Power, Violence and Courage
There is a certain level of numbness that can happen when we hear about yet one more mass shooting or terrorist attack. Overwhelmed with emotions—grief, anger, frustration, helplessness—our system shuts down.
Orlando struck particularly close to home for me, both geographically and because this time the setting was a gay bar and the patrons mostly LGBT Latinos. I have been feeling a bit numb these past few days, even after attending a moving vigil in Portland, Maine, where I was facilitating a workshop last weekend.
What can I possibly say that would provide wisdom, perspective or comfort? There are plenty of voices giving expression to the anger, grief and helplessness so many of us feel. The possibility that the shooter was dealing with his own conflicted sexuality and internalized homophobia makes even more complex a situation in which religion and terrorism were already part of the equation.
I have known the self-hatred, the existential conflict resulting from being gay in a religion that tells you you’re damned to eternity for being who you are. I understand enough about the psyche to know that those conflicted feelings are often projected out and displaced onto others. How often do we hear of virulently homophobic political or religious leaders getting busted playing footsies under an airport bathroom stall, or with a gay call boy?
There is a deeper aspect going on here, which is the connection between homophobia and misogyny: two sides of the same coin. Those cultures and religions that persecute LGBT people are the very same ones that oppress women. Add to that recent studies that point to a connection between domestic violence and mass shootings: up to one third of mass shootings—which are almost always carried out by men—seem to have been preceded by incidents of domestic violence. Indeed, the Orlando shooter’s ex-wife reports having been abused and held hostage by him.
In our times power between the genders is shifting back toward balance, though, clearly, we are not even close to where we need to be. Women are graduating from college in higher numbers than men and, increasingly, assuming the role of at least co-provider. Many men—whose identity has been tied to being the sole provider—have lost their jobs to globalization and the technological revolution and are struggling to figure out who they are in this new burgeoning world. Feelings that one is “less than a man” can be scary and confusing.
Scapegoating LGBT people, who by their very existence threaten the status quo of “male superiority,” is not a surprising reaction. Yet, to think that buying a big gun —or worse, using it on fellow humans—is going to compensate for those feelings of inadequacy and make one more of a man is lame, pathetic, and tragic.
As gender roles continue to get reimagined and redefined, we need new definitions of what it means to be a man in the 21st century, in the same way that over the last few decades we have been redefining what it means to be a woman. We are still engaged in that process: can a woman be seen as a credible leader of the world’s remaining sole superpower? We even witnessed misogynistic flares and blindspots emerge from the most progressive political campaign this country may have yet seen.
We are living in fascinating times to be sure, and more than likely, the pendulum of expansion and contraction will swing a few more times as we navigate these changes, as women, LGBT people and other disenfranchised minorities claim their rights in a society that—theoretically, at least—guarantees them for all.
In ways that I can’t put my fingers on, I suspect that good will pulse out from the Orlando incident. I cannot explain why action that did not take place after the shooting of innocent children would occur now, but as U.S. Senate Democrats filibustered for gun control action, the NRA seems to be backing off from the absurd stance that even those on the terrorist watch list should be able to buy guns indiscriminately. Yes, low lying fruit to be sure, but at least it is movement in the right direction. Perhaps, hopefully, we have collectively reached a critical point of ENOUGH!
Even with recent legal successes in this country and despite mind-boggling cultural advancements, it still takes courage to be openly LGBT in this world. It is the courage to be different, to be yourself in the face of oppression, opposition, and even physical harm. In 13 countries in our world, being gay is still legally punishable by death.
This I know. The LGBT community is strong and will not be deterred or cowered. Numbness will transmute into action. The courage that has gotten us this far will continue to grow, blossom and unfold. It’s interesting to note that the word courage comes from the French cœur, which means heart. So when we speak of courage, ultimately we are talking about love: the right to love whom you love, the right to be who you are.
Nothing can stand in the face of love. Not a saccharin, Hallmarky kind of love, but love as both the fiercest and most gentle force in the universe. The path may yet be tortuous, but the outcome is inevitable.
During this tainted Pride Month, may peace descend on us all. And, to the many extraordinary men I know who are redefining fatherhood, Happy Father’s Day!