An Open Letter to Straight, White, American Men
Orlando, America. Sunday, June 12th, 2016. We have set a record — a bloody record inspiring millions of prayers & moments of silence world-round. Signs, hashtags & photos have declared solidarity & love: We Are All Orlando, Never Forget, Orlando United, Pride. Often, out of tragedy comes a thoughtful, grief-filled hush. &, then, as time passes, the hush becomes the noise of every day — normal comes back to those of us not directly affected. & as before, we continue moving back & forth on the same line that we were standing on before. A slide board that lets us look strong and feel fit. Contoured by roadblocks & trenches deeply cut, our path does not lead forward. We stay stuck, side-to-sideing it, oblivious that we are going nowhere. These aren’t the contours of a melody, but patterns of stress, the pitch of a caged bird singing. We have a gun-barrel view, so myopic in scope, that now all we’ve left is a tunnel of vision through which we’ve looked so long, we’ve lost periphery. Are we afraid that going to that horizon, leaning over & demanding change, will cast us out over an edge unknown, a world more terrifying than this one? How long will we pretend the world is flat?
Dear Straight, White, American Men:
You have some answering to do. You won’t like being categorized — thrown together as one definable quantity with single definable qualities wrought from the worst of you. But, you’ll get used to it. You’ve stereotyped the rest of us for as long as you have been recording history. It’s your turn to feel it. After these now familiar tragedies, people ask: How could this happen here? Who is responsible? We seek answers; we look for blame. It’s time for you to stand up and answer these questions, to own up to them. It’s time for you to say that you have allowed it — that you are responsible. Your refusal to lay down your guns allows you to continue picking them up.
How can I be responsible? How am I to blame? I can you hear you from here. & I can recall every moment in my life where you have laid the blame everywhere else, on everyone else, but yourself — all the while, living in a society that you built: with your guns, with your laws, with your force. Your insistence to keep your AR-15s, your military-grade weapons, that you’ll use to protect yourself against home invasions, or for that fantasy you have of saving scores of innocent people out there in your day-to-day from some random mad man (who, oddly, will end up looking a lot like you, carrying the same type of gun), are days less likely to come than an Aurora, a Sandy Hook, a San Bernardino, an Orlando. (This list is incomprehensibly incomplete.) But you fail to acknowledge this. Instead you build a mythology that allows yourself to turn blindly away from your own complicity. The real events, the ones I’m talking about — they are here. They are true. & they are happening more & more often, closer & closer together. They are taking more & more lives. They aren’t going to stop happening until you decide to do something about them. Our country has been built on laws that have been designed & enforced by you. We did not have founding mothers, so it is in your image this country has been shaped, & it’s time to admit that the mirror has been broken for centuries.
We need to talk honestly about your fear — your straight, white fear. I need to ask you this: Dudes, what are you so afraid of? Because it looks to me like you’re afraid of your own reflection. & that fear you have? It isn’t based in reality. That fear you have, & your expression of that fear, that fear that makes you believe you need an arsenal that could take out a small country, or 49 innocent people, or protect your home from intruders — it isn’t real. What it is, however, is contagious. It’s contagious to those who look to you for acceptance, to those who look to you for a reprieve from the bullying, the jokes, the taunting, the anger.
Your fear is what fuels the shadows among you, the ones who are deeply wounded by your fear, the ones who are so afraid of your fear turning on them that they set out to prove to you that they are not your fear. Your fear is a contagion that spreads & turns light places dark. Your guns, you say, make you men, so men turn to guns to find strength. Men turn to guns & then turn those guns on the other thing you fear — anyone who is different from you, anyone who challenges your supposed place at the top of the food chain. Because isn’t that what this is all about. Isn’t home invasion just a euphemism for, oh shit, we’re losing power to women & people of color? Isn’t your insistence to hold so tightly to your guns just a resistance to the fact that somebody else is beginning to take over the writing of history?
We are taking your history hostage, and we have demands. From now on, we need your prayers & your moments of silence to come out as actions, as votes, as laws — out loud — long before you feel the need to pray for those souls you ignored while they lived, while they danced, while they loved — while they challenged your reflection of a world that no longer likes the way it looks. Silence is deadly. So knock it off. We need you to scream. For those of you who chose to pray after Orlando, fine. But it didn’t do anything but make you feel better. For most of you, it’s all you do after tragedy — you take your hats off, you lower your heads, you whisper your prayers. Maybe those prayers are truly for the LGBTQ community, a prayer that asks for a kinder, more accepting world for us. Maybe it’s a prayer released out as some form of guilt for the things you’ve said or done against us. Maybe your hands were folded in apology for those words & actions you wish you could take back. It doesn’t really matter. If we can’t hear them, or see them turn into something real & good, we can’t start to trust you. Because most of you have reason to feel some form of guilt for your part in a long cycle of treating us as orphans, criminals, jokes, degenerates. For causing us harm with your words or your fists or your bodies or your guns. So from now on, we don’t want your prayers. We can’t stand them.
