CN: 11 June 2016 Orlando murders.
There’s a special soundtrack to a modern massacre. Most of them aren’t poisoning people into too-long sleep. When a modern killer with a modern gun murders 50 people and injures 53 more, there’s a sound that follows the last shell casing’s floor-bound chime. Long after the shrieking and crying and sirens are diverted elsewhere, there’s another sound, they say.
Fifty mobile phones, screaming continuously into the night as parents, lovers, siblings, friends, teachers, cousins, anyone and everyone tries to penetrate the hideous silence of not knowing. Fifty mobile phones, batteries good for another day, families who might never be good again. Fifty mobile phones all shouting into the void, love and fear and desolation and sadness and hope. Fifty mobile phones all carrying the desperate love of family, what the Family Research Councils and Grand Ayatollahs of the world insist could never be part of our lives.
Fifty mobile phones that will not ring again.
That’s two names I’m related to, even if the people themselves aren’t kin.
They say he was inspired by his disgust at seeing two men kissing in Miami. I wonder if it was my father’s cousin and his husband, who have lived in Miami for most of their lives and who had to fight for that right. We’ll never know. That’s probably for the best.
I lived for ten years in the city where this monster decided people like me needed to be put to the sword, and visited in summers and winters for several more. I have slept in hotels in the city where he put bullets in 100 people, spent days at the theme park he scouted before he decided a nightclub was a better target, carefully driven around that city rather than through it when I made my northward escape because of theme-park traffic. Ask a visitor to name two cities in Florida, and the answers are Orlando and Miami, Tallahassee if you found a state-capital buff. They’re Florida’s jewels, now stained with blood donation centers won’t accept.
And he was indeed after people like me. The night he decided my Western perversions needed to be purged was the night that Pulse—named to honor the owner’s deceased brother—honored and thrilled its Hispanic community with reggaeton, bachata, merengue, and salsa. He picked the night that the headliners were black and Hispanic trans women. The night he decided to murder 50 and injure 53 was the night people who look like me and have names like me and cook food like me and fear the thought of coming out to their parents like me filled that nightclub. The night he killed, the most vulnerable demographic in the Americas was on stage declaring, “We are still here, and we are still beautiful.”
People are coming home in body bags who look like my cousins and classmates and teachers and have names like the guy who dated my sister.
People are coming home in body bags from the kind of party I would have made a furtive sojourn to attend, if I’d been in Orlando instead of Ottawa while I was discovering myself.
People are coming home in body bags from the kind of party that queer people visiting Disneyworld from Miami would attend when they needed something more adult after all that twee.
People are coming home in body bags who could have been me.
It’s different when it happens so close to home.
Mortality is a beast trans women of color make into a pet, curled amiably around our feet and purring when its ears are scratched. It never leaves, it never goes hungry, and it usually does no more than playfully nip at one’s hands. But some days, it takes two paws and a maw and gives a wrenching wraparound bite. Some days it bowls us over and pins our arms down with a low growl and the flick of retractable claws. Some days it carries us to its den and slavers over our injuries until it gets bored. Some days it takes a chunk and never returns it.
It never leaves. It never goes hungry. And it never lets us forget that it’s here, wrapped around our feet and purring in our hands, ours forever as long as people like Orlando’s monster keep it fed.
It has to be a pet, because if it isn’t, it’s a wraith, which no walls will keep away.
Today, mortality has that monster’s eyes, and its claws chime like shell casings. Tomorrow, its breath is the dull click of a butterfly knife. The next day, its purr is the rattle of too many pills.
Today, I watched the names pour in, each familiar in the way that the names of one’s tribe can be if you’ve heard far too few of them lately, each the kind of stab that losing one’s potential allies in an intensely queerphobic culture group always is, each the dreadful twist of I am not so far removed.
I have friends who grew up in that city.
I have parents who won’t understand why this incident matters to me at all.
I have relatives who don’t even see the dissonance in invoking prayers to their god today when the very same Catholic god puts curses on us every Sunday in their churches, when that god is the top of the list of reasons my parents reacted to my gender and orientation with rage instead of joy, when that god is an imposition our people never deserved and which binds and harms us to this day, when that god’s spokesperson (one of our own!) declared women like me a nuclear-level threat to “the family.”
I have partners whose feelings today are all by proxy, all mercifully removed from the immediacy of this fact:
He came for me.
He came for me, and reminded me that I’m still young enough to be a statistic.
He came for me, and reminded me that it’s not just my own people who make me want to stay the fuck away from Florida.
He came for me, and if my shit had hit the fan last month instead of next month and forced me to go back to Florida, I might have been there.
He came for me, and put bullets in 100 people who look like my classmates and neighbors and the guy who redid our gates.
He put some of those bullets in people who look like me.
I’ve had nightmares every night for so long I don’t remember when they started. They’re going to look different for a while.
Because he came for me.