Editorial: Only When I’m Dancing

A Message Of Grief And Power

Robin Babb
4 min read
Candlelight Vigil
A vigil for victims of the Orlando hate crime was held in Albuquerque (Robin Babb)
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Crying in public is embarrassing and I hate it. Crying while driving is embarrassing and probably dangerous, so I pulled into a grocery store parking lot and cried there for a while.

On the morning of June 12, when I found out about the mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Fla., I was shocked that the Earth was continuing to turn. Business was going on as usual, people were chatting in cafes and on sidewalks, I was under deadline and trying, pitifully, to stay focused on my writing. I couldn’t.

The part that kept hurting the most, that continues to hurt, is that those people were gunned down in what was probably one of the few places they could feel free, could feel like themselves. The comparison to a church is not unwarranted: Gay bars are refuges to their patrons. Like Madonna said, “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free.”

Lesbian and gay bars are important in ways that you might not understand if you’ve never felt the need for one. There’s more to them than just feeling safe; it’s knowing that you’re among your own people, it’s the feeling of community, of a shared history and culture. It’s the collective burst of joy when Madonna comes on. It’s the two women arm wrestling in the back and the drag queen who’s putting on her lipstick in the mirror behind the bar. It’s the knowledge that, thank God, you’re not going to get hit on by a straight person tonight.

That refuge has been shattered for us all. We no longer feel safe in our own homes—homophobia has taken that last little thing from us. Which means that we have nothing left to lose in this battle.

There are two things in common with the majority of US mass shooters from the past two decades: They’re all men, and the men all used assault rifles. Since my petition to ban men isn’t likely to get much traction, (I’m kidding, settle down) I’d say we first focus on banning assault rifles.

The fact that one can legally buy an assault rifle at all in this country boggles the mind. One can go down to a gun show and walk out with an AR-15-type rifle like the one that Omar Mateen used without a background check. What possible justification can there be for those types of purchases, especially after all these mass shootings? Nobody is taking these guns hunting.

Mateen had previously been on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist. He had ties to Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, the first American to carry out a suicide attack in Syria. He was abusive to his ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy. Despite all these things that were known about Mateen, he was easily able to legally purchase an assault rifle; that is utter insanity.

Some people have tried to make this shooting about the violence inherent in Islamic fundamentalism, since Mateen claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. That supposition ignores a lot of things, primarily that most mass shooters in this country have not been Muslim. More importantly this argument is also a feint to avoid talking about why homophobia is still rampant in this country.

Why don’t we take this opportunity to talk about the violence inherent in racism, in sexism, in homophobia? Why don’t we talk about the violence inherent in American masculinity?

We live in a country where little boys are taught to bottle up their emotions and not ask for help when they need it. This is a place where a little boy pinching a little girl on the playground is dismissed as inconsequential because ‘he likes her.’ It’s where the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ is used to justify violent, destructive behavior. If we continue to tell little boys that they are violent by nature, how do we expect them to grow up and not be violent men?

On that awful Sunday, I wanted to mourn with my people, so I went to the candlelight vigil at Morningside Park. I was proud of the community’s response: they refused to make the issue about Islam, they refused to respond to hate with more hate. The rhetoric was all about coming together to combat homophobia and to reform gun laws. The message was one of grief, but also one of power: We will not let this happen again. And you better believe that these humans mean what they say.
Candlelight Vigil

Robin Babb

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