When Sympathy and Rage Collide

So, I slept in a bit this morning. Just woke up about 45 minutes ago. And I decided that, for the first time in months, I’m ready to write again. Ready to lay all my cards on the table. Ready to take another step towards taking my voice back after the accident.

And then this happens:

Mass Shooting at Orlando Nightclub Overnight: At Least 20 Dead in Shooting Attach in Orlando Gay Nightclub

Immediately my sympathy and rage began to war with one another. Sympathy, because I spent quite a few nights in my more active youth in gay clubs more remote and far less famous than the Pulse. Rage, because who would choose to do such a thing?

Searching for a safe space

There was a grand total of one “safe space” for LGBTQ people in the university town where I went to college. It was what I think most people imagine when they imagine seedy gay clubs. It was housed in an old warehouse in the middle of nowhere with one nondescript sign and a loud rhythmic thumping that could be heard from probably half a mile away. After paying cover, you would walk into this big open space with concrete for a dance floor, rickety stairs up to a balcony that looked like it was never cleaned, worn and half-working pool tables in one corner, and the bathrooms…man, don’t get me started on the bathrooms. You never knew what you would come upon in there.

But it was safe. It was secure. You probably didn’t know it existed unless another member of the community told you about it. It was the one place in all of town where you could feel free to be 100% yourself.

There was one night when we had to park significantly farther from the entrance than normal (Halloween — one of the busiest nights at that particular club). As my friends and I were climbing out of the car in our most outrageous outfits, a dirty beat-up pickup sped past us on the road outside the club. “Fucking fags!” they roared out the window before cackling at their own (I assume — I don’t speak idiot) hilarity and speeding off into the distance. We walked to the club a little more quickly after that.

But I wasn’t strong enough in my own beliefs at that point to get angry. I instead became scared and worried. Those boys in a pickup immediately stripped the fun of the evening out of me.

As a community, we’ve worked our asses off for years just to be seen as people, to be engaged as a strong but not silent minority. Just this past year we FINALLY earned the right to marry the legally consenting adult of our choice. We aren’t there yet (otherwise our lawmakers wouldn’t be arguing over where the hell people want to use the bathroom), but we are getting there.

And then something like this happens. My feeling of safety is once again compromised.

But now I’m strong enough to rage.

But before I’d even started following the news, the narrative had changed.

Nightclub Suspect Identified as Omar Saddiqui Matten. Orlando mayor: 50 dead in nightclub shooting.

Now we had someone against whom we could direct our collective rage. Potential links with ISIS began to take over the feed. It was no longer about the now 50+ members of the LGBTQ (and allied) community who lost their lives, the 50+ more whose injuries are still being treated, or the countless lives of those they loved who will never be the same again. No. It’s about that evil Muslim (although, as of this writing, I haven’t found anything confirming for sure his religion) and another senseless act of violence.

Because here’s the rub, y’all. I wasn’t awake when the story first broke, but I wonder exactly how the extreme right was preparing to slant this story. Would it be Hurricane Katrina all over again, where misguided members of the Christian community blamed the citizens of New Orleans (and the LGBTQ community specifically) for the natural disaster, arguing that it was God’s righteous punishment on them for a life of sin? In today’s news, would they be even a little bit sympathetic to the murderer who took the lives of so many, for what he believed was a righteous cause?

But no. We now believe that the murderer was an insane threat-to-national-security Islamic terrorist. So let’s downplay the victims who we might have hated a little bit. We hate the Muslims more. So let’s spin the media differently. We’ll stop talking about it as a hate crime specifically against the gay community and start talking about it as an act of terrorism. We don’t even need to mention that the victims were members of the LGBTQ community in the news anymore. I watched MSN for maybe 20 minutes, and in all that time it never specified the fact that the nightclub was for the queer community. I had to fact check it myself to be sure that the earlier reports weren’t false.

But that item’s no longer relevant in all the discussion. After all, who would we know how to hate?

Sorry guys. I call bullshit.

Once again, I’m torn between sympathy and rage.

I rage against violence against the LGBTQ community.

I sympathize with those who will now wonder whether living a life of integrity and honesty is worth living in fear.

I rage against the interpretation of religion (any religion) that so easily embraces violence.

I sympathize against our Islamic citizenry — including the small children under my wife’s tutelage — who will be a little more afraid to go to bed tonight.

And above all this, I rage against the media, because

WORDS. FUCKING. MATTER.

And it’s not just the mainstream professional media, no. It’s those who spend all their energy posting political memes with language meant to vilify and demonize the “other.” It’s those who post articles and arguments without checking the facts. It’s you. It’s me. It’s all of us.

The way we describe something is just as important as what we describe. And no, when I point out your bullshit, I don’t respect “the right to your own opinion.” You ARE NOT ENTITLED to “your own opinion.” You are entitled ONLY to what you can argue for. You are entitled to present facts and feelings and beliefs to me in an attempt to engage me or to change my mind. And then, at the end, if we simply cannot come to an agreement, we can agree to disagree and move on. I can respect people with well-thought out opinions, even if they are vastly different from my own. I can’t respect people who pass along unnuanced tripe and refuse to either engage or back down from it.

You are part of the problem, as am I when I do the same thing. So Let’s. Fucking. Fix it. Let’s think about how we argue when we argue. Let’s think about engaging those who disagree in legitimate discussions in an attempt to find some common ground.

Because as long as we’re constantly posting everything out of an “us vs. them” mentality, we’ll keep seeing these horrific acts of violence. We’ll keep denying the humanity in one another. We’ll keep refusing to see the spark of the divine in one another. And we’ll all eventually kill each other for it.

I don’t want to help create that world anymore.

Do you?


Originally published at Amalie Cantor.