So the rumors have already spread about how the Orlando shooter, whose name I have purposefully chosen to omit, was a regular at the Pulse bar and kept a profile on a gay dating app. His behavior was irregular and unstable. He mentioned to the other patrons that he had a wife and child. He drank heavily and was aggressive toward the other patrons. He was heavily closeted, and heavily homophobic.
The reactions to the news have been mixed and troubling. Many feel as if the community will suffer as a result, that this will lead to many people blaming the LGBT community for, what to them, seems to be our own issue. The idea that our identity is the product of mental illness or inherent sin has been perpetuated for generations to the point where, in many people’s minds, these two concepts are inexplicably intertwined. However, the truth is more complicated than that.
Abuse – particularly parental abuse – is what produces mental illness in LGBT people. Yes, mental illness rates tend to be higher in those who identify as LGBT, but many of these illnesses are the product of years of trauma that straight and cisgender people do not experience. The fact that our voices have only been listened to recently has lead to some lag in academia.
You can see this discrepancy when you look at research done on the LGBT community, particularly with transgender people. This is the reason why the 2011 paper on transgender people and suicide in Sweden is problematic. It considers bottom surgery as the “marker” of finally becoming one’s true gender when many transgender people opt out of bottom surgery all together. The study doesn’t consider the financial burden of a major surgery. There are many reasons why it’s a poor example, but it’s often cited as an example of why treating dysphoria with surgery is problematic when it doesn’t address the real issues at all. And that is because there was not a single trans person involved.
We cannot choose to hold our tongues any longer.
The concept of the closet, as it is, needs to no longer exist. We need to torch it, effectively, until we live in a world where the idea that an individual would have any reason other than their own free will to hide their gender or sexuality no longer exists. The closet breeds anxiety and depression like mold. It draws out the worst of a person. The closet rots the individual from the inside and spreads outward into how that individual interacts with others.
Discrimination and hatred against the LGBT community in any form is no longer acceptable. Discrimination and hatred within the LGBT community in any form is no longer acceptable, either.
We cannot mince words, either. We cannot give a pass on microaggressions to “nice allies.” Saying that someone else’s sexuality or gender identity is a “lifestyle choice” is no longer acceptable. Expecting someone to hide their sexuality or gender identity (such as hiding the fact that they have a partner from their co-workers or refusing to use a trans person’s pronouns) is no longer acceptable. Treating a child or a friend differently because they express interest in someone of the same gender is no longer acceptable.
Ultimately, you cannot get rid of homophobia without addressing microaggressions. You cannot say that someone is making a “lifestyle choice,” and then act astonished when someone kicks their kid out of their house – in their mind, their kid is making the “wrong choice” and they are punishing their kid for making the “wrong choice.” You cannot refuse to use someone’s pronouns and then be shocked when someone says that transgender people are actually only mentally ill and not their real gender. Most people within the community have some understanding of this concept, but they should consider this a reminder. Those outside of the community need to understand this.
In regards to any of us in the community who feel a sense of shame and betrayal at the fact that the shooter may have been one of us, I have a simple response and a slightly more personable message. I understand your pain. I felt it myself. But it brought upon a realization.
Everyone in the community knows you are given a choice the moment you are faced with conflict. You either resist in some form, or go into the closet. I have found peace with the fact that if the literal manifestation of the highest power in the universe told me that I was wrong and sinful, I would tell them to go to hell. It took a long time for me to reach that realization. Many people never do. Many people end up twisted and broken by society. Many people choose to be selfish and cruel. But if you do not make that choice, you are not like him. If you wake up with the resolution to make the world better, to take pride in yourself and your community, you are a better person than most in this world.
Our pride is one that is not easily broken. We go through hell, and we rise out of it with a greater sense of self-realization than most people in this world. We are better than this.