I awakened to the news in America. I was traveling abroad in Europe during the Orlando tragedy, and while most of my fellow Americans slept in the early morning hours on Sunday, June 12th, dawn had already broken in the Tuscan hills where I, alone, seized by emotions that I had not embraced in years, clung to each update on the web. I was watching in real-time as the Orlando tragedy unfolded, and each piece to the horrendous puzzle, still incomplete, kept me frozen in my chair and magnified how powerless and alone I was, and so very far away—
Feeling deep sadness and anger, but mostly, fear—the kind of fear that I’ve been noticing for as long as I can remember, a gift I inherited from my bloodline and culture. This fear comes and goes, but now it had tracked me down, holding my heart in its icy palm. I have to accept this part of me that wants to hide, the scared little boy that doesn’t know how to be himself without noticing that this very assertion draws a distinct line between himself and the many expectations foisted upon him. Being in my body, exhibiting my gay nature, made me the target of physical violence as a child and young adult and emotional violence to this day–the same violence that makes victims of women, non-white peoples the world over, other queer people, animals, and our very living World—simply because of the mobilizing power of rogue ideas. I am aghast, witnessing how a tiny unjust thought, nurtured by these same emotions that I now feel—fear, anger, sadness and doubt—can become an unstoppable atrocity, thoughts made bloodshed, an immediate and inconsolable terminus.
I am a minister’s son in a fundamentalist Western Christian church, so I mastered lying to myself so that the surface of life was not disturbed in order to feel safe in my own home. The rendering of traditional Christian teachings left me feeling apathetic and numb. I wanted to feel something, the sense of devotion to save me, but I could not find continuity within my own self, because to do so inevitably invited caregivers to ostracize me from my community. I learned how to cut myself into pieces, living each piece secretly, rarely integrating long enough to truly trust my own experience, what I was hearing within. In my father’s footsteps, I became a minister in early adulthood. It was the only way I had known to address the deep wounds in my psyche and body or to help others that reached for their own salvation. Ultimately, religion could not contain me. I needed more space. I could not agree that everything can be divided into right and wrong, black and white, enemy and victim. A symbolic interpretation of life is still the only way I know how to make sense of the world, and that worldview calls me to see deeply into my own thoughts, choices and desires, but mostly how my internal world mirrors our collective agony and bliss as we are still discovering what it means to be truly spiritual.
I failed to produce a formative ego built from traditional masculine blueprints, and without understanding why, I became the object of physical and emotional cruelty. I was terrible at sports. The other boys discovered my weakness early on. My stomach anxiously fluttered before recess, knowing that I would be either alone on the playground or a target of some kind. I began building a fortress of self-judgment around my heart to keep others out, including my own father. I was regularly called “faggot,” “pussy,” “queer boy,” and many other derisive terms. I was physically attacked, stuffed into trash cans and ostracized simply because the world could see who I was becoming long before I would see it, myself. I have been out of the closet for almost five years now, and I admit that parts of me are still coming out. I am becoming whole amidst fragmentation as a largely accepted, and apparently expected, status quo.
At age nineteen, just as I was nearing some kind of self-acceptance, I was chased for hours in a car by two men in a large truck, trapped in a cul-de-sac and told repeatedly that I would die for being a “pussy.” My attackers broke through my windshield with football sized stones to get me out of the car, and I narrowly escaped. I was afforded the piece of mind after they were apprehended, they were sentenced to prison for assault with a deadly weapon, but the shame I had carried before that pivotal night now consumed me; I became an even bigger target to myself. The door to my closet was sealed shut.
From that point forward, I began a decade-long self-loathing journey, through a complicated yet beautiful marriage to a woman whom I loved very much and lost in the end. I was genuinely so confused. I struggled with my family. I struggled against life. I lived duplicitously in perpetual infidelity until disintegration of my false identity, punctuated by deceit, heartbreak, and subsequent pain of letting go of everything made rubble of my facade. In the wreckage, I could clearly identify how an incredible amount of my life’s energy and direction had been an effort to outrun the inevitable, self-honesty, my only remaining option if I wanted to rebuild my life and actually feel peace. I had no where else to go but to the core of my shame.
