Omar Mateen: More and Less than a terrorist

The tragic shooting at the Pulse night club is historic by almost any standard. Even setting aside America’s narcissistic oblivion towards the frequent terror events around the world, 103 people shot and 50 dead is significant anywhere. Given Omar Mateen’s claim to be acting on behalf of ISIS, it was logical to view this tragedy as an act of terrorism. Even in the first hours after it happened, though, it was clear that this was a far more complex event than a simple terrorist attack.

Sadly, terrorism has become a comfortable fear in America. Of course people are genuinely afraid, they are justifiably appalled, but terrorism has become a part the contemporary narrative of our nation. Terrorism is something we rally in the face of, triumph over symbolically if not literally. Across the US people jump at the chance to join in the national outrage. This is American nationalism and exceptionalism at both it’s best and worse.

The rush to frame this tragedy as simple terrorism certainly gives some people political capital and it gives others a way to include themselves in a major media event, but it gives us far more a way to feel comfortable. An act of terrorism can be blamed on a comfortably distant Other. This was an born here, in America. A tragedy of our own making.

Speaking as a gay man, I will say Thank You to all of those who care. Thank you for the flags at half mast, the buildings lit in rainbow colors, the speeches, the sympathy. However, please understand that this isn’t a tragedy for “all of us.” It is a tragedy that struck at the heart of the LGBT community for predictable reasons that have only little to do with the so-called American War on Terror, or radical Islamists war on America.

In the midst of so much sympathy far too many people have reduced a GAY bar to “a nightclub in Orlando,” an LGBTQ gathering has become “an event for Latino youth.” Even NPR, the liberal bastion of radio news, aired a segment on the impact of this event on tourism in Orlando without ever mentioning that this was an incident of homophobia aimed at the LGBTQ community. Neither, Disney World nor Universal Studios was under attack. No random tourist then, or now, is in danger. When it became obvious that Mateen had no connection to ISIS, beyond his own claim, and despite a clear history in the Gay community, the Atlanta Journal Constitution still ran a front page story clarifying his identity as a “loan wolf,” yet still motivated by Islamist terrorism.

President Obama offered a beautiful response. Even several Republican congressmen distanced themselves from party homophobia with surprising speeches. Others however, doubled down on homophobia in despicable ways, and this tragedy has quickly become a political football with terrorism far more marketable than homophobia. To all of heterosexual America, those who care deeply, those who care not at all, and those who want to vicariously hang their hearts or ambitions on this tragedy I must say that this was not an attack on “all of us,” and it was not a tragedy for “everybody.” It was several hundred shots aimed squarely at the heart of the Gay and Lesbian people of America and 50 of our brothers and sisters died from it, while 53 others were gravely injured. This is our tragedy and, while it is the worst, it is only one of countless others.

The fact that Ramulah Mateen could be taken seriously when he dubiously claims that his son was

provoked by seeing two men kissing a few weeks ago defines the position of gay men in America today and in the past. A gay bar is not Ruby Tuesdays, it’s not Hooters, it’s not even the local pub that straight people wonder into for a beer on Saturday night. A gay bar is our refuge, our town square, our home when often we, like Omar Mateen, cannot even be ourselves in the house we live in.

Our gay bar is the place where we can meet our friends without a mask of heterosexuality literally keeping us at arms length from each other. It is the place where our charities raise money to care for our own when our families and our nation turns it’s back. It is the place where we celebrate our lives. The place where we grieve the loss of friends and loved one’s when we are barred from their funerals. It is the place where two men can kiss without the fear of violence. What happened in the Pulse that night did not happen to “everybody.” It happened to our LGBT community in our home!

While this the worst identifiable act of homophobia in our history it is not the only one. Incidents have become less frequent in recent years but they still happen. In 2013 a man set fire to a gay nightclub in Seattle, WA. In 2010, the Atlanta Eagle was raided by a police SWAT Team on false charges. The patrons were forced to the ground at gun point and left lying on a dirty floor for two hours while being assaulted with homophobic insults. In 2000, Ronald Gay, opened fire in a gay club in Roanoke, VA killing one and injuring six because he resented being harassed about his name. In 1996, a bomb was detonated outside of the Otherside bar in Atlanta by the “Olympic Park bomber.” These are only some of the more notorious events.

