On Blogging and Backlash, and Orlando

I’ve taken a long break from blogging. In large part, I just haven’t had time. But a significant contributing factor was the wave of bullying comments I received for a post I wrote more than a year ago about women in the military in which I addressed the “mansplainers,” but wasn’t ready for them to come full blast at me, which they did. I backed off.

The internet seems to give people more license than ever to be unkind, because there’s a seeming anonymity to it. It is perhaps increasingly the domain of armchair warriors who assuage their real-life insecurities and incapacities with the easy virtual boldness of online trolling and insult. I should’ve never let it get to me.

But then everything’s gotten to me since yesterday morning. I awoke to news that something horrible had happened in Orlando, about 15 miles from where I spent my childhood, and where I first got a whiff of what life in a city might be like. And as a young lesbian finding my way in the early 1990s, Orlando was my first gay club scene. I stayed glued to CNN most of the day yesterday. I remain devastated for everyone affected by death, maiming, and tragedy–and I grieve for my community as a whole. I think back to how far we’ve come since I was first clubbing in Orlando, and I often take for granted the veneer of progress we seem to have made toward equality for lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, and queer people in America. But then so much seems taken away by the horror and scale of what happened at Pulse Orlando. Or perhaps this is simply a reminder that, although progress has been made in the lawbooks–there yet remains the fact that a certain number of my fellow Americans simply want us dead. This is what I am sitting with today.

When I first heard the news yesterday, I wrote on Facebook that I felt solidarity with the LGBT struggle globally, and recalled participating in a march in Istanbul in 2014. I wrote:

I stand with my LGBT brothers and sisters who, like me, come from faith backgrounds that preach judgment against us for simply existing as God created us. Religious extremism of any flavor hurts us all. Let the churches I grew up in across central Florida that preached hatred against homosexuals now explain away how an extremist from another religion is somehow different from them because he acted upon that same hatred and condemnation. Hate is hate, and more hate is never the answer.

And,

Take pride, my fabulous brothers and sisters. Stand strong. Rejoice that hate may take lives and damage us–but it never wins.

But I also wasn’t ready for the spin cycle that would follow in the news media, on Facebook, on Twitter, and elsewhere in the digital universe. Hate may not win in the long run, but it scores plenty along the way.

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been informed (thanks, Twitterverse!) that I should be thankful that at least the U.S. government does not make a policy of executing LGBT individuals. I’ve heard politicians who’ve made a platform of anti-gay policies extend their “thoughts and prayers” to a community they do not view as equal citizens, then pivot to speaking about one man’s very specifically anti-gay attack only as a bogeyman of international terrorism (thanks, CNN!). I’ve seen a steady stream of Facebook posts saying that the AR-15 that pelted high-powered death at close range upon dozens of victims, and so badly mangled their bodies to delay identification, isn’t itself of any concern. I’ve even seen posts reminding everyone that the genocidal atrocities of the U.S. government at Wounded Knee in 1890 killed more than 150 Americans, so the Pulse massacre wasn’t “the worst.” Everyone is welcome to their myriad responses, opinions, and ideas related (or unrelated) to the Orlando incident. This, however, is what I have to say.

Omar Mateen’s mass-murder of LGBTQ individuals at Pulse Orlando’s “Latinx” night was a deeply and profoundly political act. It was a specific, culminating act of panic and hatred against a community that is seen as no longer being kept on the margins. Mateen’s acts, as I perceive them, do not represent a war against America. This angry, abusive, and troubled young American man, who comes from a troubled immigrant family–and who had free access to a number of government buildings and other “American” sites, yet targeted a packed gay club miles away from his home–has illuminated the war that is happening within America.

Hate crimes against LGBT individuals have been on the rise. More than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced by American legislators thus far in 2016. As a person who has experienced anti-gay harassment, threats, and discrimination throughout my entire adult life–I can say that I have felt more fearful recently than ever before. A few months ago, as my girlfriend and I were returning from vacation and approaching the subway from JFK airport, a guy, who I can only assume was just another New Yorker, yelled at us: “You faggots should die and go to hell.”

Just last Thursday, James Dobson, a highly influential evangelical leader, commented on transgender use of bathrooms:

“I mean, where is manhood that we don’t stand up and defend our own families?” he asked. “And I think that we’re going to be responsible before the Lord if we don’t do it.”

This is the core issue as I see it. There is profound backlash to LGBT equality. To gender no longer being an issue when it comes to marriage legality, job protection, and basic human rights. There is fear and anxiety when second-class citizenship for LGBT individuals is no longer enforced through laws, threats, and violence. “Where is manhood?” one might ask, if it’s no longer privileged by legal, cultural, and religious norms? The backlash has has been truly venomous. And now murderous.

