The murders at Pulse’s Latinx night in Orlando on June 11-12, 2016 were the largest massacre on US soil since the US Cavalry opened fire on the Lakota at Wounded Knee Creek just over a century ago.
More so, the erasure of Latinx/Indigenous, transgender and Black queers by the gaystream from the Stonewall Riots of decades ago until today should should not be allowed to go unchallenged. And as the video released from Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement puts it: “It is the system that created this violence since colonization started over 500 years ago.” Queering means dispensing with conventional categories as a matter of survival.
Those on mainstream media who are arguing that it was simply an attack on “people enjoying themselves” or that its significance is some abstract idea about guns and, worse, ‘mental health’ are—let’s be blunt—protecting their queerphobia with a liberal shield of abstract universality and a false enactment of ‘reasonableness.’ I wish I had better words than ‘homophobia’ or even ‘queerphobia’ to describe the hatred that gives rise to this violence. It simply does not make sense to me to depict those actions in psychological terms as emerging from fear, however irrational or phobic. Do people who are phobic about elevators go around destroying elevators so no one else can use them? If we are to talk about fear, I can assure you that most queer people are afraid of straight people, in one way or another. And today and in the coming days, that fear has been amplified. Here is an excerpt from a blog (I am unsure whether I should link to it more widely, but it is important to read):
this is what every family values candidate wants. this is what every person signing off on a bathroom bill wants. this is what every person who won’t let their kid join the GSA, or stands on the corner with a hate sign at pride, or calls for annie on my mind to be removed from the school library – this is what they want. they’re being coy about it, say it’s about families, about safety, but this is what they want. it’s not that they don’t want us to be happy – they don’t want us to be safe. they want us to be terrorized, always. they want us dead. that’s all they want. they want our deaths and the deaths of people who help us and the deaths in the cradle of anyone who might grow up to be us. and they have the tools to do it, with their trappings of power and their dishonest reading of the second amendment. i thought i was done being afraid for myself, but i was kidding myself. there is no end to the fear, not if you are lgbt. there is no end in sight.
If you think these fears are unreasonable, think again more carefully.
The course of popular culture as represented in sometimes presumably ‘progressive’ tv series over the last two years has been replete with dreams of queers being killed off, in many cases by a stray bullet. So pronounced has this trend become in the first months of 2016—with around 18 queer fictional characters dispatched offscreen through violence already—that the renewed impetus given to the previously routine ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope of screenwriting had been redubbed ‘The Great Gay Massacre of 2k16.’
Currently on television, 4 percent of characters identify as LGBT. In 2016, about 40 percent of that 4 percent have already died. Yesterday, that might’ve been the issue I wanted to discuss. Yesterday, I might’ve been angry about fictional gays dying. Yesterday. Art imitates life, life imitates art, and I am tired. [x]
While a fictional dreamscape does not of course always materialize as a massacre, let alone the largest mass shooting in recent US history, the surge in the use of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope in that imaginary is nevertheless indicative of a surge in hatred. What would be the point of pretending otherwise? However oblique or symbolic that violence has been, it is difficult to argue that it has not also been prescient and, outside of fandom and parts of the media industry, has passed largely unnoticed or been accompanied by an array of excuses and denials.
Denials seem to be the order of the day. But as many have been pointing out, with increasing frustration, Pulse in Orlando was hosting a night celebrating queer and transgender Latinx/Indigenous people when the shooting occurred. Indeed, Pulse has been notable for involving many queers for whom the issues of race, gender and sexuality cannot be pressed into neat, separable categories but in which the absence of comparability and the irreducibility of diversity is what it means to be queer. And while many will want to squeeze the deaths at Pulse into the convenience of a national insecurity story that tightens a Manichean rivalry between Christians and Muslims until we all pick a mutually-conditioned side, it seems to me that the distance between the rampaging 7th Cavalry in the Miniconjou encampment and the killing spree of a G4S security guard in a Latinx/Indigenous queer night is not so great and far more explanatory. As it is, I refuse to take my analytical cues from the grandiose stories and categorical essences a variety of bigots furnish for themselves and peddle, or those for whom the presumably spontaneous first (and second and only) reactions to the news was to declare their allegiances to either Muslims or Christians (as if this was indeed the issue or relevant to those who died or were injured at Pulse). To understand what happened at Pulse’s Latinx night, I prefer to look instead at what those events tell us about a murderous universalism that insists on reaching violently into even the smallest of spaces that ‘minorities’ are pressed into and that, as it turns out, are not so much guaranteed to be safer as they are smaller.
