The Orlando massacre saw around 50 people die and many more injured at an LGBTQ nightclub popular with racialized people. This tragedy repudiates the theory that progress is inevitable. The idea that homophobia is destined to disappear by itself is a political anesthesia that we need to get rid of. We would do well to know that we are in 2016 and that perpetual struggles do not vanish with the march of time.
The battle for what is at stake following the events of June 12 has to be fought on two fronts: against those who see the act as devoid of sense, and against those who are obsessed with the “war of civilizations.” Both prevent us from calling the beast by its name ourselves. A break from the normal?
A few weeks ago, while exiting a restaurant in Marseille, I was called a “dirty faggot” by a man walking by. The insult was clearly directed at me, but I chose not to respond. Walking away rather than fighting back seemed more strategic at that point. I hurried up and went back to my hotel, feeling eager to share the experience. My friends and family were astonished and indignant upon hearing what had happened. They wondered what century such a person could belong to.
I was reassured by their support, but I couldn't help being perplexed at the same time. By associating homophobia with backwardness and by looking at it simply as a bump on an otherwise smooth road to progress, are we not running the risk of idealizing a present where oppression is but a residual of the past?
Hardly a month ago, two men in east Montreal were beaten up for kissing each other in a bar. Certainly, we can be be thankful for the support shown following the incident, but how many “exceptions to the rule” will it take before we admit that the exceptions are actually the norm? And it is without even mentioning the hidden or forgotten sufferings, how we chose to live in silence, the forms of exclusion and Othering that we have all experienced — without any of it making the front pages of the papers.
We cannot consider Sunday’s massacre a senseless and inexplicable act, a footnote, no matter how horrendous, in the grand march of history. It is of course legitimate to express anger at such unbearable acts. But we should not think that our wounds will heal by simply going back to our daily lives. It is the daily course of life that has to be transformed
Fighting for the narrative
In 1989, after the assassination of 14 female students at École Polytechnique, it required considerable effort to have the political and anti-feminist character of the attacks recognized. Sociologist Colette Guillaumin took part in this battle by writing “Madness and the Social Norm,” a short text in which she condemned the denial of the fact that women were targeted for being women.
Today, we again have to fight for the narrative. In the press and in the declarations of a few politicians, the brutality of the act is deplored but without naming those who were targeted. Too often, it is omitted that homosexuals were targeted for be homosexuals. Paradoxically, it is conservative writers and reactionary politicians who accuse us of overlooking reality and give moral lessons to those who refuse to see eye to eye with them. Already, the vultures are trying to salvage whatever they can. They are attempting to create of the dead martyrs a battle between the “West” and “Islamism,” which is the only lens through which they see the world.
It is not that the identity of those to whom the attacker pledged allegiance should be ignored. On this occasion, it seems that it was the Islamic State. But new revelations show that the picture is far more complex. And above all, the long history of violence against LGBTQ people in the United States reminds us that our adversaries do not belong to a single organization and are often found in large numbers among the white population. Not to see the Orlando killings as a continuity of these attacks is also a political choice that says much about our new “allies.” Their advances should be rejected. If the killings of a sexual minority serve as justification for the domination of religious and ethnic minorities, we will lose again.
Another element of the story was forgotten by nationalists of all colours as they hurried to play the “war of civilizations” card. Interrogated by the Washington Post, the ex-wife of the killer said that he used to beat her when she did not act exactly as he wanted. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that,” she said.
It is without a doubt too early to try to make complete sense out of the events, but this aspect raises important questions that have been totally ignored until now. What if those who attack us do it in order to maintain the hierarchy between men and women? An order where every man can own a woman, her work, and her body. A system where us, “dirty faggots” and lesbians, do not get to escape either. A system that does not need any religion for legitimacy.
It is this “normal” that we have to change. And we will succeed only if we stop seeing these acts of violence as exceptions to the norm and not let the vultures tell us who our enemies are.