WE ARE ORLANDO, BUT PERHAPS WE ARE OMAR MATEEN TOO?

by Emmanuel Agu

Content warning: mass shooting, homophobia, mental health

In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, myself members of queer societies and wider society are yet again pulled into self-reflection in this time of despair. The tragedy stands as a solid reminder that those who live queer lives are aberrant; there are those who can never accept us — our death is the only thing that can appease them. A solid reminder that when these atrocities strike our communities — those who are struck hardest will be the queer people of colour, our trans siblings and disabled siblings. It was a solid reminder of the extent of homophobia within our society leads to; whilst simultaneously exposing the exclusion of faith within our spaces of activism and self-organization. It is entirely uplifting to see people from across the world and many facets of society declare their solidarity following #weareorlando trend; I am filled with pride and affirmation that the life style myself and my kinfolk live are valid, we deserve recognition, we deserve to be able to celebrate our cultures — to simply exist, without fear of decimation and harm.

I do not mean to detract from these displays of solidarity, but it is necessary to also ask one another to what extent are we responsible for the development of Omar Mateen?

The obvious response to the first question notes the extent of homophobia within our society in creating homicidal bigots, it notices the long-standing blood bans for homosexual, the restriction of access to preventative medication that has the potential to eradicate the HIV/AIDS pandemic within a generation — it also acknowledges an active willing desire to unlearn what we are taught through heteronormative structures of society.

The second answer is perhaps a bit more complex. Initially the finger is pointed at religion as a key facilitator of homophobic bigotry, and that line of thought is often carried through to most of our spaces to attribute the subjugation of a variety of social classes. To some extent, yes, Marteen’s religion is responsible for his actions, but when we consider Marteen’s reported closeted homosexuality, I am posed to question to what extent religious excluding queer spaces have contributed to his own mindset? When I think of my own fantastically conservative Christian upbringing, my own journey in my mental health and how difficult reconciling my faith with my identity was, I am filled with even more rage and emotion in response to this event. As much as I might be Orlando, I could have very easily been Omar Marteen.

I am posed to question to what extent religious excluding queer spaces have contributed to his own mindset?

This isn’t article is in no way intended as some sort of ‘not all men’ or ‘all lives matter’ subversion of legitimate discourse. It is entirely valid to note that the hegemonic nature of masculinity and the identity of whiteness are facilitated by misogyny and racism; reasoning following this sentiment exposes the ubiquity of racism and sexism in all members of society, the magnitude of which is understandably much more prevalent in the more privileged members of society. When we extend this same method of analysis to our efforts of liberation and spaces of self-organization to criticize religion, we become implicit in non-sequiturs permeated in bigotry.

(© Francois Lenoir / Reuters)

I would even go as far as to say that lack of racial diversity within mainstream queer spaces, that is limited by blatant exclusionary racism and fetishisation, is often exacerbated by discourse that follows this line of thought. For communities of Colour whom are (statistically) more likely to be indoctrinated in religion and likely to carry personal faith entering spaces in which this narrative pervades —  it serves to alienate us even further. In my experience, those whom I have found most accepting of my identity and ‘lifestyle choices’ are the children of Pentecostal ministers, those raised in strict religious households and immigrants and refugees from the states that are often painted as ‘regressive’.

In my experience, those whom I have found most accepting of my identity and ‘lifestyle choices’ are the children of Pentecostal ministers

Often in these spaces of activism I am often posed with ignorant questions of theodicy that I’d expect self-proclaimed progressives to be far above. Within the 21 years of my life do you not think I have thought of the verses that condemn my choices in partner? Do you not think I have taken time to reconcile myself with a whitewashed faith that was used to enslave my ancestors and colonise my country of origin? Legitimate discussion on faith I can always entertain, however, these questions are often followed by a confusion of the existence of my faith considering my identity in life, and belief in science. The same allies who expose science as a tool of the oppressor through concreting their identities as mental illnesses, are eager to preach to me how the lack of scientific evidence behind an omnipotent God should surely stand to be a reason to not believe. Instead on interrogating why people believe, should we not be questioning the state and organisations that choose to magnify the weight of certain sins above others that are mentioned far more, e.g lending money and charging interest, fornication etc.?

(© Mark Blinc/Reuters)

I cannot speak directly for Muslim queer people, but I’d direct you to interrogate the homoeroticism within the works of Abu Nuwas around the ‘Islamic Golden age’. The outcome of this research points in a solid direction, organised religion is corrupted by legacies of colonialism — faith on its own not the enemy.  The idea of one monolithic identity of religion and an enforced dichotomy of sexuality are utilised only to frustrate tensions within communities. In this critical time, even in the fury and pain we are experiencing — we must rise above contributing to erasure and subjugation of others as we move forward and heal. May this stand as a reminder that the Queer and Faithful exist; we are not confused, nor do we experience additional marginalisation because of a willful ignorance to certain scriptures that stand to contradict our with our way of life.

Featured image © Jason Micheli

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