In the early morning hours of June 12, the history of my own struggles flashed in front of me while my fallen brothers, one-by-one, were identified outside Pulse nightclub and thereafter. I acknowledged how grateful I now am for the blessing of strength that I have acquired through integrating the pieces of me. These days, I am proud to be who I am. At the same time, I cannot deny the lingering fears that haunt from the past, fears that are instantly enlivened in the wake of tragedies like Orlando’s. Part of me is still afraid for all of us. Because I have known deep shame, I want to hold a space of compassion for the shooter and others like him. I know he was once a little boy like I was. I believe he was full of fear, sadness, anger and more. I believe he was in pieces.
After that bloody Sunday morning, I have watched the media portray this killer, this boy, as a “terrorist,” a mass murderer, a gunner deployed by Allah, encouraging Americans to draw a deeper line between ourselves and our brothers and sisters around the globe. It is commonly reported that this same boy, now, “terrorist,” frequented Pulse nightclub and used a variety of gay dating resources. I firmly believe that this boy-man-terrorist-killer, Omar Mateen, was unquestioningly a terrorist first to himself. Islam is absolutely NOT the culprit to be suspected and denounced in this story. Many thousands of years in history detail an inventive variety of religious convictions used by mankind as vehicles to justify atrocities as necessities, drawing permanent lines where there were previously none. No, I am not satisfied to stop here. I am not willing to credulously accept that Omar Mateen was just another mass murderer from the East.
Even more dangerous than a hijacked religion, I believe that shame infested Omar Mateen, as it did me. Shame is the true enemy to all of us, and is largely unnoticed, not implicated, but certainly culpable. Shame eats at each and every one of us in unique ways, a cancerous and invisible weapon of mass destruction. I believe shame kept Omar from healing himself of his own internal conflicts, and shame perpetuates a fabricated story through the mouths of reporters, politicians, ministers, and officials that are guarded behind walls of mechanized power. Shame paints a “terrorist” instead of a conflicted individual. Shame makes us feel inadequate, disconnected, afraid, powerless and willing to blame. Shame makes me nervous to publish this very blog. Shame makes me afraid to openly kiss my boyfriend if I’m outside of a known safety zone like my home city, San Francisco. Indeed, shame often wears the face of religion, whispering to us, making an entire people into a concept, a boy into a terrorist, and ourselves into the gods of decision and denial. Our world is sick, sick, sick with shame, but we blame the surface stories for our collective pain while the roots thereof are deep and proliferating. Our LGBTQI people suffer because we, like our non-white brothers and sisters, are largely expected to be, but CAN NEVER BE anyone other than who we truly are. A silent veil of shame will keep us in pieces, unable to heal and mobilize for change. We have to accept who we are and burn more brightly, even more so than those that want us to be extinguished.
In these last few days, I have seen some of my fellow LGBTQI brothers and sisters deal with their own grief by leveling an arsenal of vitriolic words towards white supremacist groups and fundamentalist Christians. I, too, have old words of hate that bubble up within me, but I accept these words as only a portion of the story. These words will bring back not one fallen brother, nor will they assuage the agony of the survived. Blame will not dull the heartache that any of us feels after this violation. Admittedly, part of me is absolutely grateful that the Omar Mateen is now dead for what he has done, because he can never do this again. At the same time, I know that his crime will continue to happen in as many disguises as it can find, so long as we nurture it, the seed of shame that is within all of us. Be honest with ourselves. I desire to be free of fear. I long to be proud without regret. I am going to celebrate Pride in my hometown without trepidation, though shame, again, urges me to hide. I did hid for most of my life, and am not willing do that anymore. I so deeply regret that it is due to this recent tragedy that I am now resolved to speak my truth more openly, but I must accept my fear, as difficult as it may be. To experience this level of violation as a community, as a nation and world WITHOUT learning from it is perhaps the biggest insult to each and every light we have just lost in this present battle. And it is, I believe, a battle—not between us and them, but us against ourselves. I will honor the victims we have lost and those still suffering by pledging my allegiance to self-love more fully and to learning how to love others more.
Wanting to burn more brightly and needing the help of my community. #PrayForOrlando