Hate crimes are a fact of life for LGBT people. When I go to my bar I take care not to park too far away, or down a dark side street. I walk with care, on the look out for anything suspicious. I live in the city. All city people worry about being mugged. Only L/G/T people worry about being bashed for being a “faggot.” Only L/G/T people live with one eye looking out for hateful glares and the possibility of violence. Hundreds of LGBT people are assaulted every year do to their perceived orientation. Dozens are killed.

While it is no longer a standard practice, as long as there have been bars and clubs where Gay and Lesbian people have gathered, there have been police raids, violent attacks and arrests. The modern Gay Rights movement began with a riot following a police attack on the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

When I first heard, on Sunday afternoon, that the Pulse bar in Orlando had been attacked, my thought was “the Christian Jihad has begun.” While most of America hangs on every hateful word uttered by radical Islamists a world away and cringes at ever rumor of terrorist violence, they have not noticed the rising tide of murderous homophobia in the United states.

Several times a month, for the past several years, headlines have appeared, to document the latest radical Christian reminding their flock that their interpretation of the Bible condemns homosexuals to death and eternal damnation. Only slightly less often are there articles quoting men who wish for a legal death penalty in our nation for Gay people. Far too often there have been suggestions that perhaps good Christians should take matters into their own hands. L/G/T people understand that those crazy preachers and homophobic bigots mean what they say and that their followers take them seriously, which ever God they give the glory to.

In the week since this tragedy, homophobes have doubled down on their hate. Close to a dozen gay clubs have been threatened. Several christian preachers have extolled this horror in God’s name. Of course the Westborro Baptist Church has shown up in Orlando to demonstrate outside of the funerals. Surely, if our communities do not have laws to address hate speech when it rises to the level of celebrating mass murder and encouraging more of it, they should be enacted.

Evidence and testimony that Omar Mateen was attracted to radical Islamist ideology, he was not connected to any terrorist group, or even had a coherent personal ideology. He did, however, have a long time connection to the gay community. He had a history of going to gay bars, including many visits to Pulse over a period of several years. He had a membership on several gay dating aps that he used to communicate with a number of men over the course of many years. Several men report being propositioned by Mateen.

Perhaps out of the desire to frame this as a terrorist attack, no one seems interested in examining the significance of the details of Mateen’s life. Mateen was married for three months and allegedly abused his wife, Sitora Yusufiy . One reporter asked a psychologist if terrorists often had histories of domestic violence, leaving the obvious question unasked. How often do closeted young homosexual men from oppressive religious backgrounds abuse women they feel pressured to marry? Yusufiy says that she believes that he was gay but that when they were together he was not a religious fanatic.

Mateen’s home life was unusual at the least. His father, a supporter of the Pashtun people and the Afghan Taliban, has claimed to be the President of Afghanistan in exile. He still refuses to acknowledge that his son was homosexual and, while condemning that attack, claims it was an act of terrorism on behalf of Afghanistan. Mateen’s second wife, divorced from a previous arranged marriage, is currently under investigation as a possible accomplice in the attack.

Perhaps, Mateen was drawn deeper into radical Islam by his family or perhaps, as a homosexual, who tried to marry women twice and apparently failed to achieve a heterosexual life, he saw this as his only way out. Identifying himself as a terrorist might well have been a way to gain his father’s approval. On the other hand, while his God condemns homosexuality, a martyr for the Islamic Jihad is admitted into Paradise regardless of his sins on earth. Whatever the details, Mateen was a young man caught in an impossible web of homophobia and self hate.

As his story is pieced together, he become less a terrorist and more the latest example of emotionally tortured young men who act out with terrible regularity with acts of horrific violence. Whatever the cause for this rash of killings, the fact is that they are virtually unique to our country and we should be asking ourselves why. Does lack of access to guns in other countries mean that these damaged young men suffer in silence, or possibly take their own lives? Is there some dysfunctional facet of American society that drives them into psychopathic rage? Has a vicious circle of violence been set in motion in which each incident inspires yet more more people to express their pain and rage through massacres and suicide by police.

