An Open Letter About Orlando

June 14, 2016

I remember when I was 19, a Desert Storm combat vet taught me how to shoot an AR-15 at a Texas gun range – he was upset after my girlfriend and I almost got killed by white bigots for making out in a Taco Bell parking lot, and all I had was a knife to defend us. He wanted me to be able to protect myself like he had in Iraq.

Being a scared queer 19 year old rape and hate crime survivor with a blistering skill with an assault rifle remains one of the more incomprehensible memories of my life. I was at the point of a gun too many times and inexplicably survived, and remember too many loved ones who did not survive. My heart aches. Too many thoughts in my head, heart, and soul today to fully process, which I suppose is as it should be. Because all of this is so deeply wrong, for such ancient reasons, and the inexorable momentum of trauma, and the pain of surviving – or not surviving – hate crime violence.

Will guns ever leave American soil? I hope so. The memory of my own finger on that piece of weaponry will leave me radicalized forever, as will the fact that this wounded complex vet seemed to me at the time to be the first person who cared about my survival in a community who hated my kind.

We cannot accept being prey, yet neither can we become predators ourselves.

What new kind of social ecology can we build from here?


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Should I be glad there are bystanders just now learning what it means to be at the receiving end of fatal hate? Does this mean they will be so outraged at their discovery that the word justice becomes an action and not merely an ephemeral concept, a disembodied ideal?

Justice is very embodied. We have millions of these bodies, dead, gathered around us these days, both above ground and below.

As humanity – since we still call ourselves that with all its unearned nuances – processes what I’ll call “the new visibility of hate” in our country, it’s intriguing to see the responses of those to whom this is new (due to their demographic) and those of us to whom is it very, very familiar, for our own lifetime, or for generations of our kind. Those of us who have lived our entire lives with two eyes watching our back, poised with strategies to defend ourselves or those we love – practiced tactics for surviving hate.

Those of us who have graves we already visit, in our souls, every day.


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And what I want to talk about right now is the internal trauma of knowing in your soul of souls, the bones of your bones, that you and your kind are hated enough to be murdered with no consequence.

Can we start talking about the fact that in this country alone, there are millions of us who each day carry that knowledge in our guts, in our souls, in our hearts?

Many of us whose ancestors and ancestors’ ancestors lived with that knowledge in their psyches and bodies too, and I don’t know if I can look them in the eye across time and say I’ve done enough. Some days, I can’t even look myself in the eye because the pain of absorbed hate is too transparent. I see it in my face. I see in the faces of those I love.

Death comes to us all, but to some of us with an anonymous, casual brutality with no consequence.

I don’t want another vigil.

I don’t want a moment of silence.

Like many others, I want something done about the fact that I am marked as prey, and my loved ones are marked, and always have been, and it’s a trauma that we carry while attempting to hold down jobs, and be loving and kind, and pay our bills, and raise families, and pay our taxes, and feel through the trauma, and maintain an often fragile grasp on sanity, and be good people.

The trauma of knowing you are hated enough by bigots to be murdered with no consequence – I would spare anyone that knowledge. It is a wound that we desperately need to address. That when you learn how to hide under a desk, or how not to drink too much at a party with men, or how to walk down the street without offending anyone, you are learning in your body how it feels to be hated to death. We race for the cure for cancer, we run from death in so many of its forms, but there is a death inflicted in the soul that we must begin to talk about and act upon and seek justice for.

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In 1993, we dug my best friend’s unconscious body out of the dumpster behind our second-home sanctuary and refuge, a gay club in Cedar Springs, Dallas. His mother had sent him to the US from Lebanon because his father was going to have him killed for being gay. Instead, it was some fraternity brothers who tried that. Around 3am, terrified, we carried him to my car – parked in front of the house of an elderly white heterosexual couple who astonishingly came out in their pajamas and brought us inside for first aid, bandages, and safety. He survived. Sanctuary, allies – the heart is a muscle or else I suppose this many breakages would be its end.

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