Listen, we know about fear. What we know most about fear is that it is so often born of hate. It is the father of hate crime, & we know what hate crime looks like — from glimmer to done. & we know that your fear of those of us who live differently than you — who look different, act different, are different, has taken shape in your mind as hate. & hate begets resolve: the ugly stiff resolve of crime against my people. We know about this because it has been happening to us since the dawn of time. We know this happens because there is not one of us who hasn’t experienced it — not one of us who hasn’t felt the percussion of your repercussions.
Personally, I don’t blame Islam. I don’t blame Christianity. I blame you. Everyone who has fired their hatred upon me — riddled me with their saliva, rained the shrapnel of their supposed superiority & strength upon me — they have all looked exactly like you. &, in my life, when I have stared into the eyes of your straight, white brother holding his fists above me, deciding what his next move would be, I know that if he’d had a gun, he’d have used it. & don’t be fooled by that last sentence there — this is not one man, one time. Those of us in my community, those of us who came of age in a world where gay bars were safe havens, where the rest of the world was a world you didn’t walk out into alone, & if you did, you’d better pretend you weren’t a dyke or a fucking fag — we remember what it was like to let down our guard — what price we paid when we thought we were in safe company — how quickly safe company could change. So we played our parts, and when we didn’t — when we refused to play the part that would make you more comfortable, we felt the history of your world and its laws allowing you to do the things you’ve done.
I come from the margins. I always have. & I will always do so loudly. I speak from the margins, but I am yelling at the center. I am yelling at you. Use your voice for something better. Speak up against derogatory comments when you hear them. Stop saying them yourself. Don’t laugh at gay jokes — don’t fucking tell them. Instead say they are offensive. Don’t say you don’t mind trans women because you can spot a “real woman” a mile away. Don’t say lesbians you find attractive are such a waste, & quit saying gays are fine just don’t hit on me, man. & when you stand up & say these things are wrong, don’t say it’s because your daughter is gay or trans, or your brother or your friend. Say it’s because you don’t like bigots. Say it’s because you believe that everyone deserves equal protection under the law, that you believe we all deserve dignity & respect. Your prayers won’t change our culture. But your words, out loud, to the every day people in your life, will. Make it about you. Not us. Tell the bigots they are wrong; tell the guy who makes a “harmless” joke, that it isn’t funny, and it’s offensive. & stop making certain we know, when you express acceptance of the LGBTQ community, that you are not LGBT or Q. We don’t care. It’s time for you to change. To really change. & if you did hit your knees to pray for those who died in Orlando, you’d better accept that it was way too late. They needed laws. They needed gun sense. They needed straight, white, male America to quit holding onto their assault rifles like they were vital organs.
Thousands of people are dying in this country because of those guns you make ridiculous excuses for. You dare to say that the way we live our lives is fine as long as you don’t have to see it. But you need to see it. Because those Latino men & women, those boys & girls, those members of my family who dared to dress how they wanted, love who they wanted, & danced like there was literally no tomorrow — they were living a life that was beautiful & true. They weren’t hiding behind an archaic amendment written by guess who? You think your “right” to your AR-15s is a right that somehow outweighs the right of 49 people to have LIFE — 49 people — none of whom should have ended their lives with goodbye texts to their mothers from bathroom stalls.
I’ve been spit on, clawed at, cursed at, hissed at, hit, slapped, pushed, pushed down. I’ve had objects hurled at me, bottles broken over my head, & videos left on my doorstep to make certain I knew just what a penis looked like, in case I needed to know. I’ve had my property destroyed, graffiti-ed, burned, soaked in blood and raw fish. I’ve been forced, fooled & fractured by America’s finest — white men like you. I could go on, but it’s pointless — because I’m alive. What I have endured has been exactly that: endurable. I have fought off & defended myself against more white men than most of you combined. Your anger, your rage, which none of us can possibly legitimize, is what fuels the guy on the edge. Where do they come up with these ideas? They get them from you! How many times have you said hateful or derogatory things about women, other races, other genders, gay people, trans people? These killers don’t come out of mid-air. They are born from the seeds of hatred that have been planted over & across decades & millennia by people just like you. You have to stop enabling the hate — with your fear, with your silence, with your judgment, with your fists, & with your guns. Listen straight, white men — it’s time to quit acting like you don’t play the biggest part in this. Because you have been making the laws in this country from the get-go. But we are rising up. The brown, the queer, the women. & guess what? We are absolutely coming for your fucking guns. #lavendarmenace