Some Thoughts Inspired by the Orlando Mass Shooting

I write about history; readers come for history. We have a social contract there. Today, I’m breaking it. My name is Pat; I’m gay and I need to say a few things.

I don’t hide the fact that I’m gay, but have chosen not to make an issue of it. If the WordPress search works as it should, the word ‘gay’ has appeared on this blog exactly once. The history I study doesn’t frequently present occasions where my gayness might be relevant. I have told myself that everybody has parts of their life that don’t come up in the context of other parts. I don’t know the favorite foods of the bloggers I read. I have a vague awareness via Twitter that some on my blogroll follow sports, but I honestly don’t know which ones. Very occasionally someone mentions a family member.

That’s all fine, right? I’m five to ten years too young to have gotten comfortable with the idea of putting your entire life up online, moment by moment. Even if I were of an age more inclined to such things, my life is boring. Do you really want to hear that I got a good deal on a book? Or that this one came signed? How my Minecraft project has gone? That’s what I tell myself.

It’s not true. Nobody, or at least very few people, get shot over a used book that’s clearly never been opened or one that the author signed. I doubt anyone has ever been shot over a favorite food. They certainly don’t get shot and killed fifty at a time. People do get murdered, sometimes that many at once, for being LGBT+. It happens right here in the United States. It happened last week; it happens all the time.

I can only speak for myself here. I think that some of my experiences are fairly common, but I’m keenly aware that white, cisgender gay men have a long history of writing everyone else out of the story. I fail often, probably far more than I know, but I try to be better.

The first thing I remember learning about actual gay people was that people murdered them. I didn’t know that I was gay yet, but I knew that being gay could get you beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die. The first two important things I figured out about being gay personally, rather than in the abstract, were that I was not a monster and that other people would consider me a monster and might kill me because of it.

I figured these things out over a few months in 1999 and 2000. The Supreme Court legalized my sex life in 2002. I was twenty-one. It gave me the right to legally marry in 2015. I was thirty-four. I’m glad for those things. I can look at them on a good day and say it really does get better. The kids growing up today? They’ll be fine. People my age had these things to deal with, but that was then.

It wasn’t then; it’s now. It shouldn’t surprise me that the letter of the law changed before the killing stopped, but it did anyway. I don’t want thoughts and prayers, particularly not from politicians running on the notion that they’ll turn back the clock further still and who wouldn’t soil themselves by saying who was killed or why. I don’t want endless navel-gazing about how something like this could happen; we know exactly how it happens. Teach people that something is evil and they ought to wipe it out, then supply them with the necessary tools to easily do the job and you can’t claim any surprise when they put those tools to use.

I don’t want to hear that people have it worse in Saudi Arabia or somewhere else because they actually kill LGBT+ people there. We do that just fine in America, thanks. Nor do I want to hear about how Islam is a primitive, medieval faith practiced by savage brutes who can’t help themselves. American Christians have been a driving force behind Uganda’s draconian laws. Orthodox Christians have played the same part in Russia. The Communist Party before them decided homosexuality was a bourgeois vice fit for eradication too. I don’t see vast gulfs between the faiths, or the lack of a faith. The same people end up deprived, imprisoned, tortured, and dead.

And I especially don’t want to hear another tired rendition of how we’re all the same. We’re so different even on the other side of the imaginary line we’ve drawn that I’ve been using all those letters to refer to us. The lives of LGBT+ people should not rest on our ability to make others forget we exist.

There’s no good reason that it took this mass murder make me write all these things; the facts have been apparent for a long time. It’s not a bold stand against the world to declare my gayness under my first name on a blog. It’s just something that I can do to make my tiny corner of the internet a little more like I think it ought to be.

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