This tragedy does not belong to everyone in our nation. On a collective level, responsibility for this tragedy does. We allow the easy ownership of weapons of mass murder. We wink at Christian homophobia. We embrace a double standard in which same sex marriage is celebrated but same sex public displays of affection are condemned, even by many self-styled liberals. We endorse the ideal of diversity while persecuting those who do not fit into a heterosexual gender binary. We, by whatever failing, allow one young man after another to fall into a poisonous state of despair, self hate, and social alienation.

The LGBT community appreciates the prayers and condolences of our nation but cannot ignore the rank hypocrisy behind far too much of it. If you really care, stop praying and and start acting. Begin with yourself and accepting the idea that being gay is not something that we just happen to be. We have unique lives, a unique subculture, and a community that supports us. If you want to embrace us, you need to embrace all of us, our bars, our dating websites, our fears, our struggles, and our individuality. If you care at all, you will take those small personal steps to make homophobia unacceptable in your own family and social circle. If you never want to see this again, get guns out of the hands of the sick people who commit these atrocities. The day after the Pulse massacre, a man was arrested in southern California with three assault rifles and told police he was headed for the West Hollywood Pride Celebration.

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We can say “I do,” but should we?

June, twenty sixth, Two thousand and fifteen, will be forever marked in American history as the day same sex couples were recognized by the Supreme Court as having the right of same sex couples to marry. Not given, recognized. Every human has the right to bond with humans of their choosing. Every American deserves the privileges that have accrued, rightly or wrongly, to the marriage. I recommend reading the entry for “marriage” on Wikipedia. The lengths sociologists go to in order to try to pin down a universal definition of a marriage is comical. The number of possible options is enlightening. The only thing that they do not juggle is Respectability. I suspect such a loaded term is out of the bounds for a social scientist. I equally suspect that it is the commonality that they are looking for.

As Wikipedia explains, marriage serves a bewildering array of purposes. The one purpose it does not serve is human happiness. Those sociologists even dismiss “Love” as,
“…not the raw emotion that Western representations make it out to be, but a cultural construction shaped by the social and economic conditions of modern industrial society. … love is a label for physiological arousal that is shrouded in cultural symbols that situate the emerging relationship within a particular set of cultural expectations – one of which leads to marriage as an institution.” Not that married people are not happy with each other; they most certainly are. Ten thousand poets and a million songs have affirmed that something both powerful and wonderful brings us together. It is not marriage, though, that brings them happiness. Marriage simply legitimizes the happiness that they feel, as if human happiness required a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Does happiness need legitimacy? And is marriage really the friend of happiness? There is a joke about a married couple who have been together years and suddenly one morning at breakfast the wife says “Henry, you are a lousy lover!” Henry drops his news paper on the table says, “How would you know?!” How, indeed, when virgins with no sexual knowledge marry exclusively and permanently? Marriage, in the Western world was never intended to build quality relationships. It’s purpose is creating controlled relationships in the framework of a sex negative society and sex hating religious dogma. It places people in neat packages where they make do with the status quo they are given and don’t go exploring too far from the Respectable bounds of society. Even if the initial ardent passion dies, divorce is a heavy speed to cross on the way out the door.

In 1997, Gabriel Rotello published his book on the AIDS epidemic, Sexual Ecology. Among other things, he advocates for same sex marriage, and adoption, and urges gay men who are able to couple up, move to the suburbs, and adopt a child, to break up the cycle of promiscuity that he thinks is responsible for the crisis. It seems a breathtakingly horrible reason to raise a child, and yet it has been the doctrine of the Catholic church for a thousand years. Heterosexual couples have children. Whether they want them, or not, it is a biological inevitability. Once the children are there, parents step up to the responsibility and do their duty (and rightly so).

