No, we’re not okay, but thank you for asking.
In the wake of our nation’s largest mass shooting ever, and largest terrorist attack since September 11th, 2001, the words “LGBT hate crime” might not be the first you use. They weren’t the first words the news used in their headlines, or on your screens. They weren’t the words Florida Governor Rick Scott used when he held a press conference telling the world that his constituency was in a state of emergency.
But those are the words we use.
The phrase used to be “gay bashing”, then was shortened just to “bashing” to save time, because the phrase needed to be used so often, as the event was so common. But that wasn’t a word people outside of the gay community knew, or used. It felt like any other slang word we used, and if used within earshot of a straight person, would have to be explained (this is before you could look up what “twink” meant on urbandictionary without having to tell anyone you did so).
We don’t use that word much anymore, opting instead for “hate crime”, to match the legal expression describing when someone commits violence against us for who we love. Of course, in 20 of our 50 states, gay people are not protected under any hate crime laws, so qualifying an attack on someone purely for being gay as a “hate crime” will still need some explanation, depending on where it occurred. Luckily, one of the 30 states where the law says hate crimes can take place against gay people, happens to be Florida, so we can more assuredly call bullshit on anyone refusing to use that expression this time.
Yes, it was Orlando, Florida, a city like any other in America, where a mass LGBT hate crime occurred this week, in a bar, like any other in America. Except this is different. This is a gay bar. This is a place people afraid to be themselves out of fear of reprisal, often violent, can feel safe. This wasn’t just a bar, this is literally one of our sanctuaries, and it was holy to those inside. This is an attack on every single one of us, and on our lives.
Anyone who is gay in this country probably received messages from straight friends and family members, like I did, saying something along the lines of “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Are you okay? I am here if you need to talk.”
The answer is no, we are not okay.
We appreciate your messages, and your concern, and you should know that likely less than 10 percent of the straight people we know sent us any message at all. You stood out, and we will never forget that you were the one who knew they had to say something, even if you didn’t know what to say. And we understand that, too. We’ve grown up in a place where we are expected to suffer in silence, not only to be ashamed of who and what we are, but that our suffering is brought onto ourselves. Adults, and not just in this context, often find it far easier to say nothing at all than to say “I don’t know what to say”.
As men, we are raised by society and our family not to cry, not to show emotion, and to lack empathy. Being a man has been defined as being emotionless, being unnervingly immune to the horrors of everyday life, and being unwaveringly insensitive. And that’s not just applicable to straight men, but to all men. We know you don’t know how to reach out and show concern and sadness, because we’ve all been trained not to, as well. And gay people suffer badly among ourselves as a result.
Being effeminate, or doing anything normally associated with the female gender role that society has archetyped, not only makes you less of a man in society’s eyes, it makes you less attractive in the gay world. We’re so fucked up that we hate each other for the things that society at large hates us for, and we’re so brainwashed that those doing it can’t even see it.
And no one questions it.
There is a noticeable lack of adjectives like “unbelievable”, “unimaginable”, “unthinkable”, and “unfathomable” being used to describe what happened in Orlando. And that’s because we all believe it. We all imagined it. We all thought it. We all fathomed it. Gay and straight people share one thing in the wake of this killing: we aren’t surprised.
Normally I am incensed when people ask for motive after a mass shooting. The motive is not only usually irrelevant, it’s often deeply contrived by someone who is suffering tremendous mental illness, and then it’s misconstrued and perverted by the public for their own politicization. We can’t understand how the killer in Connecticut was so sick that he walked into a classroom and massacred 20 children he had never met. We don’t know how to understand that; we don’t know how to empathize with someone suffering that level of illness. We don’t know how to imagine the screaming of children, and pulling a trigger to make it stop.
Yet we have no problem whatsoever understanding and empathizing when we hear the motive in Orlando was the killer seeing two men kiss. That we get. That we understand. It’s not hard to imagine how someone has come to revile same sex love to that level. We grew up in this country, too. This is a very familiar concept. We hate on ourselves for it, constantly.
The murderer in Orlando most likely suffered, as is often the case, from internalized self-loathing over his own same sex attraction. He grew up in a world where he was taught that was something be ashamed of. Something that the popular, authoritative religion of where he lived unequivocally categorized as sin, and would cause him to cruelly suffer for in eternity if he acted upon it.
