Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
“I actually went to high school in Orlando,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality, at the start of the club’s meeting June 23 — just 10 days after 49 people were massacred at the Queer Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. “Pulse was one of the first Gay clubs I ever went to, along with another one called Parliament House. These areas were very central to my community. I’m also a young Puerto Rican Gay man, so this was an assault on my community and my family in pretty much every way I can possibly put it. I also lost three people in the attack, so it hits me at sort of a rough time in our family and our community. So let us start the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando.”
That, 10 days after the Orlando massacre, was the first moment the horror of what had happened there really hit me. It’s one thing to know that something terrible has happened; it’s quite another thing to feel a personal connection. Though Will Rodriguez-Kennedy is hardly one of my bosom buddies, he’s someone I’ve known for over four years — he was the cover boy of Zenger’s issue #204, two issues before the final print publication of my magazine, and I’ve known him ever since as he rose through the ranks of the San Diego Democrats for Equality just four years after resigning as head of its Republican equivalent, the San Diego County Log Cabin Club, and switching from Republican to Democrat — and the magnitude of his sense of loss hooked me and made me feel more intensely than I had before for the lost Queers of Orlando and the survivors whose lives will never be the same again.
Sunday, June 13 was supposed to be a happy day for me. My husband Charles and I were going to have one of our all too rare simultaneous days off from work. I was scheduled to meet him at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park for the regular Sunday afternoon organ concert at 2 p.m., and what I didn’t realize was that at 3:30 in the same venue there would be a free concert given by the Mainly Mozart Festival. What’s more, we had tickets for yet another music event, a concert by the Voices in Unity and Emerging Voices youth choirs of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest at 6 p.m., so Charles and I were anticipating a rather long but joyous and uplifting day listening to people performing great (and sometimes not-so-great) music live.
By chance, the weekend of June 12-13 was one during which I was cut off from the Internet. Apparently some people from AT&T were out working on the lines, and so our regular Internet connection was cut off from Friday afternoon to midnight the following Monday. Since the Pulse shooting had happened too early in the morning — 1:30 to 4:30 a.m. Florida time — to make the morning Los Angeles Times (yes, I still subscribe to a home-delivered print newspaper!), I hadn’t heard a thing about it. Charles, who still had Internet access through his cell phone, had, and he warned me that there would no doubt be a lot of rhetoric from the podia at the concerts about how a terrible, tragic thing had happened but that music is an uplifting, healing force that will help us get over the traumas of such events and remind us that we are all one, all part of the same human race, despite the petty differences that divide us and sometimes get us killed.
So it wasn’t until 10 p.m. that night, when we got home from the very last music event exhausted but enlivened and ennobled by what we had been hearing all day, that I got a chance to switch on cable TV news and realize the enormity of what had happened. A lone gunman had got into the Pulse club in Orlando on “Latino night” — which made me think that for a certain sort of bigot the opportunity to kill a lot of people who were both Latino and Queer would be a sick “twofer” — and with a semi-automatic assault rifle, which he had purchased legally under Florida’s liberal gun laws, had slaughtered 50 people (later the “official” death toll was reduced to 49) before the Orlando police had finally put an end to the massacre by battering down the club’s back wall and ultimately killing the alleged shooter.
I also learned from the cable news reports that night that the alleged shooter was someone named Omar Mateen, and though he had been born in the U.S. his parents had emigrated here from Afghanistan. The reports also said that at some point during his rampage he had “sworn allegiance” to the international terror group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL — Islamic State in the Levant — or just IS, or by its Arabic initials “DAESH,” which if you pronounce it right can be twisted to sound like an Arabic insult). Later it turned out he’d also sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Nusra, two rival terror groups who hate ISIS and each other almost as much as they hate the infidels. It reminded me of the infamous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald in his backyard, posing with the rifle with which he allegedly killed John F. Kennedy and holding two Left-wing newspapers, one in each hand: the Worker, outlet of the Communist Party, U.S.A.; and the Militant, published by their hated rival, the Trotskyist Socialist Workers’ Party.
The “Terror” Context: Who Was Omar Mateen?
