I spent today not looking at Facebook. It was too much.
Truthfully, I don’t know what to write. I had a very different post planned for this week. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday writing it, and it was good. I was excited to share. And then I woke up this morning to a nondescript New York Times update on my phone about a “club shooting in Orlando.”
I braced myself for the thing that happens when people shoot other people in America: politicians start talking about me. Well, not me, but mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a little less than three years ago, and there’s nothing like a mass shooting to get people talking about my health care.
I logged onto Facebook and I did find people talking about me. Well, not me, but people like me. Queer people.
I logged off of Facebook and I pushed the incident as far back in my mind as I could. I wanted to participate in whatever collective grieving was happening in the queer world, in the streets of my home city of Providence, everywhere, but I couldn’t. I don’t talk about my mental health on this blog much, but right now I’m in the pits of a depressive phase that ranks in the top five I can remember. I had to call out of work last Monday for fear of sobbing uncontrollably in my office. For my own survival, I can’t do that again. So I tried to pretend that today was like any other day.
But there’s nothing like a long car ride to dredge up whatever’s lurking in the depths, and I had a two hour schlep tonight. In the car, I struggled and lost against the impulse to think about Orlando. What was I feeling? What was going to happen – to the families and friends of those who were killed, to the queer people of color who already face terror, marginalization, and violence on a daily basis, to the Muslims who will inevitably absorb the blame? And this: what could possibly make someone do something so vile, so horrific, so evil?
I don’t know why, but I started to think about my work as a sex educator. In that instance, it felt meaningless. I work, after all, to make sure that people have good sex and happy lives. I don’t do anything to make sure that people don’t become murderers.
Or do I?
At the end of the 10-week long sex education course I taught this year, I passed out a survey in which I asked my students to describe the ways in which they’d changed (or not changed) as a result of my course. Every single one of them said that they were less likely to judge others’ sexual and romantic choices.
Let me say that again: after ten weeks of sex ed, one hundred percent of my students said they were less likely to judge others’ sexual and romantic choices. My students were White, Latinx, and Arab. They were men, women, and nonbinary people. They were sexually experienced, virgin, and asexual. They were between the ages of 16 and 18. And ALL of them came away less judgmental.
Maybe if Omar Mateen had taken a course like mine, he wouldn’t have killed fifty people. And maybe he would have. Maybe if he didn’t have legal access to an assault rifle, he wouldn’t have been able to kill fifty people. And maybe he would have. Maybe if American Islamophobia weren’t so strong, he wouldn’t have been radicalized into a group that encouraged him to kill fifty people. And maybe he would have.
There wasn’t a single thing we could have done to stop this from happening – there were a million.
It’s easy to feel scared and worthless and full of rage and flat out suicidal after something like this happens. I do. It’s much harder, though – and much more important – to figure out how you will fight to make sure that this never happens again.
Listen to queer people of color when they tell you what you can do to help them. Listen to queer people of color when they tell you what you are doing to hurt them; stop doing those things.
Never give up hope. Take care of yourself. Take care of friends, lovers, strangers. Do what you do best, for the right reasons – you won’t know it, but you are ending atrocities before they even begin.