On Hate, Cultural Identity, Sexual Identity, and Pulse Orlando

I feel like I don’t have a right to feel this way. I feel like I’m plagiarizing the emotions of a community I was never brave enough to claim, a culture I’ve always shied away from; and somehow, in some twisted way, I feel like I’m profiting from that theft by even bothering to write about it. I feel like an imposter and a coward, like I don’t deserve to shed these tears or possess these shaking hands. I’m still crying. My hands are still shaking.

Though I hail from South Florida, I say Orlando is my hometown. I’ve been in and around that area since I was born. I graduated high school there. I graduated university there—not once, but twice. I met my husband and got married there. Orlando is my home.

I am a white-passing Latina. I’m a het-passing bisexual in a culturally and socially sanctioned marriage with a white man. The battles and struggles faced by my brothers and sisters within the Latinx and LBGT+ communities are battles and struggles I am unlikely to ever face. Having taken my husband’s name, hardly anyone believes I’m Latina—not that they ever really believed me even when I had my maiden name. Because I have a husband, hardly anyone believes I’m bisexual.

I have known F since I was sixteen. We have over a decade of friendship and history. We went to high school together. We went to university together. He lived with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I for a while.

He used to go to Pulse. He loved it and always invited me to go, too.

F, however, isn’t a white-passing Latino. F isn’t het-passing, either, because he’s in a loving relationship with a man. Thankfully, F isn’t hurt. He wasn’t anywhere near the massacre, but he knows people who were, and has found friends’ names on the released fatality list. F recently had a birthday that he could have easily celebrated at Pulse. F could have easily been on that list of names.

This is where, I think, most of my fear comes. F could have been there. I could have lost one of my nearest and dearest friends. Many in our community have, in fact, lost their nearest and dearest friends; their loved ones. Like with the rest my white-passing, het-passing existence, I’m one of the lucky ones: the tragedy hasn’t touched me directly.

What happened at Pulse was “the worst act of terrorism on American soil since September 11, 2001, and the deadliest attack on a gay target in the nation’s history,” according to the New York Times. Many people are focusing on the Big Concepts of this instead of recognizing the nuances of the situation. Although the shooter called 911 before the attacked and pledged allegiance to ISIL (CNN), terrorism isn’t something exclusive to organizations like ISIL. Terrorism can be and is home-grown, too. There’s a thing called Domestic Terrorism, and it exists. Despite how ISIL posthumously accepted his pledge and have supposedly claimed responsibility for the attack, there’s little evidence that he was, in fact, motivated by ISIL (The Washington Post).

The shooter’s father said the shooter was angered by a gay kiss he saw in Miami, and that the shooting was not religiously motivated (NBC).

Here’s the thing though: every religious text has its Hammer Verses—the quotes, passages, and verses that are interpreted to supposedly condemn or declare deviant anything beyond heteronormative relationships. There are at least seven in the Bible, and though I’m not familiar with the Quran, I’m sure it has its share. What’s baffling to me is how people so often take these holy texts at face value instead of interpreting them within the context of when they were written and who had written them. Clearly there are laws and practices that are described within their pages that are no longer applicable in today’s society, and while there’s a worrying spread of Islamophobia, just like Christians with Christianity, Muslims practice Islam to varying degrees and with varying purposes.

This doesn’t change the fact that holy texts tend to condemn homosexuality, and terrible people will use their religion as a justification for heinous acts.

The Pulse shooter, by the way, wasn’t particularly religious (CNN), according to his parents. Just so you know.

Religion, however, has been the basis of morality for society for fucking ages. Fear and appeasement of deities goes back to the beginning of Mankind. So, even if someone isn’t actively practicing a religion, it’s hard to argue that religion doesn’t shape how society functions (I mean, just look at all of the religiously-driven legislation passed against LBGT+ and women’s body autonomy). And yes, I understand that Reason is a thing that also exists alongside Religion, however, the roots of society are its roots, and it’s only been within the last few centuries that Science began answering the questions Religion previously answered.