Of course, once it came out that Omar Mateen had made a 911 call during the attack in which he “swore allegiance” to ISIS — an elastic concept that may mean anything from a vague sympathy with their stated goals to actual participation in the terror group’s infrastructure — the whole event got looked at quite differently than it would have been if he hadn’t. Instead of being put in the same category as Columbine, Aurora or Sandy Hook — loner goes crazy, brings a lot of guns to a public place and shoots people — it got shoved into the list of “ISIS attacks” alongside the massacres in Paris in November 2015 and San Bernardino a year later. As such, it instantly became an issue in the Presidential campaign and inspired yet another rhetorical salvo from Donald Trump saying that this all happened because the Democrats haven’t been “tough” enough on ISIS and terrorists in general — and a tepid response from Hillary Clinton saying that we must stay focused on defeating ISIS and need an “intelligence surge” to identify and stop shooters like Mateen before they act.
Ironically, on June 12 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested a 20-year-old man named James Wesley Howell, claiming they had found him driving with a large supply of guns and chemicals that could have been used to make bombs, and that he told them he intended to “harm” that weekend’s L.A. Pride celebration. Howell had driven to Santa Monica from his native Indiana and apparently was himself either Gay or Bisexual (accounts differ). He’d just gone through a traumatic breakup with his boyfriend of about seven months, 17- or 18-year-old Joseph Greeson. He was also known as a gun collector and a quick-tempered loner who in October had been arrested in Indiana for pointing a gun at someone’s face.
So let’s do a thought experiment here. Let’s suppose that Orlando police had arrested Omar Mateen the night of June 12 while he was carrying his bag full of guns down the street but before he got to Pulse. And let’s say that James Wesley Howell had made it to the L.A. Pride event and either opened fire with his arsenal, set off a few bombs, or both. Just imagine how differently the incidents would have been reported: Mateen, if he had got covered by the media at all, would have been just one more crazy picked up on the streets with a bunch of guns in his possession (all legally obtained under Florida law — one of the bizarre ironies is he was legally barred from buying body armor but he could have all the firearms he wanted and could pay for), while Howell would have been portrayed as a screwed-up nutcase who did a terrible thing, but certainly not representative of all white Queer gun collectors.
The odd thing was as more information about Omar Mateen came out, he too emerged as a man profoundly confused and screwed up about his own sexuality. When CNN started broadcasting photos of him, one in particular caught my eye: he was in what appeared to be a bedroom and was posing bare-chested, probably (given the otherwise odd camera angle) for a selfie. Something about that shot sent my “Gaydar” through the roof, and so it was no surprise that in the first days after the attack “regulars” at Pulse told reporters that they’d seen him at the club many times before. It turned out that Mateen, though he’d been married to two women — the first had the good sense to leave him after six months when he abused her and the second was still with him at the time of the attack and had borne him a son he apparently doted on — had also logged on to Gay male pick-up sites like Grindr (which I’d heard of before) and Jack’d (which I hadn’t). One man recalled that he’d answered Mateen’s ad on one of those sites but shortly dropped him because he seemed “creepy.” (Joseph Greeson told Indiana reporters that James Wesley Howell seemed “strange and kind of weird.”)
One of the most revealing interviews about Mateen was given by his father, Saddique Mateen. An Afghan immigrant to the U.S. and a naturalized U.S. citizen, Saddique Mateen gave several interviews in English, but the one that particularly struck me was one CNN aired the night of June 13 in which Saddique spoke in his native language, Dari, with an English voiceover. I suspect Saddique loosened up in Dari to an extent he didn’t in his subsequent English-language interviews, because among other things he made it clear to the reporter that he hated what his son had done, but not because he had any respect or tolerance for Queer people. He said that homosexuals were sinners and deserved to go to hell, but that it was the job of Allah — not humans — to send them there.
The impression I’m getting — and it’s only a guess on my part from the evidence, but I think it’s a good guess and it fits the known facts — is that Omar Mateen grew up, like many Queer people, having same-sex attractions and also all too aware that his parents, his relatives, his community and his culture condemned them outright. He tried to do the “right” thing, according to his culture’s rules, by marrying women and having kids. He also sneaked around and dipped his toes into the Gay underworld. He was being torn apart by the contradiction between his enculturated beliefs and his desires, and ultimately he found an outlet in radical Islam. He didn’t know much about it — as witness his indiscriminate pledges of “allegiance” to three groups dramatically at odds with each other — but it offered him a way out of the contradictions that were tearing him apart.