Some might feel inclined to comment here that I’ve got this wrong, that this is actually ISIS’s new front against gay Latinos, that this has nothing to do with mainstream American denigration of LGBT individuals or the hard-line Christian institutions dedicated to re-instituting “traditional” gender/sexual norms, that the white dude from Indiana who took that cache of weapons and explosives to LA Pride was just deranged, that the anti-gay protesters outside of the Orlando Regional Medical Center yesterday were just wingnuts, that the political and community leaders who quoted scriptural condemnations in response to yesterday’s massacre were simply showing poor taste, that a lifetime of discrimination and harassment experienced by openly LGBT individuals is somehow the same as you getting your feelings hurt that once, that being told to “die and go to hell” is just a normal verbal expression, that I shouldn’t talk about being lesbian because it’s “too political” or I’m “playing the victim,” that others “have it worse” and so I shouldn’t complain, or that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to counterterrorism or Islamic extremism or international policy or history or whathaveyou.

I appreciate love and support and honest, respectful dialogue from my readers. But for my detractors: post insulting comments if you must, or “bravely” harass me online if that’s where you choose to invest your time. You’re welcome to that, but know that I’ll joyfully hit “delete” or otherwise deal with it and move on. And you’ll still be you, fearful and desperate in a world that continues to move forward, with or without you.

The right side of history is clear. And it is multicolored, unified, and strong.

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4 thoughts on “On Blogging and Backlash, and Orlando

  1. You are such a lucid voice, dear Kristen, on so many complicated issues. There are deep fractures in our United (but divisible, it turns out) States. Unfortunately, there are ways to take advantage of these divisions, and one way is with violence. We must remember that no matter our differences, we must find a way to care for and love one another. I’m not talking about creating some utopian hippie universe here. I’m talking about listening and honoring and understanding that our job is not to hate. Our job, as people who share the planet, is to seek understanding. We must not relinquish ourselves to being divided. We cannot.

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  2. Yes. We need to open our minds to the fact that Orlando may be systemic backlash against the progress the LGBTQ movement has made. This is Medgar Evers, George Lee, Emmett Till, Viola Liuzzo, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwermer, and maybe even moreso the countless innocents who could not feel safe in daily life (and likely still don’t). Perhaps ISIS inspired. Facilitated by easy access to guns. All of these things can be true together, and your analysis makes the thinking more complete. Thank you, and please keep writing.

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  3. When the massacre happened, I was in the middle of a project for my classroom next year, to include interesting/powerful/inspiring/beautiful/humorous quotations in frames for decor and food for thought for my highschoolers. I work in an extremely conservative community, and I censor myself on the daily, but I am inspired by you and want to be braver, to stop backing away from backlash, to include

    “The right side of history is clear. And it is multicolored, unified, and strong.” –Kristen L. Rouse

    alongside quotations from literary greats and other powerful political voices like bell hooks.

    Your ability to respond with dignity and respect to (or to delete and refuse to be harmed by) the worst vitriole is a model that speaks to our better potential as a society. I know others in their anonymity do not extend the same restraint, but I hope you know that your strength and bravery–to be openly gay in the face of hateful rhetoric everywhere from churches to government, to write this blog despite the risk of even bigger backlash, to continue to end this post positively despite so much potential for despair or bitterness–means you are among those actually bending that long arc of history that Martin Luther King Jr. describes. I admire you, I respect you, and I appreciate you.

    Thank you especially for sharing your personal experiences. I have gay and lesbian friends, but they are often focused on sharing excitement about progress, celebrating how Love Wins. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to break their friend’s heart. Maybe it’s a survival mechanism, avoiding dwelling in and reliving what is painful, focusing on moving forward instead. This makes sense. But they do not often share the terrible truths of how scary it can be out there for them, and it is very easy in my little bubble of hetero privilege to be rather oblivious, to think of discrimination and persecution on such a personal level as being much rarer than it is, to imagine life to be so much safer and less difficult “in this day and age” after all the significant progress we have made.

    In the same way that the increased exposure of police brutality highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement brings needed attention to a pervasive problem that the Civil Rights movement’s momentum has not solved, speaking to these experiences is important. The wake of a tragedy is the right time for this kind of persecution to “come up in conversation,” and while it IS heartbreaking, I am really glad that you wrote this.

    Also as for multiple layers in this massacre’s story being concurrently true: YES.

    Peace.

    Like

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