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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Post-Orlando: On fear, on guns, and on living queer in 2016

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Hello, Darlings. Just a short babble this morning, frankly because this is a topic that  makes me tremble with fear, and I don't want to put more of that out into the Universe today.

I posted on Facebook this week that I was a little surprised and saddened to see less outrage and dismay from the straight community over the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando than I'd seen earlier over Harambe the gorilla was shot when a child climbed into his enclosure at the zoo. Many people - straight or community - agreed with me; they had seen the same thing on their Facebook feeds. Oh, a lot of straight people immediately took up the Pulse tragedy as a platform for gun control, but few mentioned the larger issue: that LGBTQ people are under attack in America right now, perhaps to a higher degree than we have been since the early days of our struggle for civil rights and acceptance.

In fact, I saw a lot of community doing the same thing - ignoring the bigger, scarier picture, and focusing on the guns, guns, guns.


Please don't get me wrong: I do agree that we need gun reform in this country. I support the right of American citizens to own firearms for the protection of their families and homes, if they so choose, but I think we can pretty much agree that a high-powered automatic assault weapon is not generally required to do so. Neither is a weapon like that needed for hunting, for those sporting types. I think hunting is gross, personally, but I guess as long as you're eating the meat, and doing it as humanely as possible, I don't find it any worse - and possibly kinder - than the factory-farming business that meat-eaters support. Anywho ... 

So, yeah, I can see how 'the largest mass shooting of LGBT people ever' in this country could inspire some discussion about firearms. However, that doesn't mean we should take our eyes off the scarier 'big picture': the largest mass shooting of LGBT people.

'Of LGBT people'.

"But Unicorn," I hear you asking, "Why is that scarier than guns? Why should we talk about that instead of about gun control?! Guns are killing people!"

Of course we should talk about gun control. That's not my point. My point is that America in 2016 has magically achieved a 'perfect storm' of political and social conflict that is manifesting itself in the only way it logically can: into hate and violence directly targeting those in the LGBTQ community.

"But no, Unicorn, how can that be?", you protest. "We have marriage equality! We've got more freedom than we've ever had before!" 

Yes.

And no.

Mostly no.