He was told that it was deeply sinful to be Gay, and even more so to act on his Gay impulses, but he could go into a Gay club and expiate his sins by killing the infidel sinners and sending a message to the world in general and all those sinful Queer people in particular that the hand of Allah, working through him, would strike them down. When Saddique Mateen told interviewers his son had told him he had seen two men kissing each other in front of his son, and the sight had horrified him, I had no doubt Saddique Mateen was telling the truth — Omar actually did say that to him — but I strongly doubt that represented the whole of Omar’s feelings towards Gay men. He was torn apart between his sexuality and his fanatical religious beliefs, and — alas for the 49 killed and 53 wounded in Pulse — fanatical religion, not love and joy, won the battle for Mateen’s heart and soul.
Of course Mateen was also a modern mass killer in other, quirkier ways. During his three-hour attack, he interrupted himself to follow himself on social media and see how what he was doing was being reported. He also called his wife, and according to her attorneys, the first question she asked him was, “Where are you?” They seemed to be offering this largely as a defense against the accusation that she was either in on his attack or at least knew he was going to do something dastardly and didn’t report it in advance to the police, but if it’s true it just adds another surrealistic detail to an already messy story. (How was he going to answer that? “I’m at Pulse nightclub, killing a few infidel faggots for Allah. Don’t wait up.”)
Omar Mateen may have told the police, or whoever he was talking to on 911, that he had “sworn allegiance” to ISIS, but probably nobody in ISIS Central in Raqqa, Syria had any idea who he was — just as they probably had no idea who Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were until they opened fire at a social-service office in San Bernardino and killed 14 people, again claiming to be doing it in the name of ISIS. (At least they were more computer-literate than Mateen; instead of telling a 911 operator they bore “allegiance” to ISIS, they were able to log their declaration onto ISIS’ Facebook page.) In its home base in the Middle East, ISIS may be a tightly organized, effective guerrilla army with clearly defined command-and-control structures, but in the rest of the world ISIS is … well, just about everyone who says they’re part of it and does something vaguely connected with ISIS’ stated mission.
This kind of “shadow organization” actually began in the U.S. with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Instead of top-down centralized organizations with operators acting in a hierarchically organized conspiracy, these “groups” are essentially Web sites onto which anyone who does something that reflects their stated values can log on and claim to be part of the organization. While ALF and ELF are saboteurs rather than terrorists — one of their key rules is to damage only property and not take people’s lives — their model has since been copied by overseas terrorists. Al-Qaeda reinvented itself as this sort of shadow organization after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in November 2001, toppled the Taliban and thereby eliminated al-Qaeda’s ability to sustain a top-down structure with military command and control. At least since September 2014, when they issued a call to supporters worldwide not to come to Iraq and Syria to fight, but to stage attacks against “infidels” in their home countries with the weapons they had on hand, ISIS has functioned both as a conventional command-and-control guerrilla army and a virtual organization along the ALF/ELF model.
But Mateen’s claim of “allegiance” to ISIS, however tenuous in the real world, strongly shaped how his acts were reported and how they were interpreted by politicians, especially the presumptive Presidential nominees of America’s two major political parties. Hillary Clinton made some of the right noises, calling for tolerance of America’s diversity and correctly criticizing Donald Trump for proposing a “temporary” ban on Muslims entering the U.S. But she also framed the struggle against ISIS almost exclusively in military terms, reflecting what we know of her record as Secretary of State under President Obama: she was often trying to get him to send the U.S. military into hot spots like Syria and Libya, and he would overrule her, keep the troops at home and attack, if at all, with unmanned drones so Americans wouldn’t see their sons (and, now, daughters) coming home in body bags.
As for Donald Trump, his speech the day after Orlando — replacing one he’d planned to give denouncing Hillary Clinton as a crook and the Clinton Foundation as a shakedown racket targeting other countries’ leaders — was remarkable in many ways. As he has on many other issues, including his support for Social Security and Medicare, he sounded a lot more like a European Right-winger than a normal American one. Trump called the Orlando massacre “an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity.”
