Like so many others, I’ve been at a loss trying to make sense of the heinous act of anti-queer mass murder in Orlando. The following are some of my scattered thoughts on the topic, some of which I originally posted in a couple of rants on social media the past two mornings:
I have family members and friends who are queer, immigrants, Muslim, or all three, and who are very worried about the proliferation of the harmful imperialist ideology that comes with characterizing the murderer Omar Mateen as “ISIS,” “jihadist,” “Muslim”–in short, foreign, other, not of the United States. They recognize that this discourse carries with it repressive power that harms queer, Muslim, and immigrant communities. I’ve seen discussion on social media blaming the patriarchal culture of Afghanistan. What this discourse fails miserably to notice is that Mateen was not from Afghanistan. He was born and raised in the United States. He went to US schools. He watched US movies and television shows. He played in US neighborhoods. He shopped at US malls. He worked for US companies. He was socialized in the United States. He was a United States citizen from birth. So if we’re going to interrogate patriarchal culture, and I think we should, let’s start with the United States.
For the past year I’ve been teaching a US Gender History course to undergrads at the university. One of the things I emphasize is the interconnectedness of US imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, and violent masculinity. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, from Black, Brown, Indigenous, “third-world,” anti-colonial, Queer, and working-class feminist scholars, organizers, and activists about the many ways cis-hetero-patriarchy is historically intertwined with histories of capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy. I try to share that knowledge with my students. The violence committed by Mateen has US hyper-masculinity written all over it.
He idolized cops, fetishized guns, hated queer people, was racist, abused his ex-wife, used steroids, and worked for G4S, which is a multinational corporation that profits from technologies of social control, prisons, colonialism, and border imperialism (see chapter 4 of Angela Davis’s Freedom is a Constant Struggle for a discussion of what G4S is). This was a guy who thoroughly internalized US ideals of “manliness.” He was the product of a long history of patriarchal values in US culture and politics. He over-conformed to the ideal of “manliness” that all of us cis-men in the United States were socialized―through family, coaches, teachers, religious leaders, media, etc.―from childhood to internalize.
We’ve got to destroy the gender ideology―which is deeply intertwined with white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism―that underlies this murderous violence. That means nothing less than social, political, cultural, and economic revolution. At the very least it means we need to start recognizing that one of the most harmful things we teach boys is that they need to toughen up and “be a man.”
And we can’t ignore the role of hetero-patriarchal religion in perpetuating these toxic notions of “manliness.” Mateen believed he was defending his family from the threat posed by homosexuality. According to family members, he was angry that his son saw two men kissing. He needed to defend the family from the gays. Every church leader and mosque leader who has been perpetuating this “family vs. gays” discourse, from Mormonism, to Catholicism, to Evangelical Christianity, to Islam, and more, is complicit. Every politician, who, in the name of “Christian values,” has worked to pass legislation that marginalizes and devalues LGBTQ people is complicit. And every “good citizen” who votes based on hetero-patriarchal “family values” is complicit. We’ve got to tear down this whole system, and that means tearing down these anti-queer religious leaders with their hypocritical and disingenuous “hate the sin, love the sinner” nonsense.
Lastly, I want to praise my Queer and Muslim comrades who have been working to forge Queer/Trans and Muslim solidarities. They are queer people who challenge Islamophobia, pinkwashing, and colonialist belief systems within their own queer communities. They are Muslims who challenge cis-hetero-patriarchy within their own religious communities. And they are queer Muslims of color at the intersections of all of these violent systems fighting for their lives in a hateful world. Both the heinous act of mass murder against LGBTQ people and the opportunistic abuse of that tragedy to justify increased targeting of Muslims demonstrate how crucial their work is. We fight hatred, ignorance, and systemic injustice with revolutionary solidarity.
Tariq Khan is a father, a veteran, an agitator, and a PhD student at UIUC, originally from Northern Virginia.