Who Does Violence Belong To?


Today, the Chicago Tribune reported on one of the many sides of the LGBT response to the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead and 53 injured last week.

“I’m angered by the narrative as it stands now.” Says a college student interview by the Tribune. “If you look at the New York Times, listen to people on the street, they’re talking about the shooter, guns, (fear of Muslims), but not that Pulse is an LGBTQ place and these were queer people.”

Yet just last week, a host of websites, including Slate, discussed the attacks in terms of shooter Omar Mateen’s sexuality. A body of evidence suggests that Mateen was closeted, writes Slate’s Amanda Marcotte:

Multiple people from the Orlando area are stepping forward to say that Mateen was a regular at Pulse and that they interacted with him on gay dating apps like Grindr and Jack’d.”

He was also, depending on which websites you listen to or trust, both Muslim and and not Muslim. Both ISIS member and not, both religious extremist and mentally ill. Both gay and straight, without being bisexual.

The Orlando attacks were horrifying, a shocking act of violence that left us, for a moment, almost too stunned for a response. In the week or so since the shooting, people have rallied with pop-up charities, relief funds, and a filibuster on the Senate floor to try and curb the unceasing trend of gun violence in this country.

In the wake of violence, we come together in full force. It’s what we have to do. We experience an incredible unity in the wake of a tragedy because we can’t afford to feel alone and vulnerable. When we act, we are resolute—banded together by a common purpose. It’s when we start to talk about what happened, to piece together the story of what actually did happen, that we break apart.

Hence the recent onslaught of think pieces, first-person essays, and man-on-the-street style reporting. We’re trying to make sense of this by collecting as many testimonials as we can. The problem is that everyone finds a different moral in the story.

To some, Omar Mateen was a terrorist. He was a radical Islamist schooled in violence from a young age. To others, he was a self-hating gay man so tortured by his queer identity that he had to turn that hatred outward and point a gun at it. To others still, he was a natural by-product of a country that, despite the face of it, still abhors its LGBT population and actively fights against its basic human rights.

Who is right? What is the story really about? It has to be about something—otherwise we’ll never be able to truly get over what happened. There are some still who say that it shouldn’t be gotten over so quickly, if at all. We should use our anger to mobilize. We should learn the names of the victims, and remember that it could have been any of us. That it still could be any of us looking down the barrel of a gun.  That what happened is, in some small part, our responsibility for not fighting harder for gun control.


We probably won’t get a sense of the real story for awhile. The wound is still too fresh to allow for us to even begin to do the kind of cold, detached research that could allow us to fashion a neat moral out of a painful and chaotic story. The best we can do for now is think, give, and protect each other as much as we can.

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