Decision Day was awesome. Marriage equality was finally ours, we were equal in the laws of America, and no one could take that away! The victory celebrations from coast to coast were heart-warming, and so affirming. We felt good. We felt accepted. We felt safe.
And we actually were a little safer right that moment. And perhaps for the next ten or twelve minutes, however long it took for the first right-wing conservative religious whackjobs (and I mean that will all the respect they deserve) to scream like a scalded cat and declare their rights were being stomped on. Kim Davis was the most visible, but far from the only, government employee who decided her religious beliefs were more important than our human dignity and refused to grant marriage licenses, before the victory celebrations even ended.
The fact that Ms Davis, and others of her ilk, were allowed to directly flout the ruling of our Supreme Court’s decision for as long as they were is a huge part of what we’re now experiencing.
The mere fact that queer* people had been granted the same right to marry the persons we love, just like any other ‘normal’ person, was apparently so offensive to some that they immediately boiled over with baffled rage and bewilderment.
How could such a thing happen? How could perverts and deviants be allowed to live dignified lives and pursue happiness like god-fearing Americans? That mindset, that we could be allowed the exact same rights as straight people, despite our ‘obvious’ deviancy, well, it broke something.
It broke some people: They may not have been ‘queer-hating’ people before, and ‘didn’t mind’ queer people that much – as long as the queers stayed in their places and didn’t bother ‘normal folk’.
They may have been nice, church-going (or not) folk who didn’t have a lot of political opinions or hate anybody, until they started hearing at the pulpit that ‘the gays’ were trying to destroy our country, and take away their rights. They weren’t quite sure which of their rights we were supposed to be taking away, but if the pastor – and the other busybodies - said it’s so, then it must be so. (The pastor wouldn’t lie, right? And if Joe Bob said the Bible said God Hates Fags, then I guess I’d better hate them, too. They didn’t seem so bad, but …)
It broke some businesses: Bills were presented to ‘protect’ religious people and businesses from the need to do business with us. Despite the fact that a cake is genderless, and flowers do not molest anybody, these people were somehow threatened by being asked to perform the service or products that they choose to provide to the public at large for someone they suspect might be queer. (Maybe they thought ‘the gay’ might get on them. Who knows?) Some of these bills failed; some passed into law. Even then, many people shrugged them off. ‘Just go somewhere else,’ they said, not understanding why this is such a big freaking deal. (Helpful hint: It is.) ‘Why not just suck it up and go to somewhere else? Why would you want a cake from someone who hates you?’
(Answer: Because laws like that affirm to bigots – and to the innocent ignorant folk who are led by example – that it’s OK to treat queer people as less. Less decent, less deserving of respect, less deserving of the rights that ‘normal’ people expect every day, less human.)
Time passed. There were little losses, little victories. People challenged some of those laws; some lost, some won.
We as a community celebrated every time a business was forced to admit their bigotry, and rolled our eyes as the next bill to ‘protect religious freedom’ came up in the public eye.
(This despite the fact that I’ve yet to see a queer person’s existence, whether it involved cake or not, prevent any person in this country from practicing their religion as they saw fit.)
For what it’s worth, not one business ever needed that kind of a law. A business has the right to turn away a customer if they don’t want to serve them. If a guy walks into your business and acts like a jerk, makes you uncomfortable, makes a scene, you have every right to toss him out on his ear, refuse to serve him, and even ban him from returning, if you like. That’s fine, and I have no problem with it. The problem comes in when you ban an entire class of people from your business, based not on their behavior, but on their membership in that class. (Unless that class is ‘jerk’, as mentioned above, but you really don’t know if someone is a jerk unless they start to act jerky.) When you ban an entire class of people, there is no other word for that except discrimination. And discrimination = the right to treat people as less.
‘Protecting religious freedom’ silently became synonymous with treating queer people badly. In business, and – as a natural progression – on an interpersonal level as well. If the law says it’s OK for you to discriminate against a class of people – and make no mistake, these laws do – then it’s a short step from there to thinking there must be something to it. Those people must be bad in some way, must be wrong, must be not-right, must be … feared or hated.

And once we’d established fear (and, in some cases, hate) in the breasts of conservatives by legally sanctioned discrimination, the next logical wave of the equality backlash occurred.
Those hateful little ‘bathroom bills’ began popping up, all over the country. In baffling numbers. It was as if someone somewhere said, “Well, if we’re having marriage equality shoved down our throats, with the intolerable shame of being made to treat queer people with dignity, we’re going to discriminate against somebody, damn it! Let’s go after the transfolk!”
Suddenly, despite the fact that no cases of actual transgender people sneaking into restrooms to peep at women or kiddies, the conservative right planted the spectre of the looming Trans-monster waiting to prey on our womenfolk in public bathrooms.
Bills sprang up (and passed suspiciously and shockingly quickly) requiring transgender folk to use only the restroom that coincided with their birth-identified gender, even when obviously very inappropriate. These bills were supposed to prevent straight people from feeling ‘uncomfortable’ by being confronted with a trans*person while peeing.
This backfired spectacularly.

You know who feels really uncomfortable now?

Pretty much everyone.

Trans*folk are afraid to go into one restroom for fear of being thrown out, and the other for fear of being beaten up (or worse).
Cis women and men who don’t conform to society’s gender norms are being followed into restrooms by vigilantes who think they don’t look ‘masculine enough’ or ‘feminine enough’ to be in the room they chose. These bathroom vigilantes are becoming more and more common, and numerous reports have come out where they have laid hands on biological females and thrown them bodily from the ladies room. (I don’t know about you, folks, but if anyone ever did that to me, I’d light up a lawsuit under those assholes faster than you could say ‘unicorn’!)
And yet – these laws are still in place, and more than 100 bills are active right now to enact more.

It should be obvious that the real danger in the bathrooms is the misguided vigilante dragging innocent folks out by the hair. He’s peeking under doors and spying on folks to see what they have (or don’t have) in their pants, but we’re the perverts. Got it. All in the name of your safety, folks. Well, not everyone’s safety, of course. Straight folks. They clearly don’t care about ours.