That’s an extraordinary thing for a Republican politician to say, especially given how as recently as 2004 then-President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership in general saw their opposition to Queer rights in general and marriage equality in particular as one of the cornerstone issues that would keep Republicans in power indefinitely. If anything, Trump sounded like Pim Fortuyn, the controversial openly Gay Dutch politician who called for a ban on Muslims in the Netherlands and was assassinated in 2002. Like Trump, Fortuyn argued that Muslims had to be kept out of his country because they directly threatened the liberal social values of tolerance and acceptance that Queer people rely on to feel safe and accepted.
Of course, being Donald Trump, he couldn’t leave it at that. He appeared to blame the Pulse murders on whichever immigration officials had let Mateen’s parents into the U.S. in the first place. “[T]he only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here,” Trump said. “We have a dysfunctional immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country, and it does not permit us to protect our citizens. … With fifty people dead, and dozens more wounded, we cannot afford to talk around the issue anymore — we have to address it head on. I called for a ban [on Muslim immigration] after San Bernardino, and was met with great scorn and anger, but now, many are saying I was right to do so — and although the pause is temporary, we must find out what is going on. The ban will be lifted when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country.”
Guns We Have With Us Always
Trump also blasted his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for saying “”the solution is to ban guns.” (Clinton didn’t say that, by the way, though she did call for more restrictions on gun availability.) “They tried that in France, which has among the toughest gun laws in the world, and 130 were brutally murdered by Islamic terrorists in cold blood,” Trump said. “Her plan is to disarm law-abiding Americans, abolishing the 2nd Amendment, and leaving only the bad guys and terrorists with guns. She wants to take away Americans’ guns, then admit the very people who want to slaughter us. I will be meeting with the NRA, which has given me their earliest endorsement in a Presidential race, to discuss how to ensure Americans have the means to protect themselves in this age of terror.”
The NRA — the National Rifle Association — has become the third rail of American politics. Just hinting at measures, however mild, to restrict the availability of guns, whether expanding background checks so people with heavy-duty mental issues can’t buy guns, banning assault weapons (as was actually done between 1994 and 2004, when enough Republicans remembered how closely President Ronald Reagan came to losing his life to a crazy man with a gun), closing the so-called “gun show loophole” by which people who’d have to go through a waiting period if they tried to buy a gun at a store can pick one up immediately at a gun show, or making gun manufacturers legally liable for abuses of their products, is writing your own death warrant if you’re a politician seeking to win or keep office. Even when overwhelming majorities of Americans favor sensible gun restrictions, the NRA’s single-issue voters have enough clout to punish any politician and get rid of them.
The NRA does not lose. Repeat: the NRA does not lose. In the wake of Orlando I signed a few online petitions calling for gun regulations and shared them with my Facebook friends, but I was conscious at how futile an enterprise this was. The NRA’s reputation for political invincibility soared in 2000, when they — not Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris, not the U.S. Supreme Court, not Ralph Nader — made George W. Bush President. In 2000 the NRA mounted “independent” campaigns against Democratic nominee Al Gore in Tennessee and West Virginia, and these were effective enough that Bush beat Gore in both those states. In an otherwise razor-close election, Gore thus became the first major-party Presidential nominee since George McGovern to lose his home state — and that was crucial to the outcome because if Gore had carried Tennessee, he would have been elected President and Florida wouldn’t have mattered.
Since 2000, a pall of silence has descended on the political system that has ensured that mass murders have been met, not with any serious efforts to cut back on the ability of virtually every American to buy virtually any sort of firearm, but with moments of silence and prayers for the dead. Every time there’s been a mass shooting during Barack Obama’s presidency, the same ritual has been enacted: he’s come forward, pulling all the “compassion” and “sadness” stops on his organ, and pleaded with Congress to enact some minimal regulation of gun availability. And every time Congress, reflecting its thrall to the NRA, has basically given him the finger. This time Democrats in the Senate tried a filibuster — not the “virtual filibuster” that in practice has made it necessary to have 60 Senate votes to pass anything but a real, honest-to-goodness Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style talkfest on the Senate floor.
