I’ve met you before, Omar Mateen. I’ve known you for years. For decades, I’ve heard your voice and seen your troubled eyes glance furtively in my direction.
You see, you’re one of hundreds of men I’ve known in my lifetime who rest their manhood squarely on the shaky ground of homophobia and misogyny. I first met you in sixth grade when everything changed and all my former friends began to shun me, call me “faggot” in classrooms, hallways, buses, locker rooms. You threatened me, spat at me, encouraged others to do the same, until any association with me was a stain on their burgeoning sexuality. I sat alone at lunch tables. Read at recess. Disappeared into books and poetry and the darkness of a theater whose shadowy wings sheltered all the glorious freaks.
In college, you were everywhere. The dorms. The lecture halls. The student union. Once when I was walking on the street with a straight friend, you yelled “faggot” at me from a car window. My friend said, incredulously, “That guy called you a fag!”
“Really? I don’t even hear it anymore.”
After I graduated, you lived down the street from me and one night, you egged my car and wrote “Fags Burn In Hell” at the foot of my driveway.
Inevitably, I see you at Pride, carrying your tired signs about sodomites, the flames of perdition, Adam and Steve (it wasn’t clever the first time, it’s certainly not clever now) – each one splattered with more pornographic imagery than the wall of a bathhouse.
I hear you in the mutterings of those who’ve said I’m “disgusting,” a “sinner,” “unnatural” or a “pervert” when I’ve held a man’s hand in public.
Omar Mateen, you’re all around, although the people of my country like to pretend you’re an anomaly. They wring their hands, shake their heads, attend rallies and put a blurb on Facebook as if you’re a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that will ultimately bring us closer together so something like this will never happen again, and while their feelings are real, I wonder how deep they run.
And then there are the rumors that you struggled with your own sexuality. I barked a harsh laugh when someone read me the headline that you’d been seen on gay apps and in clubs. That’s no surprise to me or any other LGBTQ person. It may not be true, the jury is still out on so much, but the possibility follows a groove well worn. Some kid grows up in a family with a father who didn’t seem to question his son’s angry response to seeing two men kissing (or the New York Times reporter never asked, a grievous offense either way). He grew up in a religion that bluntly tells its adherents to kill what we call gay or bisexual people. He grew up in a country – the United States – where homophobia and transphobia have been part and parcel of the hysterical political discourse for decades. He went to school in an educational system formed by the so-called ethics of religion and government.
When “god,” the government and the educational system of a nation tell its flock, overtly or tacitly, that a group of people is sinful/criminal/predatory, it’s a wonder all of us haven’t been blown away. Instead we do your work for you, taking our own lives to escape the cruelty of your words and fists. We dash off a quick note or, in this Orwellian era, create a video to be posted later on social media for people to shake their heads over before gorging themselves on “reality” television.
So while some people will forget you, your cocky selfie smirk fading in their memories, I will not. I will always remember you, because you’re not dead. You live on in the preachers, the senators, the imams, the representatives, the rabbis, the presidents, the faithful, the hundreds of people I see each day who purse their lips, tell me to quiet down, cool my anger, work to find common ground, take stock of all the progress we’ve made so far as if I should be grateful to them for doing the bare minimum.
But beyond all that, we share something deeper, Omar.
Like you, I will go to my grave carrying a coal that burns inside me over the injustice suffered not just by me, but by the thousands across history’s years who were tortured, murdered, exiled, thrown from buildings, doused with gas and burned, hung in public squares, beaten in schoolyards, sent to extermination camps, attacked on city streets and slowly smothered from a life of backbreaking duplicity. And while it’s not popular, and while we want to believe we’re all more tolerant and forgiving, citing syrupy scriptures as a moral high ground, my first response when I heard of your latest crime was, “Kill them all.” I want to wipe you, in all your iterations, from the face of the earth.
It’s unlikely that I’ll become a vigilante, not because I don’t think it has value, but because ultimately, I don’t know that I’m cut out for it. My weapons are my words and the well-honed refusal to keep quiet about the pervasive anti-queer sentiments flooding human culture in a bitter and bloody tide. I will not play nice for the sake of expediency or allow people to get away with their crimes uncounted because “it’s a free country” or “that’s between them and god.” I will not pretend I don’t want exactly what the religious fanatics, political conservatives and small-minded idiots say I do:
I want kids to be taught queer history in school.
I want us to be present in governments, board rooms and school boards.
I want to take away their guns so they can stop murdering us with them.
I want to march into churches, mosques and synagogues and lay the brutal killings of my people at their feet – a bloody offering on an altar blasphemed by their facile prayers.
Until these things happen, I will keep my weapons sharp and the fires of my anger hot, because the dead haunt the living, as you will me.