When I first learned about the Orlando shooting, a scream lodged itself inside of my body.
I spent that Sunday at work, where there isn’t much space for a scream. I could only whimper or tap my feet when I felt the tears prick at my eyes. The scream attached itself to my organs; it became my aching back and heavy limbs. The scream made me want to hide my queerness all over again, after so many years of feeling secure and relatively safe. The scream made me want to break my fast. But instead I left work near midnight, drained, and fell asleep watching Facebook posts break new details about the tragedy.
It was through Facebook that I learned that the shooter identified as Muslim. Collectively, we braced for impact. My LGBT Muslim community then chose to mobilize. Many of us put away our grief and began to respond to the media requests that had begun to pour in. As my friend and fellow organizer expressed, the LGBT Muslim community had never before received that many requests for interviews and op eds. Some of us came out on TV or in front of our local communities in order to resist the erasure that we could already see happening in the mainstream media. First, they did not mention that the majority of the victims were Latinxs. Then it was a “night club” not a gay club; then the crime was not a shooting but domestic terrorism. White people – white queers – spoke about people of color, made speculations about Islam, and heckled LGBT Muslims out of rallies and online spaces. So many articles began to divide our identities as if they were not inhabited in the same bodies.
It’s not very graceful to mourn in public; my tears feel like a disruption. The last time that I felt this powerless was when Darren Wilson was not indicted in the murder of Mike Brown. I began to reflect on how many times in the past few years that our sadness has been too big to contain, and how black and especially black queer communities have been feeling that way for lifetimes.
So when I attended a healing circle for queer and trans people of color in Seattle, it took time to feel permission to cry. I came into a room overflowing with beautiful queer folks – we packed the main room and wound down the hallway. There were no planned speakers and, as more and more people stood up to offer their voices, listeners began to relay the messages from one end of the space to the other. Many had the presence of mind to bring healing objects and services: acupuncture, tea, prayer, boxing gloves, and drums to beat. I ended up sitting in meditation while a crystal singing bowl’s resonant sound brought the entire room to tears.
In that intentional space, my sadness felt less isolated. I am only now building up community in Seattle, having moved back just months ago. I have been fasting for Ramadan by myself this year, and that day I had broken my fast out of emotional strain. Being in a space with other bodies held down by the same weight felt like emotional nourishment. I just wished over and over again that it had been under much different circumstances.
To give a generous viewpoint, I truly believe everyone was and still is trying to make sense of this tragedy. We search for meaning when the facts laid bare do not present a clear line back from outcome to cause. We will never know the true reasons. We only know about our society’s history of violence. The America we live in frames safety as placing blame, and justice is enacted through force. This America uses our collected grief as a way to prop up political campaigns. Not only do we have the duty to grieve, we also carry the burden of managing how queer people of color, Muslim or non-Muslim, are represented in media. Those of us still living do not deserve to experience more pain.
Even writing this now feels too soon. Interview questions ask for us to process grief on a collapsed time scale, urge us to take the spotlight while it’s still hot on our backs. When the media cycle has moved on, what will remain? Will the same white queers condemning other countries for their repression of queer bodies also remember that it was Latinx queers, undocumented queers, queers who are undesirable to the American state who died that night? Will we?
If we continue to offer each other the same type of care that I experienced the night of the QTPOC healing space, then we have somewhere to start. I do not want to rely on changes made by policymakers and organizations. The greatest support that I have received has been from friends checking in via text and email, opening their homes for iftar meals, and voicing appreciation that we are still present in each other’s lives. This does not bring back the dead, but it begins to encourage a world based on the tenderness of our hearts rather than the disposability of our bodies. The only thing that quiets the scream within me is the reminder that these queer brethren are now with our ancestors, and that to honor our ancestors we must live our fullest lives. For me that looks likes returning to my fast, waking up before sunrise to give myself food and water. I return always to my body.