Deadly mass shootings in America are kind of like record heat temperatures, in that they occur with frightening frequency and they’re seldom records for very long. Still, now and again, one of these everyday tragedies is shocking enough to break the entrenched cyclical apathy we find ourselves in. The shooting at a gay club in Orlando, which saw a homophobic American man murder 50 people and injure 52 others definitely qualifies as such, and not just because it carries the highest death toll.
It breaks the cycle because of the scene of the crime, and because the man, of Afghani descent, was a member of a marginalised community attacking another marginalised community. It breaks the cycle because to dance is to physically express your joy, and to be cut down mid-joy, mid-love, is to make tangible the nature of the hatred aimed at queer bodies. It breaks the cycle for me, I should say, because the killer and I share a first name and the name of a religion. But that’s all—just the letters, not the substance.
It breaks the cycle for me, a bisexual Muslim man, because according to the dominant narratives at play in society today, I could and should be the violent Muslim with my finger on the trigger, and I could and should be the queer body broken and bleeding on the floor for daring to dance. You’re going to hear a lot about Islam and terrorism in the next few days, even though the killer’s family has stated the man was not religious, and was an avowed homophobe. Already, his hate is being twisted to suit an existing political narrative, is being twisted toward faith and away from the toxic masculinity that lies at the root.
To give you a local example of just how pervasive homophobia is, only a few weeks ago, a gay man in Newtown was beaten for wearing a dress. Before him, there were two separate group bashings of gay men in Sydney. In Queensland and South Australia, the “gay panic” law is still in effect, which literally excuses straight men for murder if provoked by “an unwanted homosexual advance.”
We have a government that still refuses to allow same-sex marriage, that thinks our love is debatable, is up to straight people to validate.
We have a government which gutted Safe Schools, a program designed to protect LGBT kids from bullying and to counter the prevailing cultural prejudices embedded in society which routinely erupt into violence. Male violence isn’t just killing women at horrifying rates, it’s killing LGBTQI people, it is abusing and strangling difference at every available opportunity. When it isn’t doing so directly with fists and bullets, it is trying to legislate and enforce itself as the unchallengeable norm, even going so far as who can and cannot use public bathrooms.
There are too many examples to quote in full, both here and abroad. Which is to say, homophobia is not an American issue, not Australian, or British, or Arabic. Homophobia is not Islamic, or Christian, or Jewish. It can’t be, because it’s all of those things at once and more. In a kind of sickening irony, it seems to be the one uniting force for heteronormative men the world over. It is endemic to all cultures, and it is as virulent now as it has ever been, thanks in large part to the rise of conservative governments on the back of economic uncertainty and xenophobia. It’s hard not to think that what we really need isn’t a war on terror, it’s a war on homophobia (I say this only because it seems like the only way to get any traction on an issue these days is to declare war on it).
When people are talking about this in the coming days, I hope you’ll keep this in mind. When people call out the Islamic community for its homophobia, I hope you’ll call everyone else out in turn, because the truth is there are too many bodies in our closets, too many killed and killing themselves, too much hate and fear and ugliness. When your local politicians spout anti-LGBT rhetoric, don’t be silent, speak up, and when your friends or family act homophobic, speak up. It shouldn’t take a tragedy of this proportion to demonstrate that the things we say don’t exist in a vacuum—they have a real, often devastating impact.
Lastly, I want to say this: when Arab or Muslim people meet each other, often the first word we speak is salaam. We greet each other with peace, we say it casually every day, but I wonder how often we really embody it in every sense of the word. I’m not talking only of our community but all communities. There are many kinds of violence and erasing or silencing queer identities, muting difference, is absolutely one of them. We need not to tolerate difference but to love it, to live it, to dance it and even though it may not seem like that is possible any longer, I assure you, we can. Some of us have been doing it all our lives, and we will continue to do so.