Yes, children bring untold pleasure. A dirty secret, though, is that the happiness often comes later and not a few new parents hold their infant thinking, “What the heck do I do with this?” Those children take time, and energy, and financial resources. Marriage bonds people together to devote those resources to their child. But it is also marriage that holds those people together long enough for biology to have it’s way. The strident protest of the right to Life movement has little to do with the existential ‘rights’ of unborn children and everything to do with keeping couples on the straight and narrow. When Mary realizes that Henry is a lousy lover she sighs and stays together for the children. A sex life isn’t “the important thing.”

Today the advent of PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis), a pill that creates artificial immunity to HIV, offers a long sought relief from the risk and fear of gay sex and yet the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has spoken out against it, deriding it as a mere party drug. I have not heard anyone ask AHF president Michael Weinstein what he thinks about Rotello’s suggestion but I doubt he would disaprove. Sex is disposable whether for the questionably necessary sake of health, or the sake of social conformity. Those advocating PrEP take pains to point out that it is not a party drug and it’s greatest benefit is protecting couples with mixed status. Promiscuity is, after all, not Respectable.

So what of Gay Marriage? Children are a distant dream for many who sincerely want them and certainly not imposed on those who don’t. We don’t marry as naive sexually illiterate adolescents barely out of our teens. Our marriages are not imposed by churches, in fact, it will be decades, if not another generation, before we can stop fighting for full acceptance in mainstream society. There in lies my ambivalence over gay marriage. We have barely managed to pry the “right” to marry out of the homophobic clutching fingers of an unwilling nation. Granted, a nation becoming more willing every year but still one far from ready to accept our equality. Now, I feel certain there will be a rising tide of expectation in the LGBT community to prove we deserve this right that we have been given. “Vote early and vote often,” as the quip goes, except in this case “marry soon and marry for keeps.”

Our progress towards legal equality has taken an interesting trajectory. Of course first there was the obvious push to have sodomy (ie. gay sexual expression) made legal. Then one might have thought we would fight for inclusion in the Civil Rights Act, or at least Employment Non Discrimination. Those would have provided real protections and security for every single member of the LGBT community. Protection, as well, against the backlash that I fear will be an inevitable result of our current victory. Instead, we pressed for the right to serve in the military, an opportunity that only a small minority would take advantage of. Given the predominantly liberal tilt of the LGBT community the military is something that a very large number of us feel ambivalent about if not enmity toward. There was powerful subtext for this privilege, though. Our perceived unfitness for military service has a direct link to our ostracism on the grade school play ground. I may or may not have “thrown like a girl” in fifth grade but I can out shoot any man in the platoon with my M16. Or I could if I wanted to.

Now we have again passed up more powerful steps towards full equality for Same Sex Marriage. Make no mistake, I know first hand the pain and tragedy caused by not having a legal union with one’s partner. Marriage allegedly endows a couple with 1,200 rights and privileges not accorded unmarried couples. One need not ask why. Those are twelve hundred more carrots to lure one into the bonds of matrimony and keep one there.

We have fought for the right to have our relationships legally recognized for over 30 years. We could have fought to have those 1,200 rights decoupled from a religious convention. We could have argued that there are many kinds of households both sexual and platonic, gay and straight, that deserve legal recognition. We could have said, as many neo-pagans do, that to swear an oath “until death do we part” is an unethical promise that one may not be able to keep,or that there is no secular reason to limit oneself to one partner. (Have no worry on that score as “till death” actually means “till divorce” and then you can swear again.)

No, we have fought on. Even when many of those who found the idea of a same sex marriage antithetical to their religious beliefs said that they had no problem with our legal rights, only the use of “their” word. The reason for our hard fought battle is Respectability. We want so bad to be in the “In Crowd,” among the popular kids. It hasn’t worked. They still hate you. The Civil Rights act was signed 50 years ago and last week nine innocent people were murdered because some people still hate black people…fifty years later. On the radio yesterday, after the ruling was announced the principal of a christian school said that, if his football coach married another man, he would congratulate him and then fire him, and the Supreme Court couldn’t change that. Ironically, he hasn’t figured out yet that legalized marriage doesn’t protect us from retribution. I’m not sure that all of us realize that, either. We can still be fired for being gay, evicted from homes for being gay, refused service in restaurants and accommodation in hotels for being gay. Granted, that is becoming less acceptable by the day but it is legal.