And there are more people who feel that those who mistrust us, fear us, and yes, even hate us may kind of have the right idea than most of us believed there still were. It's 2016, after all. It's not like LGBTQ people still get targeted or killed on a daily basis in the US.

Oh, wait. It is like that. It is exactly like that. 


Google it; the stats are too depressing for me to look up and share, but I can tell you straight out (pun intended) that we're in line to have another banner year for anti-LGBT hate crimes. This is real, and it is happening nearly every single day. It's just that when they're picking us off one by one, it's easier to ignore, and easier for the straight people - those who pass discriminatory laws, or those who just stay to themselves and keep silent - to ignore.

And that brings us back home.
To Orlando.
To the Pulse Nightclub, where 50 queer people were gunned down, and as many others injured, by a homophobic whackjob with a high-powered weapon, just for being queer. For daring to go to a club, to dance, have fun, maybe unwind from a week of little daily discriminations and pains in a place where you are accepted for who you are. For no other crime than Living While Queer.
Pulse was a horrific tragedy. It was also the natural progression in the battle that has become literally a war against queer people in this country.
When those who hate and fear us are continually having those feelings affirmed by laws okaying discrimination and prejudice, when people are praised for denying us privacy and dignity to live and work, shop and get married, or even to pee unmolested, their conviction that we are The Others is validated.
When people see us as The Others, they see us as The Enemy.
When they are told we are taking away their freedom, they see us as The Enemy.
When they believe we are seeking victims in the restroom instead of peeing, they see us as The Enemy.
When they are told by politicians, law makers, preachers, and family-members that it’s not only OK but right to treat us as The Others, then they see us as The Enemy.  When no one speaks up to contradict that, then they believe that it’s right.
And when they believe without a shadow of a doubt that it’s right to see us as The Enemy, they do what any people would do when confronted with a threat to their freedom and safety: they take up arms against us.
And that, Darlings, is why it matters that more straight people were devastated and outraged when Harambe the gorilla was killed than over ‘the largest mass killing of LGBT people’ in the US. Because the current culture of anti-LGBT backlash makes it not only acceptable but encouraged to ‘protect innocent people’ from the queer boogeyman. To look for monsters under the bed (or in the stall next to you), or go looking for us before we come for them.

And it’s only natural that they come for us with guns.
So what does this mean for us, Darlings? Do we give up, go back to the 60s, go into hiding?

No, of course not. Never that.
But maybe we take a deep breath and a step back and realize that we may not have as many allies as we thought we had last week.
Maybe we feel grateful for the allies we do have, and try to build bridges and understanding with those people who truly are ignorant, in the sense that they’re just listening to the wrong people.
Maybe we try a little harder to speak up when we see or hear injustice, and try to stop misinformation, because silence = complicity.
Maybe we try to educate where possible, so people can learn who the real monsters are, and who just wants to pee. Or buy some flowers. Or get help when we call 911 after an automobile accident. Or who just wants to be left alone to live.
Maybe we strive to be a little more 'excellent' to each other.
Maybe we look over our shoulders a little bit more, and take more care of each other, because sometimes they do come for us.
But maybe we keep dancing, and singing, and loving, more than ever, and louder than ever, because we have to let them know that hate will not win.
Because we’re here, we’re queer, and no matter how many times the bigots force us to take two steps back for each tiny step forward, we’ll never, ever stop the dance, and Darlings, things are just starting to heat up.
Whether they’re stilettos, steel-toes, bare feet or birkenstocks, it’s time to put on our dancing shoes and show the haters that they can make us sad, they can make us angry, they can make us afraid, but they cannot make us quit.

Love will win. Turn the music up.

~~~

P.S. About that 'short post' I mentioned up there? Didn't happen. Sorry-not-sorry. If you made it all the way through, thanks for sticking with me.


* Please note: I'm using 'queer' as an umbrella term for community throughout this post; I myself identify as queer; I hope you will choose 'not offended' as your default position on this, please-and-thank-you. It is not intended as a slight of any kind.

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