The funerals have been held. The families and survivors will likely mourn every day they remain alive that those they love do not. Grief perhaps gets easier over time, I don’t know, I do know it never goes away. It’s the stain that becomes part of the fabric to a point where you might think it had always been there, can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. Welcome to America, a nation distinguished among the many butchers of this world; distinguished in that our butchers have skilled lobbyists, lush advertising budgets, servile legislative bodies and that most important underpinning of mass death: an indifferent populace. Can’t happen to me, only to those people over there, not my problem. Right?
In America, this is the story of AIDS. It is also the story of the innumerable other cruelties large and small we inflict on one another, inflict on our own flesh and blood as easily as on complete strangers, inflict seemingly without cease or remorse, let alone cause.
It is also the story of the fifty murders at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Fifty men and women mowed down like so much grass as they go about their lives in peace. Butchered where they had thought they were safe or even free, deaths that made no sense to anyone but the person who caused them. That the shooter was Muslim and his victims mainly queer might cause a momentary sense of dislocation in some quarters; what exactly do you do or say if you’re the flavor of bigot that hates both queers and Muslims but loves guns? Obscenity creates strange dilemmas and, it seems, hard choices.
For the country at large however and American queers from sea to shining sea, fifty dead and a hundred injured in an instant are devastation itself. But news, in the sense of an event unexpected or without precedent? No. A better comparison might be to an episode of a series in a franchise we’ve all seen or more accurately binged on, a sequel, the leap in logic required to get from A to B, not from cauliflower to quantum physics.
For a nation equally as drenched in the blood of its children as it is in the misery and tears of their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, there is not much that is remarkable here. A lone madman? Please, like the last one or the one before him? The Oklahoma City bomber killed one hundred and sixty eight, blew up a kindergarten, the Aurora shooter massacred moviegoers, would have killed them in their hundreds if he could have – and this is new? A Black child is shot to death on the way to the candy store, and we say nothing? What monsters are we?
"Silence equals death as they used to say, what’s rather more relevant and damning is that silence indicates consent."
The cold truth is this: the Orlando murders are unusual perhaps in numerical scale or because they targeted a minority group, one I happen to belong to. By the same token, one man or perhaps two or three can and will follow the template at some time and place we don’t know yet and won’t until they do.
Orlando in all its horror is routine, familiar in all but the miserable details of which and how many lives are snuffed out by whom, where and why. The circumstances vary, but that there will be more mass shootings in America I’d say is a bet roughly in the territory of whether the sun will rise tomorrow.
Someone shot twenty toddlers along with six of their teachers in a school in Connecticut years before the Pulse massacre, shot them multiple times each so badly that the crime scene pictures will be under seal for a century to come, and all this in the space of minutes. You can still buy the same gun he used, smart shoppers probably even do so at a fucking discount. What a howling disgrace.
Orlando now joins San Bernardino, Aurora, Newtown in becoming not just a place but a metaphor of human cruelty. Joins them in proving that we Americans are collectively so depraved that we tolerate the murder of children in apathy, tolerate it without response or even all that much noticeable shame.
Silence equals death as they used to say, what’s rather more relevant and damning is that silence indicates consent. Did the American people rise up and demand an end to the slaughter, to the easy universal availability of weapons capable only of one thing, built only for one thing, mass murder?
No, we did nothing whatsoever. We tried. But there are too many walking moral sewers among us to whom those twenty toddlers are a price of freedom, as presumably are the dead of Orlando.
Voltaire wrote “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”, but he neglected to note the logical extension of the idea: their belief in absurdities gives others the space to commit atrocities. In America today, to commit them with regularity. To some, atrocity is effectively a currency, squalid coin others pay so they can fondle their gun hoards undisturbed by this killer or the next one. The one after that even. Their heckler’s veto has the body politic in a literal death grip.
It could be that Orlando as metaphor will follow the same pattern. If it does, may God show us more mercy than we show one another.
Here’s the good news: I think something fundamental has changed. And I will freely grant you that this is a bleak piece of writing filled with sadness and anger. It would be one thing if that were merely a matter of my personal state of mind; it is not. I don’t think there’s a single queer in America not stunned or enraged by the massacre at Pulse. What could that mean?
The LGBT rights movement is arguably the most successful civil rights advocacy movement in America today. We have gone from genocide to the marriage office in two decades, from “that’s criminal” to “that’s cute” in four. The pace of social change we forced, change for the better, is without precedent in scope and speed. Let me demonstrate, I brought pictures.
See those nice young people? They’re Boy Scouts of America marching in New York City’s LGBT Pride parade in their uniforms, with flags, a band, the whole kit and caboodle. The governor came five minutes after them, as did a woman of remarkable talent who in six months will very likely be elected the next President of the United States – a country that recognized female suffrage in 1920 but still does not constitutionally guarantee women equal rights.
Just let that sink in. It’s 2016; the U.S. Supreme Court only effectively decriminalized homosexuality in 2003. A decade and change later, the next president walks down Fifth Avenue in her party dress surrounded by a million queers, friends and family. It takes my breath away that this is our normal, a demonstration of what we can achieve.
This Pride in New York City was not the one of last year or the year before. It was as defiant and angry as it was frivolous and fun. And something remarkable happened: people came together across every line imaginable to grieve, as we have before and will again; but also to say that this at long last cannot be tolerated, will not be tolerated. Murder is permanent, cannot be undone, but its causes will not stand. And that is a new thing in kind.
We will have to endure the Pulse murders. We do not have to accept that mass slaughter, butchery of our own or of anyone is inevitable, something imbued with all the certainty of a natural law. Fuck that plan. We can do better than we are doing, have to do better.
Not just for those kids at Pulse either, we can’t bring them back, for everyone – black or white, gay or straight, anyone who bears a human face. We all deserve better than to be the random prop of a delusional killer or the silent collateral damage to the murderous belief that freedom is worth thousands of dead year after year after grinding year. You tell me who’s the real Orlando killer – the guy who pulled the trigger or the many people who made sure he had one to pull in the first place? How many more times will someone somewhere have to ask that question?
By coincidence, I write this on the day of Elie Wiesel’s passing, a moral giant who survived a different evil, carried the memory of it to the ends of the earth.
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
― Elie Wiesel
He’s right, isn’t he? You can’t bring anyone back, not the victims of AIDS, not those of the Holocaust, not the dead of Orlando or the Somme. Would it were otherwise.
What we can do is this: make a new future where these horrors do not happen. Some will say it cannot be done, so why even try; they are wrong. Other will say it should not be done, so do not dare; they are wrong, corrupt and culpable in the deaths of Orlando as surely as if they had pulled a trigger themselves.
Kind of like marriage equality would never happen and shouldn’t happen, right? See you at the altar.