The firestorms of controversy that surround the refusal of red neck small town bakeries to make cakes exposes the heart of the issue. Why do you want someone who hates you to bake you a cake, anyway? Such petty acts of homophobia happen everyday, if LGBT people in cities don’t know that, ones in small towns do. This slight is different, though, because our marriage license is supposed to be the golden ticket. It hurts to have it thrown back in your face before the deal is even sealed. You have to respect us, now that we are just as married as you are!

Being cast out into the social/ cultural wilderness by a homophobic society is hurtful in infinite ways and deadly in many others. It made us strong, though, and it forced us to forge a community of our own. We made our own rules. We followed our own hearts. And we influenced and inspired the more flexible parts of mainstream society. I know for a fact heterosexual relations would not be what it is today were it not for the inspiration (or temptation) our community provided.

Our relationships and sexual practices, collectively if not individually, have been honest, even courageous. We have been loving and committed in the face of hate and fear; we have been outrageously promiscuous and unashamed; we have explored the furthest reaches of kink, sex magic, and polymorphous perversity; we formed genuine families of choice that range from straitlaced monogamous suburban couples to a man and his lover and his slave and his lover’s boy and the boy’s pup and the man’s former Master and the various house guests who invariably end up in somebody’s bed. Being cast outside the bounds of Respectability however painful, also set us free!

Of course, the “bad” example that we have set is part of the reason we are hated. Not having children, not being constrained by the bonds of matrimony, not being pushed into the mirror image gender roles that those bonds encourage and enforce, makes us a revolutionary catalytic force in our society. A “dangerous” force in the eyes of those who hold tight to Tradition and Conformity. An embarrassing force to those of our community who have run back into their embrace, held out our hands and begged for shackles to be put on our wrists. Yes, that is exactly what we have done, and will do. The wagons will be circled that much tighter, although more and more straight people are sneaking across the border to the “wild side” where those who refuse to be tamed still frolic. Our critics have good reason to fear that, “group marriage will be next!”

We have gained entrance into the fortress of Respectability but that comes at cost. We have to be Good. We have to be far more Good than the straight people whose Respectability is theirs to lose. Ours in granted on a provisional basis. Those in our community for whom it is most precious will police it with fanatical devotion. Every couple, together more than a year, will be asked when they are getting married and there will be a growing collective disapproval from those who do toward those who don’t. It was not twelve hours after the ruling was announced that I was told, admittedly, very sweetly and half jokingly, to find a partner because my wedding was anticipated. It was not meant to be judgemental and I did not resent it, but it is still a sign of things to come.

“Living together” is not the horror in the mainstream world that it was fifty years ago but it is still “less than.” In the LGBT world it has been the only choice but it will soon be the inferior one there, too. In the same way, promiscuity, which became very suspect in light of the HIV epidemic, will be far more so now. The kind of free ranging negotiated relationships that have been ours for the taking will not be appropriate within the bonds of matrimony and “what will the neighbors think?” We have to, above all, deserve the marriages we’ve been given.

We have expended an enormous amount of social and political capital to win this fight. I don’t begrudge the deep and sincere joy of those for whom this is a victory. But make no mistake, it is not a victory for adoption rights, health insurance, powers of attorney, inheritance, and shared pension benefits. All of those could have been ours, anyway. It is really only a victory for the privilege to say, “my marriage is just as good as your marriage,” …but they still wont bake you a cake.

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Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

We have finally killed our Frankenstein Monster. Ossama bin Ladin is dead and American people are dancing in the streets with joy. All the righteous citizens who were convinced by the Neocons that the destruction of the World Trade Center was the worst atrocity to ever happen in human history because it happened to us can now feel vindicated.