As we know from the passage of recent laws in the southern part of the US, even a toilet cubicle is not small enough that it will not precipitate a legitimated, violent response by some to the presence of trans* and gender diverse people. In this sense, the murders at Pulse are an unnecessary reminder that the very existence of queer people, and queer Latinx/Indig, Black, Muslim and trans* people most certainly, is an act of rebellion. No one needed to be reminded of this, except perhaps those who have made their political careers through fomenting queerphobia — and those who are able to go about their day without any of this affecting a series of mundane and big decisions they have to make.
In death and under hospital lights, there will also be stark reminders of why queer Latinx/Indigenous, Black and trans* lives are not the eponymous ‘All Lives’ of liberalism’s false universality. Some of those who were killed or injured are likely to have been undocumented, others will be ‘outed’ to their coworkers, families and friends in death or while lying in a hospital bed, others will have sought to donate blood and will have been turned away before the ‘emergency’ fleetingly reminded lawmakers that ‘gay’ and ‘disease’ are not synonyms.
June is, of course, Pride Month—and the murders occurred on the day before the Pride march in Los Angeles. For the last few hours I have been reading through messages from people talking about their (straight) friends and parents pleading with them not to attend, others about the need to be out and in public and not be intimidated, reports of an arrest of a man on his way to LA Pride with assault weapons and bomb-making material, and another message or two from others who are unable to talk about it except online and certainly not in their workplace because in Florida you can legally be sacked by your employer for being queer.
I also made the mistake of dipping into social media that includes, well, mostly straight people, and I was struck (and left feeling somewhat physically ill) by the queerphobia of purported radicals and Leftists that makes itself felt as the epistemic split across the ideal-typical axes of either race or sexuality or gender—categories that no one experiences, but whose abstract cuts suit the whitest or straightest or most presumably respectable of claims to representation and attention. While many were sending out words of solidarity with queer Muslims as the mainstream media started to build a story about ‘Islamic terrorists’ and ISIS claimed the act (as of course they would), and others such as Shakira Hussein and Alia Imtoual were encouraging further conversations within Muslim communities about homophobia, this important attentiveness to the incomparably difficult location of queer Muslims was being drowned out across social media by straight, white Leftists wanting to play victim by geopolitical proxy, in the performance of a racial fetishism that treat race as a fixed object and essence, and ultimately by erasing the queerness of those who were targeted.
Even so, the importance of Saturday night at Pulse to Latinx/Indigenous queers and transgender people was more or less minimized and dismissed in ways that served a narrative in which the main protagonists and antagonists were scripted by the ‘War On Terror’ and not by the more proximate causes of homophobic and transphobic laws and campaigns in the US in the previous year—as well as the launching of Trump’s campaign by the promise of building a wall against undocumented Latinx migrants, and all of the other ways in which Latinx/Indigenous issues continue to be marginalized and queerphobia has been fostered in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. The confluence between these things is the violent imaginary that is indeed preoccupied with the purity of national essences, and contrary to the new segregationism promoted by ethno-nationalists of various persuasions around the world, this essentialism is the point of convergence that constitutes the mutually-convenient dichotomy of national security.
Besides, given the amount of planning involved in the shooting, the distance traveled by the shooter to go to not another but this queer venue playing a selection of reggaeton, bachata, merengue and salsa to a packed crowd on a billed Latin evening with trans* performances, it requires going to absurd and unreasoned lengths to suggest that they were unaware of who the targets of the attack were and became.
The very existence of queers and queers of colour in any space is a transformative, rebellious act. Those who navigate the consequences of this on a daily basis did not need to be reminded of this. Perhaps others do.
“… otra vez, erased. Estamos aqui.” — Marcia X.
El pulso sera seguir latiendo. Estamos aqui.