I would have written earlier but I have been in literary shock since hearing of the horrible murders in Orlando. I couldn’t bring myself to write my usual glib attack on the world of cancer and its poisonous treatments. Not while the world around me was staggering in shock and horror over yet another despicable shooting rampage.
Yet I didn’t feel equipped to write about the subject itself. Who am I to chirp in on a subject that hits so close to home for so many? What gives me the right to express an opinion? Humanity. The basic human dignities that were trampled, and continue to be trampled, from all angles in this continuing tragedy. A response to the frenzied diatribes of the media, religious right-wingers and Donald T. Rumps of this world. I do have something to say.
In my 20s (far too long ago) I worked as a doorman and security in two nightclubs in Vancouver. They’re both long gone now but, at the time, the Shaggy Horse and Buddies were two of the most popular gay clubs in the city. I remember them as joyful, accepting communities where the lbgtq clientele could feel comfortable, safe and free at a time when gay bashing and discrimination were still a common problem largely ignored by authorities. Very different from the straight clubs, the gay venues were safe havens and I was partly responsible for keeping them that way.
Growing up in Northern Alberta in the ‘60s and 70’s, a lot of my time was spent with a rifle in my hands and small game animals in my sights. I am intimately familiar with the impact of bullets on living flesh.
I can imagine, far too easily and vividly, the horror of semi-automatic gun fire in a crowded gay nightclub. I have played over and over in my head the variety of responses I, as a bouncer, would have when faced with a man armed with such a firearm. Dozens of scenarios have haunted my days and nights all this past week. Would I have fallen helplessly with the first bullet? Could I have wrestled him to the ground and disarmed him? Would I have hidden in the kitchen behind all that stainless steel? Could I have snuck up behind and clobbered him with a fire extinguisher? In my fantasies I can stop the carnage, most of the time.
I’ve also been trying to understand how this sort of thing can happen. We had our share of fights and homophobic rampages in the clubs back then but the only weapon I ever saw was a carpet knife. The most troublesome violence often came from gay-denial men who came to the clubs just to see what the fags were like then got drunk and let their inner homophobe out of the closet. Some of these guys eventually overcame their redneck upbringing and accepted themselves for who they really were. Some of them became regular customers and gay in both senses of the word.
Omar Mateen is one of the others; the ones who eventually lose the battle with whatever conservative, religious, redneck demons have been bred into their young minds. In my world, they snap one night and get into a fist flying, eye scratching free for all and get thrown out of the club for good. In Omar’s world, the angst of a closeted struggle with feelings that were anathema to his strictly religious upbringing, combined with the misguided freedoms of US gun culture, resulted in a vastly exaggerated response.
It may not be a popular opinion in any circles, but I believe Omar was a victim of systemic, family and religious intolerance long before he became the murderous gunman he will be remembered as. As for pledging allegiance to Isis, I don’t buy it. He apparently had no history of association with radical factions. It seems more likely that his sudden embracing of jihadist fervor was a desperate retreat deep into the closet before lashing out against the perceived embarrassment of his biological needs. He didn’t want to embarrass his family as the conflicted gay man who went on a rampage.
The fight against the Omar Mateens of this world can’t be fought with guns, bombs and missiles, or with law enforcement, or with long-overdue gun control. The armaments of this fight are education, acceptance and understanding. We must create a culture that will not produce an Omar Mateen; one that would allow him to embrace his biology. This battle was lost long before this young man ever heard of the Pulse nightclub.