Democrats in the House, led by Black Congressmember John Lewis (D-Georgia) — who began his political life as an activist leading anti-segregation sit-ins for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 — tried a sit-in of their own to get Republicans seriously to consider a mild piece of gun legislation that would prevent people on the FBI’s terror watch list or the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s “no-fly list” from being able to buy assault weapons like the kind Mateen allegedly used to rack up 49 victims at Pulse. The bill, like all attempts at reasonable gun regulations in Congress in the last 16 years, went exactly nowhere. Frankly, I personally would have voted against the bill — the FBI “terror watch list” and TSA “no-fly list” are nonjudicial and I don’t want to see anybody’s constitutional rights abridged because they’ve been put on there without their knowledge, with no due process and no real right of review — but I don’t see why any private citizen should be allowed to possess an assault weapon whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of human beings in a short space of time.
But it doesn’t matter what I think, or what the 74 percent of Americans (according to pollsters) who say they’d like background checks for firearms purchases expanded think. The expansive idea that the Second Amendment confers on individual Americans a virtually unfettered right to buy just about any sort of gun they want is as settled as any political issue ever is. We have decided we want to be a society where growing numbers of people can buy growing numbers of guns (although a recent New Yorker article, “Making a Killing: The Business and Politics of Selling Guns,” by Evan Osnos, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/06/27/after-orlando-examining-the-gun-business, argues that the number of American households with guns is actually declining, but the number of guns in the U.S. is going up because people who already have guns are buying more), because the people in favor of gun rights are that much better mobilized and more politically effective than the people favoring regulation. So whatever we are going to do about mass shootings, one thing that isn’t going to happen is any reduction in the number of guns or the number of people allowed to buy them.
More Than Guns: A Selfish Culture
But Americans’ love affair with guns and with the individualistic nobody-helps-me-I-protect-myself philosophy that increasingly goes with gun ownership is just a part of a broader attitude in society that makes mass shootings not only conceivable but virtually inevitable. As filmmaker Michael Moore pointed out in Bowling for Columbine — a much richer and more complex movie than the pro-gun control propaganda documentary a lot of people who hadn’t seen it assumed, on the basis of Moore’s progressive reputation, it would be — Canada has almost as many guns per capita than the U.S., and yet its rates of gun crime are considerably lower.
The entire history of the United States has been a dynamic tension between individualism and communitarianism — originally reflected by the two religious opposition groups who settled much of the East Coast after they were driven out of Britain, the Puritans and the Quakers. Reflecting the political and social philosophy of their founder, Swiss theologian John Calvin, the Puritans believed that only a handful of people were “saved” and “predestined” to go to Heaven — the rest of humanity was damned whatever they did or didn’t do — and it was the job of government to intervene in moral issues to protect the predestined ones from falling victim to their sins and being damned like everyone else.
What’s more, Calvin argued that the way God had to show the rest of us who was “saved” and who wasn’t was their material success in this world. The more money and property you had, according to Calvin, the better you were as a person — which is the root of the amazing American reverence for wealth and the belief, reflected in Donald Trump’s poll numbers, that if you are rich you are a better person than the common run of humanity because you are rich and therefore God has shown His favor on you.
The Puritans were America’s original “rugged individualists,” convinced that it was not only wrong from a policy standpoint but downright immoral for government to tax the well-off to help the not-so-well-off. The Quakers were America’s original communitarians, arguing that it was their religious duty to reach out to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the victims of discrimination, and that it was not only legitimate but morally right to institutionalize that commitment through government action.
American history can be read as a sort of yin-and-yang struggle between Puritan individualism (and its secular counterpart, social Darwinism, which became popular in the late 19th century and was basically the idea that rich people were rich because they had evolved beyond the rest of humanity and developed special talents and brain power that made them superior; it survives today mainly in the Libertarian Party and the writings of its founder, the late Ayn Rand) and Quaker communalism — and at least since the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980, individualism has been dominant and communitarianism has largely fallen by the wayside.