The problem is that when evil begets evil it only leads to more evil. Ossama bin Ladin was our own evil creation. From the late 70’s until 1989 the U.S. conducted a covert war against the Soviet Union by training and financing a civil war against the ruling Afghan government which was backed by 100,000 Soviet troops.

This war killed between 600,000 and two million mostly civilian Afghans. Because U.S. involvement was never publicly acknowledged, when the Soviets finally withdrew the U.S. chose not to step in and organize a democratic government. Instead they allowed the nation to descend into a lawless battle between tribal factions each supported by nations such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, each of which had ideological and political agendas.

Between 1994 and 2000, with the support of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Taliban increased its domination of the other factions. Reports say as much as 40% of Taliban troops were from the Pakistani army. From 1996 to 2001 Ossama bin Ladin was able to establish Al Queda in Afghanistan having advanced from a CIA trained foot soldier to the leader of his own Taliban allied organization.

United States involvement in Afghanistan is just one of the many ways in which we have allowed and encouraged violence and oppression of people in the Middle East in pursuit of our own objectives. Saddam Husien was another U.S. creation and was considered an American ally, even while he was using poison gas on the Kurdish citizens of Iraq. It was only when his plans for Iraqi oil supplies began to conflict with the U.S. agenda that he become an enemy.

Yes, ding dong the witch is dead. The wicked witch is dead. However, Al Queda still exists and, even now, among it’s younger recruits, the new organizations that will one day succeed it are in their embryonic stages. Certainly, hatred of the U.S., not of our “freedom” but of our selfish and self-righteous meddling in the affairs of other nations, and too often at the expense of those who live there, is absolutely not dead. It lives on burning like a red-hot coal in the breast of our victims.

Terrorism is the desperate act of those who are otherwise powerless. Suicide missions are the last act of the hopeless. For the most part American citizens are too blinded by narcissistic patriotism to see that. The one strength that terrorism possesses is that traditional military actions are largely ineffectual against it.

The success of terrorism is not measured in body counts, or successful engagements. Terrorism triumphs by dragging it’s enemy down to it’s own level. Since the fateful morning on September 11, 2001, the American public has been bleeding from a wound of paranoia and fear. The death of bin Laden has not cauterized that wound. If you have any doubt, visit your local airport and view the security gates that there are no plans to dismantle any time soon.

At best this small “victory” is nothing more than an opiate to dull the pain of our fear and vulnerability. The next strike, and there will be a next strike, will cut all that much deeper if we have collectively allowed ourselves the momentary illusion that we have accomplished anything of real importance by eliminating bin Laden.

To be clear, Ossama bin Laden was a dangerous evil man who deserved to die as much as anyone could. However, winning the “War on Terror” will require not strength and firepower, but dealing honestly and with integrity with the people of the Middle East. As long as oil is absolutely necessary to the survival of our way of life, treating the people who supply it as equals is the very last thing we are willing to do. On the other hand, hatred, fear, and terrorism are the price we will continue to pay as long as they are dismissed as mere pawns standing in the way of our self-serving foreign policy.

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This blog is a companion to my others (Exquisite Pleasure and A Sophisticates Diary). It will be a place for me editorials and commentary on current events around the world.

I am a socially liberal independent. I see Democrats and Republicans as two sides of the same corrupt plutocratic coin. I agree with those who think corporations own the government of the United States, but even that is a cover for the richest one percent who run those corporations, and our nation for their own benefit.

I might be convinced to be libertarian if we lived in a world of small towns and small privately owned businesses. As things are, libertarianism is a utopian idea that would give free reign to the uber rich minority who already operate with too little restraint.

Whether we lose our right to vote, or not, the common people have lost most of their influence over the government and are rapidly headed towards being a nation of serfs ruled by a handful of wealthy industrialists.

The greatest impediment to that outcome is actually the very real possibility that a world wide oil shortage will bring all of Western Civilization to its knees. All signs point to the fact that the world has reached its peak oil production. Whether that can be maintained for another ten years, or one hundred is immaterial with oil use increasing at exponential rates in India and China.

All things considered the next ten years will be a bumpy, if not disastrous and tragic ride.

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