It Is Not Enough To #PrayforOrlando

15/06/2016 12:00

It is not enough to pray for Orlando. We need to speak about -and ultimately, end -- oppression, marginalisation, and violence against LGBTQ people.

Judith Butler, in her 2010 book Frame of War, asks the question of what makes some lives grievable and others ungrievable. This question is not a purely academic exercise- we hear this question in the reporting of violence, we feel this question bubble up when we internalise news of a tragedy. The assumption that some lives are worth more than others is what allows us to wring our hands over refugees and ignore the war zone that created them. It is this question that bubbled up when I read the news, and later the response, to the massacre at Pulse in Orlando - the lives of the victims are imminently grievable, and yet the response to the shooting was, and is, unsettling. I, a white, heterosexual and cisgendered woman, was unable to articulate what exactly was bothering me about these hashtags until I read the Facebook statuses of a friend.

The trouble with the proliferation of #PrayforOrlando and #LoveNotHate is that the victims and survivors of the violence are all but erased from the conversation. This is not to say that the fact that the massacre occurred in a gay nightclub and that the victims were targeted explicitly because of their sexuality and/or presumed sexuality has been missed or ignored, and that rainbow flags and hearts have not abounded. They have. But while Orlando has undoubtedly been rocked by the massacre at Pulse, casting the massacre as belonging to Orlando as a whole erases the fact that it was violence specifically done to the LGBTQ community (in fact even saying this erases the fact that it was violence done to the LGBTQ Latinx community). #LoveNotHate silences the anger, the fear, and the rage that the LGBTQ community may be feeling, and is above all entitled to feel. These hashtags, these prayers, to paraphrase my friend, are not making the LGBTQ community safer.

My position as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered woman meant that I was unable to name what I was sensing - erasure - until I read the words of this person who has encountered it. The communities hit by this tragedy are being erased from the conversation about what made this tragedy possible. It is of course about gun violence in America. It is of course a tragedy that should both sadden and shame us as Americans. But more than guns, this particular event is about the quiet acceptance of practices of hate directed towards the LGBTQ community. It's about the ways in which LGBTQ people are marginalised, silenced, bullied, and terrorised every day, how normal and yes, even accepted this is in American (and more broadly, in Western) society.

That ISIS has been brought into this conversation smacks of hypocrisy. We condemn ISIS's homophobia for making the Pulse massacre possible while we support legislation that allows for interpersonal discrimination based on "religious freedom". But it highlights something else, which is a phenomenon of tragedy appropriation or a hijacking of the narrative. ISIS is something Westerners feel entitled to fear, therefore we can all feel fear and pain as we #PrayforOrlando. Equally sinister is that it allows us to externalise homophobia as something that "those people" practice in contrast to us. We should be angry about the accessibility of guns in America. We should be angry about hate. We should be angry about terrorism. But we should not allow this anger to silence the specific anger of the communities targeted by this violence, because we are culpable in their marginalisation. The erasure of the victims, the hijacking of the narrative, are all adding to the violence, making the violence possible, producing the violence.

I was speaking to my husband (also cisgendered, also heterosexual) about the Pulse massacre and the muffled anger I was feeling about #PrayforOrlando. I filtered it through my own experiences of tragedy and a sense of what I had called "rubbernecking a tragedy" - the phenomenon of wanting to have a connection to a tragic event without experiencing the pain of the tragedy itself. This is a kind of erasure that Jenny Zhang alludes to in her essay, "They pretend to be us while pretending we don't exist". My husband took it a step further, calling it "hijacking a tragedy", making the pain of one community a pain that could be experienced by all. I highlight this conversation - private, occurring too early in the morning in our bedroom - not only because I think his terminology was a much more accurate depiction of the violence of this erasure, but in order to emphasise that this space, and spaces like it, like Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds, are where this politics must occur. It is in these conversations, quiet and behind closed doors, where our personal prejudices and politics can be opened up, and most important, can be altered. It is in these conversations where our hidden, personal prejudices and privileges can and must be challenged.