What does this have to do with mass shootings? Because mass shootings are the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of the credo of “rugged individualism.” Mass shootings are a psychotic extension of the idea that the superior person has the right to do whatever he or she wants. A corporate leader can close down factories, throw thousands of people out of work, wipe out entire communities and claim he or she is doing all this in pursuit of some “greater good” for his or her shareholders, or his or her own reputation as someone who will focus on “the bottom line” to the exclusion of all other criteria. A country which makes heroes of people who do this and nominates them for President (Trump’s immediate predecessor as Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, was also a businessman who threw a lot of people out of work when he thought that would make him or his company money) shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of sick people take the individualist take-no-prisoners me-me-me style to the extreme of loading up with guns and killing a lot of people.
Whatever the differences between them, the mass shooters in recent American history were all troubled individuals who believed that whatever was making them feel “wrong” could be made “right” again by loading guns and aiming them at other people. Whether they were doing it in the name of ISIS, white supremacy, racism, opposition to abortion or more prosaic concerns like losing a job or being unable to find sex partners, mass murderers have one thing in common: they all believe their own lives are paramount and it doesn’t matter who they kill. It’s a chilling indifference to the needs and desires of other people that’s the dictionary definition of psychopathology — but it’s not that far different from the competitive ethos with which Americans are raised, the idea that only one person will end up at the top and whatever it takes to be that one person is legitimate and worthwhile.
A Few More Reflections
A few more reflections on the Orlando Pulse shootings: as I noted at the start of this article, it occurred to me that it was a cruel irony that the killer targeted the club’s highly popular “Latino night,” given that certain kinds of bigots would hate many of the victims as much for being Latino as for being Queer. I was also struck by how many of the victims were women; apparently Pulse was a truly gender-mixed Queer club to an extent I can’t remember from any Gay bar I was ever actually in when I frequented them. Not that I ever really liked Gay bars; I’ve often joked to my husband Charles and our friends that one of the advantages of being married is never having to set foot in a Gay bar again in my life (though a few weeks ago I had a surprisingly fun evening in one on a night when my husband was working very late).
But other people certainly did. The Gay bar served for many years as more than just a meeting, drinking and cruising place; it was, as Richard Kim wrote recently in The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/please-dont-stop-the-music//?nc=1), “therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.” Indeed, not long after I came out as a Gay man I remember being asked why the Gay community wasn’t as unified as the Black community, and I replied, “That’s the difference between a community whose social center is its churches and one whose social center is its bars.”
“Just as [North Carolina white supremacist shooter] Dylann Roof preyed upon the specific openness and hospitality of the Mother Emanuel Church, Omar Mateen exploited the specific things that make Gay bars magic,” Kim wrote. “He took the dark, the loudness, the density, the chaos of the dance floor—and he made them his accomplices in what is the largest mass shooting in this nation’s history. But he does not own these things, and his desecration cannot defeat us. This next week is going to suck hard—but we must remember that our joy is its own purpose; it is a higher calling.”
We live in a strange time in American history — but perhaps for Queer Americans, as for Americans of color and American women, it is always (in Charles Dickens’ memorable phrase) “the best of times and the worst of times.” We have come so far and we still have so far to go. We can, in many states, get married on Sunday and get fired on Monday. We have won a level of acceptance of which I couldn’t have dreamed when I ended a five-year relationship with a woman and took my first steps out of the closet in late 1982. If someone had told Charles and I when we first started dating in 1995 that in a little over 13 years we would be able to get married — not have a personally meaningful but legally meaningless ceremony in an “accepting” church but be joined in matrimony under the authority of the state of California and the county of San Diego, complete with license and rings — we’d have thought they were nuts.
But just as, in Newtonian physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so the more visible we become and the more broadly accepted we are, the more we roil up the bilious mental juices of sick individuals who want to hurt us. Some of them don religious vestments or suits and ties and seek to institutionalize discrimination against us as a matter of law — from the so-called “freedom of conscience” bills that would allow government clerks to refuse us services we have a legal right to if it would offend their beliefs, to the even sicker and more pointedly ludicrous laws against Transgender people using the public restroom that corresponds to the gender identity they live and present as 24/7. Others take the darker route of Omar Mateen and his Gay-bashing and Trans-bashing brethren worldwide. All this challenges us to live in an awareness of the danger, but not to let the fear get to us and keep us from being — and enjoying — who we are.