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Fear and Loathing in Santiago: Reflections on the Florida Mass Shooting

This morning at 5:00 am as the mass shooting in a Florida gay club was taking place, I was heading back from a gay club here in Santiago. I wasn’t feeling great and had planned to stay in, but my friend convinced me of the meritoriousness of this particular club. I got all dolled up for the event, shiny black spaghetti-strap top, slinky black leggings and boots. I even did my makeup – eyeliner, mascara, lipgloss that was supposed to say, “I’m fun and flirty and definitely would not rather be in my bed reading right now instead of at this club” - clearly duplicitous lipgloss because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I wore a fake, gemmed septum nose ring to feel out if I want the real thing. I never know what to do with my unruly hair, so I left that alone, falling down my shoulders and back in what could politely be called “waves,” or more accurately “kinks from sleeping with wet hair plastered to my face.”

We were accompanied by my landlady’s friend, a transwoman who works the club scene. We talked about micropenises and makeup, machismo in Latin America, feminism, LGBTQ rights, and feeling safe (or not) in the streets. “Girly stuff,” she said.

At the club, I quickly remembered I hate large groups, loud noise, and cigarette smoke, which was not ideal for the situation in which I found myself. In line for the coat check, a large, seemingly out-of-place older man came up from behind me and almost pinned my friend up against the wall, until some onlookers pushed him back. As we snaked our way through the crowd, at least three men stopped us to try to talk to us, kiss us, or grope us.

Throughout the whole night, I was vigilant, wary, and even afraid at various points. As a woman, I was worried someone would slip something into my drink. So I didn’t carry one; I opted for a bottle of water. I was careful not to make eye contact, not to walk a certain way, not to smile too much. I was uncomfortable and on-edge when numerous men tried to grab me, touch me, kiss me, or otherwise invade my personal space. I was palpably afraid while taking a taxi home alone in an unsafe area.

But never once was I afraid of dying in a mass shooting.

All this week I’ve seen photos of my friends at various Pride events in the U.S., decked out in their rainbow regalia and I have to admit I felt jealous. Lately I’ve been missing my queer community in the U.S. I’ve missed my safe spaces and places for intersectional discourse and dialogue. I’ve deeply missed diversity in gender expression and sexual identity. I miss my genderqueer folks, my flamboyantly gay friends, my masculine-presenting lesbians, and everyone in between. I miss feeling safe and accepted for who I am.

When I woke up this morning and heard about the Florida shooting, I realized that it’s still not safe to be who we are, even in the supposed haven of LGBTQ rights. Reading the news articles laced with thinly-veiled anti-Muslim slurs, I realized how deeply-rooted our problems as a society are.

As I write this, I notice my contacts are blurring from the onset of tears. I’m crying not only for my community, but for my Muslim friends who woke up to this news and immediately anticipated the number of times strangers would shout “terrorist” at them this week. I’m crying for my roommate who was refused service at a convenience store yesterday because of the color of her skin. I’m crying for my nineteen-year-old self, when I was sexually assaulted on campus and the first questions I was asked were, “What were you wearing?” and “Why were you alone?”

This is my generation, my family.

I would love to end this essay on a note of optimism. I would love to say that I think hate crimes, mass shootings, and general bigotry are on the decline in the United States and that in 5 or 10 years my children won’t even be able to relate this acute pain we’re feeling right now. But I would be lying.

It’s 2016 and we are subject to more mass shootings, not fewer. We’re seeing an increase in hate crimes, not a decline. And the discourse surrounding such issues is increasingly and more vehemently Otherizing, not less.

This is the myth of progress. We equate the passage of time to the improvement of society without critically analyzing what, if any, progress has actually been made. Of course, Jim Crow laws have officially been abolished and universal suffrage has been won throughout the course of recent decades. However, I don’t know about you, but I’m still fighting for a world in which my Black friend can leave the house without fear of being shot with impunity, in which I can hold my (hypothetical) girlfriend’s hand in the street without hearing threats of physical violence. A world in which you can go see a movie, go for a walk, or go dancing without fearing for your life.

I truly hope that significant change is around the corner. I won’t be so bold as to offer a panacea for all the world’s problems, but I do know that solidarity matters. Supporting your friend as she comes out to her parents matters. Engaging with and explaining to your mother why words such as “thug” she hears on Fox News are racially-coded and specifically intended to do harm matters. Understanding that Women’s liberation is directly linked to Black liberation which is directly connected to Queer liberation matters.

My roommate told me over tea the other day, “I’m so grateful to have met you. I’m so involved with the Black Lives Matter movement that I don’t really step outside that often, I don’t know much about queer issues. It’s so important to listen and hear other perspectives. Don’t you think?”

I do.

floridaPhoto credit: startribute.com

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