I’m not talking about Afghanistan, and I’m not talking about Islam — I’m talking about the United States of America, and I’m talking about Christianity.
The killer was 29 years old, and was born in this country. He had held the same job since 2007. He was bombarded, daily, by bumper stickers with bible verses, by large crosses outside arena-sized churches that dominate the landscape, and by vitriolic hate masked in a guise that perverted the teachings of Christ in the worst way. The bible says, above all else, don’t judge one another, love one another, don’t act as a moral authority, don’t speak on behalf of God, you’re not better than anyone else, and the way to combat wickedness is through love and acceptance.
Yet people calling themselves Christians feel empowered to tell gay people they are sinners, that they deserve to die, and they are going to hell, because of who they love.
Even worse, he was surrounded by politicians telling him that gay people don’t deserve to be married, because of that same bible. That gay people can’t raise children, to the point that orphans are better off unsupported than they are with two mothers. That transgender people should be barred from using public restrooms, because they are sexual predators that victimize children.
This is a state where a man murdered a boy in cold blood because the color of his black skin stirred up insecurity-driven hate the man was harboring inside. And that state then told all of us that the man was justified in using a gun, to murder a boy he did not know, to combat his own fear. That his fear was a justifiable reason to murder someone he didn’t know with a gun. And that’s exactly what the killer in Orlando did as well.
When you live in our society and you watch our news, it makes all the sense in the world that someone would do this. And the most fucked up part? Straight people understand how he was driven to the point of mass murder — but gay people actually sympathize with his pain.
He murdered 50 of us. Fifty. And on some level, we feel empathy because we all know his pain. We know what he was going through. We know what hating yourself for being gay is like. We know what society teaches us growing up. Even those of us privileged enough to grow up in progressive areas, with supportive parents, know exactly what he was feeling. It’s not that hard for us to imagine how a lifelong, closeted 29 year old man hated himself so much, that seeing two proud, happy gay men kiss filled him with enough jealousy and wrath to want to hurt as many proud, gay men as he could. That’s how fucked up this is: the easiest way for us to rationalize why he killed fifty of us, was because he hated himself so much for being one of us. Most of the victims in Orlando were Latino; these were immigrants, or the children or grandchildren of immigrants, just like the shooter, and they lived in the same city. They were his neighbors, his coworkers, and his classmates. They were him living the life he was too afraid to.
He saw himself in the victims. He was killing himself. He was finishing a job he had been doing for 29 years: erasing the gay man he was on the inside.
And we don’t expect you to get that.
What seems horrible to you, and yet another in a long string of mass shootings, quickly fades into the rest. This is a culture problem, this is gun problem, this is a mental illness problem, and this isn’t even the worst shooting to take place this year by body count. After the initial grieving, the political interests start to cannibalize each other, and it’s quickly back to the NBA Finals or Game of Thrones, because the best way to forget about the horrors of the world is to immerse yourself in other things, and talking seems beyond hopeless at this point.
It felt more tragic when Parisian tourists were murdered outside of a restaurant, or when churchgoers were shot in a prayer meeting. You’ve been on vacation, you’ve been to church; those are things you can relate to, you can see yourself in those victims. You can’t see yourself dancing at a gay bar with young Latino men at 2 in the morning.
This happened to people who always knew they were putting themselves in danger just by being who they were. You’ve never feared getting attacked just because of who you were, and you understand why certain people can be driven to attacking certain groups.
And we get that. And we get that you don’t realize this is so much more for us.
We know what happened Saturday night kept someone in the closet. We know someone was planning to come out to their family on Sunday, and didn’t. We know how debilitating being in the closet is, and how hard it is to come out, even to yourself. The concept of coming out to yourself is a monumental moment of progress and self discovery for gay people, and straight people largely don’t even realize that it’s a thing that takes place.
Someone out there decided when they woke up Sunday morning that they should continue pretending to be straight. That it was a safer and more reasonable decision than being themselves, and telling their families who they are. And we know the time lost before (if ever) they feel that way again, can never be regained.
You won’t meet a gay man who regrets coming out. You won’t meet a gay man who thinks he came out too soon. You won’t meet a gay man who doesn’t wish he had come out sooner. You carry that regret and those questions with you for the rest of your life. What would high school have been like if I was out? Who would my friends be? Where would I be living? What would I be doing? Those questions never go away. And now someone will be asking them, who wouldn’t have been.
