Orlando and the Importance of Intersectionality
It’s been rather hard to process things over the last few days. The loss of life, the targeting of innocent LGBT+ people, and the various commentaries that either try to make sense of a tragedy or see no issue in stoking an avalanche of rage.
I am aware that this is perhaps one of those commentaries. And I am 100% aware – sadly unlike some of the comments I’ve happened upon over the last few days – that this is not an attempt to make a heartbreaking incident about me. I cannot stress that enough.
“Community” is a word that keeps flashing up on Twitter among all this, and it’s a word that might understandably be a bit triggering for those falling in the centre of a societal Venn diagram.
Community. Growing up in the Muslim community, where being gay often feels second to being accused of paedophilia. Growing up within a sect of that Muslim community that is threatened on a daily basis for being ‘non-Muslim’. And then trying to find a place in the LGBT+ community, where ‘no fems, no Asians’ is a stock phrase, where people of colour are shunned from the forefront of literature, where someone like me is told that they can’t be gay and religious and especially not gay and Muslim.
The words I’ve been seeing across Twitter are a reminder that there is often nothing as dangerous as the word ‘community’. It implies an amorphous mass, a collective direction of thought, and ultimately a neglect of an individual and their experience. Run rampant, or run against it, and the witch-hunts begin.
But all this initially came from a place of sadness rather than anger. Until I happened upon a particular tweet by a cis white male editor of a prominent gay publication, who was upset that not a single person of his family or beyond had reached out to ask if he was ok. And in one obtuse tweet, an international tragedy suddenly became about him.
There’s a hackneyed phrase out there: ‘till it happens to you’. I hate that it’s taken a massacre to bring this fact to light, and that fact is the intense myopia of not just the mainstream LGBT+ media but an entire generation of self-absorption. (The irony of that isn’t lost here, trust.)
In 2010, a man in Lahore, Pakistan, was attending Friday prayer. He shouldn’t have been there – he and his family had just emigrated, and he returned to tie up loose ends. He attended prayer like a dutiful Muslim, living his life and owning his freedom to believe. His prayer was interrupted by a group of crazed militants with guns, who proceeded to gun down every single man in that mosque for not fitting into their prescribed picture of Islam. For simply being in what they considered a safe and united place. For simply having the audacity to exist as who they were.
That day, Pulse was a mosque. That man was from my sect. That man was a member of my family.
If we’re going by the logic of this editor, where were the messages of support for us? Where are the messages of support from cis white and LGBT+ people for every Islamophobic act that occurs daily? Where were the messages of support when an Asian man chose to hang himself on account of his sexuality?
I’m seeing a lot of people expressing anger about what happened. Which they’re right to. I also see a lot of people expressing anger about why they haven’t been acknowledged as individuals. Which feels somewhat misdirected.
Every time you make one of those comments it feels like the daily struggle of minorities can be discarded. Every time you make one of those comments it feels like a white male opinion is somehow more important and relevant than any other.
The way Paris and its Facebook colour-grading wasn’t matched by similar attacks in Turkey and Syria, so too did it become clear that this entire tragedy has been reframed in the eyes of the western world as an attack on their personal freedom. Different only because it was so relatable. Because it could have been you. Even though that ‘you’ could be me and this feeling occurs for people like us on the absolute daily.
Till it happens to you, then. Or someone like you. When did we get so self-involved?
It doesn’t stop there. The same editor on Twitter, within the space of 36 hours, went on to decry the presence of Prince William on the cover of a gay magazine to tackle homophobic bullying. And once again the dangers of ‘community’ rear their head: we want your support, but only if it fits our worldview. We want allies, but only if we can reserve the right to choose who they are and take victimised umbrage if they don’t.
You might be gay and religious but we don’t want your prayers. However we’ll happily hold a vigil because those good vibes somehow seem less mystical or “otherly”. The irony is astounding. The exclusionary behaviour we rally against sets up its own microcosm.
In this dangerously cloistered perspective – one that seems to be at the forefront of decisions in gay literature, God help us – no one stops to think about what impact the presence of a future monarch might have on a small, Muslim home in Bradford. If your cis white male on the cover were Donald Trump I’d understand. But where immigrants like my parents, perhaps even the parents of a future Omar Mateen, are thrilled to live in the land of Her Majesty, seeing her grandson stand up for gay rights might trigger a change in thought that no TV show or news story could manage.
You may not like Prince William or Nick Jonas and having them on covers or speaking at rallies. But hey, here’s a thought: maybe this is about something bigger than you. Maybe this is about degrees of change that would be welcome for those of us at the mercy of intersectionality, for mainstreaming things in a way none of your publications have ever managed to do for us before via the shirtless white men constantly adorning them. Pride is about visibility but it’s important to recognise that for some people it’s also about sledgehammer mob mentality, and the diametric divide it creates can sometimes isolate a body further.
There is so much negativity post Orlando. So much anger and yet still so much reluctance to accept help and positivity in forms that may seem alien. And it pains my heart to see so many people suddenly having to go through those same cold and isolated feelings some of us have seen every single day of our lives. And that it hasn’t added an ounce of solidarity to us on that front.
All I can ask of the world right now is to wake up to the intricacies of humanity outside your sphere. Show some empathy. Turn up for each other every day. Take an interest in every single life lost under such tragic circumstances every day of the week as if it COULD be any of us.
The sect I am proud to be from – despite all its flaws as a ‘community’ – has a slogan: Love For All, Hatred For None. Not too far from “love wins”, really. Maybe it’s time to merge them both and realise that yes, love does win, but maybe its capacity needs to be more wide-reaching and tolerant than it feels right now.