When my mother called me this morning to check up on me, at some point I brought up the news of the mass shooting that took place at a gay Orlando club called Pulse in Florida, US. Expecting her to match the shock in my voice, she instead said the mowing down of almost 50 people was a good thing and that it reduced the number of gay people in the world. In the same breath of repulsion, she mentioned the transgender bathroom controversy that broke a few weeks earlier in the same country. I hung up.
I love my mother, even though I perhaps don’t call, visit or spoil her as often as my co-workers think I should. But I have always been baffled and now profoundly affronted by her denial and disgust of people like her son. When I came out to her a few years earlier, it was out of spite: Twisting her face after I told her about a neighbour who was gay, she said something to the effect of this neighbour’s action being what translates to ‘dirt’. To point out the massive glass house she was living in, I confessed I was gay, too. She feigned a casual air and has been in denial ever since. Whenever I say something that implies I am gay, she reflexively reacts with revulsion. It is as though she hopes the force of her disgust will expel the demon of homosexuality from me, if she even thinks I have one. Well, this morning it propelled me away from her.
Her reaction does not surprise me, however: she is middle-aged, African and deeply Christian. But it is surprising that a man who killed those tens of club-goers, according to recent news reports, frequented the club he shot up and might have had a profile on a gay dating app but also whose father said of him that he was enraged at the sight of two men kissing. If one is fraught with seemingly such self-hate, one should suffer quietly and without hurting other people or oneself. Better yet, examine oneself and seek help and community. The father also said it is up to God to punish homosexuals, not his servants. Again, I am okay with people harbouring hate for certain categories of people such as race, orientation and religion. As long as that hatred stops at their cranium. I have a problem when it causes physical, emotional or financial injury to other people. Just because laws are changed (specifically in 1998, 1999 and 2005), it does not mean minds are also changed.
Many people believe that being gay is a choice. I have no definitive answer to this. The abstracts of the few research papers I have read are marked with tentative language. So although I take people who declare they are born this way at their word, I don’t think I personally was. But did I choose to suddenly develop feelings for my best friend when I was 11 years old? No. Did I choose to be pointed at, laughed at and jeered at during high school to the point of thinking of moving to another school? No. Did I choose to be gay in one of the most conservative continents on the planet? No. Am I gay because I am looking for attention? No.
But I am hopeful that the world will become ever more equal and enlightened, because it has. I get much flack for believing in people and systems. As these doubters’ tongues wag with unearned cynicism in their bubble of dasein, they bask in the least violent and most egalitarian of times, all things considered. In the long term, after fits and starts, progressive ideas always win. So I look forward to homo-sexism (a new meaning for an existing word more similar in construction to other isms that I will now coin, thank you very much) filtering out through the generations along with the staid myths people cling to in order to make sense of a world that is changing around them.
When I heard the news of the shooting, I could not believe the number of dead. I was as afraid as I felt when news came of a possible terrorist attack in South Africa (it turns out there is little daylight between radical terrorism and bigotry in this hate crime on the face of it). I cannot fathom the depth of loathing some people have against others for something they might not be able to help; it’s almost eye-watering. I tried to find refuge in the fact that there is not much violence against gay people in South Africa—but that is not true. I can only find it in both the liberal, young and urban bubble of a major city that balances merely on the low probability of such an attack, as well as my hope in the long arc of history that bends towards justice.
My thoughts are with the 49 who died in Orlando.