We know what happened Saturday night kept someone from going to a gay bar for the first time. They were going to feel comfortable being who they were, they were going to see other people like them. They were going to know they weren’t alone, and they don’t have to fear being who they are. And now they won’t.
We know how crushing that isolation and loneliness is. A lot of us know someone who was so crushed by it, they decided the best and most reasonable course of action was to kill themselves. We know that a gay bar could have literally saved someone’s life. And now it won’t.
We know what happened Saturday night will keep two men from holding hands or displaying affection to one another publicly, in ways that straight people do without giving a second thought. I was reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a college-aged, closeted gay man living in Mississippi. He told me he had never seen a gay person in his life. I found it inconceivable that someone could actually believe that, even if they had never seen someone who was obviously gay.
From that day forward, I tried to always hold hands or give my dates and boyfriends affection in public, knowing that there could be a closeted teenage boy seeing it, and knowing he’s not so alone in the world. And now, somewhere in America, there’s a 15 year old gay boy thinking about committing suicide, who won’t see those two guys holding hands, because they fear for their safety, and for his safety. That boy will go to sleep tonight, still thinking he’s never seen a gay person, and that killing himself would be easier than being so alone in this world.
These are the reasons this is different for us.
No one isn’t going to eat outside at restaurants on vacation because of what happened in Paris. No one is going to skip going to church because of what happened in Charleston. No one isn’t sending their kids to school because of what happened in Sandy Hook, or countless other towns and cities. No one isn’t going to the movies because of what happened in Aurora.
But people are now terrified, literally for their life, of holding the hand of someone they love, or going to a bar filled with people like them.
That’s why it’s so hard for us to move on. That’s why, while we appreciate your reaching out, it’s very difficult to talk about what we’re going through with straight people, even ones that know us very well. That’s why, when we see you mourning Prince, or Christina Grimmie, for several days, and talk about the anguish it caused, it’s so upsetting to then see you have an easier time moving on from what happened in Orlando. That’s why when you question our feelings, we become outraged, or shut ourselves off from sharing our feelings with those we know won’t understand.
My mother called me yesterday morning, and I could not convince her I was okay. She was extremely concerned for my well being and emotional state following what happened. She knew it was different this time. What she didn’t understand, was why, at the end of the conversation, she should not have said one sentence: “I’m glad you don’t go to gay bars.”
She doesn’t understand what being gay means, she doesn’t understand what a gay bar is. She doesn’t understand that I wish we had gay bars closer to where I live, and that even if I don’t like going to gay dance clubs, I know they serve a vital and life-saving role in our community. I remember last June my father saying to me “I understand being gay, but why do they need a parade?”, and having to explain to him how it saves people’s lives who have no exposure to other gay people.
After Columbine, my mother wouldn’t have told me she was glad I skipped school the next day. In all my years complaining about going to school, and later on when I got very good at skipping class, she never expressed how relieved she was about it. After Aurora, she never told me she was glad I didn’t like going to the movies (which is true). After countless attacks on synagogues and Jewish Community Centers, she not only didn’t tell me she was glad I never went to Temple, but urged me to go with her to services, or encouraged me to start attending the Temple where I live. She has never expressed concern that I own and wear an Israeli army shirt. She would be horrified if I didn’t loudly and proudly talk about my father fighting in the Israeli army in the Six Day War in 1967. She would never encourage me to hide, or lie about, or keep my faith and heritage suppressed.
But she doesn’t realize there’s anything wrong or different about telling me, after the worst hate crime in this country’s history, that she’s glad I don’t go to gay bars.
We know you don’t get it. We know you can’t understand what we’re going through. We know you can’t imagine what we are feeling.
We don’t expect you to.
What we do expect is you to support us. Vote for marriage equality. Vote for gay people being allowed to adopt kids. Vote for hate crime protections. Vote for outlawing LGBT discrimination in workplaces and housing, which is still widely allowed under the law. Vote to allow transgender people to identify how they choose, and all the things that come with it.
And please, I am begging you, stop saying our love is a sin.
Just support us. Just love us. Just treat us the way you treat everyone else. That’s all we ask.