupation. By the way, that liberation army I mentioned? They’d prefer you call them the Islamic State.
The GOP’s exploitation of middle-American morality, which has been their de-facto political strategy since Reagan announced his allegiance to Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority is why Omar Mateen saw little value in the lives of the Queer people he murdered, why he was able to purchase assault weapons, why Governor Rick Scott refuses to acknowledge the Queerness of those who were murdered in Pulse Nightclub, and why seeing two men kiss angered him enough to kill 49 people. Mateen was driven to Daesh by the very rhetoric that the GOP has pushed to retain the Christian votes that have kept their party afloat since the Reagan administration. Is it so hard to believe that a known abuser was driven to more extreme measures only after he was bathed in the bigoted waters of American right-wing politics? If American bigotry wasn’t potent enough to keep Mateen’s appetite for scapegoats alive, certainly Daesh offered something a little bit stronger.
Perhaps the most crucial thing I will ever write this year is that these factors have long been subjects of derision by the free and developed world for a reason: Orlando has always loomed on the horizon. It truly was a matter of time before rhetoric, bad policy, and misguided religious interests led to a great modern tragedy.
So to all of the Queers who may have cried with their friends in a bar yesterday, to all of the Queers who aren’t even old enough to get into a WUSSY event without a fake, I want you to remember this: you are not safe in America. You are not safe anywhere. No one is safe until something changes. Cry today, cry tomorrow, but eventually you must get angry. I beg that you do not let go of this anger. The tragedy at Pulse may have the distinction as the worst shooting in U.S. history, but it is not the first time we lost Queer people en masse due to poor policy and religious bigotry.
Do not forget this and above all, do not forgive this country for failing to protect us time and time again.
Zaida J. is currently a Features Editor here at WUSSY and a self-described transgender loud mouth.
Image created by Eric Randall Morris. 50 flowers for 50 lives lost.