It’s amazing how deep concepts of Right and Wrong are ingrained.

The reason I shied away from my Latina heritage for so long was because I was heavily influenced by my white mother—who, because she was so angry at my Puerto Rican father, did nothing but throw racists slurs around in my presence. I learned to hate that side of myself—the Puerto Rican side—and completely shunned my culture. I know little to nothing about that aspect of my family or history, because the apprehension I expressed was accepted, in turn, by my Puerto Rican family members. I’m the White Grandchild, and therefore excluded from anything of cultural familial importance.

An anecdote: my father once gave me a small Puerto Rican flag. When my mother found it, she threw it away and said, “Tell your father Mommy is raising you to be a white girl.” Four-year-old me did as I was told. My dad took it with a grain of salt; he knew the poison’s true source.

The reason I shied away from my bisexuality for so long was because I was heavily influenced by my adamantly-heterosexual-homophobic-but-not-really-homophobic mother—who, because she was so masculine and often mistaken for a lesbian, did nothing but talk about how sexually disgusting the female body was. I learned that oral sex performed on a woman, though possibly pleasurable, was disgusting, and a lover should never kiss you afterward. She used to say, “If I was meant to taste myself that way, I’d have either been born double-jointed or a cat.” I internalized that and didn’t accept my attraction to women until I was well into my twenties. I’d kissed girls as a teen, but only “because my boyfriend liked to watch it,” never “because I enjoyed it.”

An anecdote: in middle school, one of my friends had a crush on me. I didn’t know what to do with it, and rejected her advances. When we reconnected in our university years, she was still attracted to me, and I was more comfortable with my attraction to her. Despite this, despite her admitting she’d leave her then-boyfriend for a shot at dating me, I still wasn’t ready. Of anyone I’ve known who could have gently helped me navigate those new, uncharted waters, it probably would have been her. I would probably be happier for it. I have no idea where she is or how she’s doing, but she’s one of my biggest personal regrets.

What happened at Pulse was inexcusable. It was senseless. It was an abomination. The grief and loss of those directly affected is utterly unfathomable to me.

But hatred, in any form, is a deeply intrinsic, internalized thing that spans years and generations, and not everyone is self-aware enough to understand from where these complex feelings stem. It’s closely tied with concepts of Right and Wrong, and that which is Wrong tends to be Hated.

Like this attack. It was Wrong. I Hate that it happened.

I was taught to hate being Latina. I was taught to hate being bisexual. As a result, I’ve never involved myself in either of those communities. Because of some genetic lottery, I wear neither of these community membership badges indefinitely. I am white-passing. I am het-passing.

Whether this shooter knew his slaughter would happen on Latin Night at Pulse, I can’t say for certain, but knowing the gay kiss that angered him in Miami, where there is a high Latinx population, offers a basis for speculation and concern. It offers a space to acknowledge another level of complexity of Hate.

Latinx. LBGT+. Two communities attacked. Two communities to which I belong. Two communities for the sake of which I actively fight the toxic lessons I’ve been taught.

I am bisexual. I am Latina. I'm still learning what these mean to me, and struggling to feel safe while doing so.

This isn’t about religion, but every religious text has something that can be used to demonize the LBGT+ community.

This isn’t about whether being LBGT+ is a Choice to be judged as Right or Wrong.

This is about the complex relationships within society, and one man’s conscious decision to incite violence based on his perception of those relationships.

Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families are not enough. Legislation needs to change, but not just about guns—also about the civil liberties of the LBGT+ community. By treating us as sub-human, you dehumanize us and all but encourage our extermination.

I don’t want prayers about my brothers and sisters (and here I claim them, truly) sent to the God who told you they were sinners and deserved to die.

I don’t want thoughts about my brothers and sisters unless those thoughts lead to plans on how to better protect them, on how to elevate them to true equality and protection under the law.

I want change.