Introduction: In the wake of the Orlando massacre, Robin and Malachi are drawn to the discussion of bodies, and the act of visiting violence upon someone’s body. In the process of our own struggles, remembrances, and emotions, we hope to offer some helpful thoughts to those grieving and struggling with how to move forward from this unwarranted attack on our family, our friends, and our communities.
Robin: The tragedy in Orlando can easily overwhelm a person of even a little sensitivity. Forty-nine people gunned down—the gunman himself killed, and more injured—like kewpie dolls on a moving track at a carnival game booth. Hit five and you win a prize. Hit ten and you win 2 prizes, hit 49 and you win the jackpot!!!
But these were not dolls, they were people, real flesh and blood people, real human bodies. They were dancing and drinking and flirting and kissing and hugging and peeing and maybe sweating. Maybe some of them even felt pain from dancing, a sore knee or ankle or hip or back, but still they danced and they watched others dance and their tapped their feet, and maybe raised arms in joy and excitement. It has been some time since I went to a gay club, or any dance venue, and danced the night away. But I have done it, especially with my Jonathan, who inspires me with his exuberance and lightness of feet.
There is something beyond special to feel your body moving with the beat, your heart thumping on the fast numbers and your heart filling on the slow ones.
These were people, mostly L, G, B, or T, or Q ones, but S ones, too, friends who like to dance and know that gay clubs are great places to dance, to celebrate.
These were bodies—young and old and in between, mostly Latino/a, probably some Black and white, male and female and in between and unwilling to choose, tall and short, heavy and thin, single and partnered, probably some looking for sex or at least companionship. Among hundreds present, there were probably almost every sort and condition of humankind.
The act of gunning down 49 bodies and injuring 53 more (and will they all live?) and terrorizing the rest who ran screaming or hid from the nightmare that will not ever leave their bodies, their body memories, their psychic space, their spiritual center—how little can the shooter care about the bodies of others? Or his own?
If we really believed that the human body is a temple of God, if we truly believed human bodies—all human bodies—are sacred, would we repeatedly destroy them with guns and knives and malnutrition and starvation and bombs and war and terror and lack of care (of self and others), and ignorance and disease we can actually stop and cure? Would we?
I am sitting at my desktop, naked as is my custom these days, feeling my aches and pains, running my hands over all parts of my aged/still aging white male privileged body, alone except for Cocoa our standard poodle sleeping in the next room, and wondering what I can say that has not already been said or will not be said somewhere else, probably better than I can. My body is carrying anger and anguish, almost inexpressible sadness, and fear for my own LGBT community and for other marginal communities: all Latino/a and Muslim peoples (walls and deportations, and more), Black people (killed and denied voting just because), native peoples, immigrants, children, women, religious minorities, differently-abled people.
I keep coming back to these particular bodies. One news report said, “Workers removed the bodies four at a time on stretchers and loaded them into white vans. The action was repeated over and over” (link). I am reminded of reading accounts of the Nazi Holocaust, dead bodies en masse, workers dealing with them endlessly. Or other massacres closer to home: Wounded Knee (as many as 300 Lakota, plus soldiers) in 1890, and mass lynching of Black sharecroppers in 1919 in Arkansas (estimates range from 100 to 800-see here and here).
In Orlando, how high would the bodies reach if the dead ones were stacked one on top of the other—how deep would the hole have to be or how high would the ladder or lift have to be as they rose in one towering pile—or how wide or deep would the hole in the ground have to be if they were dumped, like Jews or queers or gypsies in the Holocaust, or victims of poison gas in Syria, in a mass grave?
The shooter did not care about any bodies, probably even his own (perhaps because he did not like his embodied sexual feelings?)—he must have known on some level he would die, too, perhaps that is what he really wanted but he couldn’t go without taking others with him—and I know I do not care for my body as well as I could/should/wish.
I also know I do not at this time want to die. I will go when its time, and hope I will know when that is and go willingly and gratefully for all I have received, but now I have things to do, people to love and be loved by, poems and blogs and books to write, meals to cook, laundry to wash, gardens to tend, husband and dog and daughters and grandchildren and sons-in-law and a future son-in-law and a sister and nieces and their families and church folk and JVP and synagogue friends and neighbors and so many more to hug and care for as best I can. The 49 had dreams and intentions, too. And family and loved ones.
They all have bodies, no, they all are bodies, we all are bodies. Everyone, every human, every animal, is a body. We begin this earthly journey as bodies and we embody the spiritual being God creates us to be. We can’t be, human or animal, without a body.
Flesh, blood, skin, organs, orifices, cells, veins, tissue, bone, currents of energy. In some sense, that is all we are. And in that is-ness, we are perfect, no matter what shape or category we inhabit. It is in a moment like this that I am glad I am a vegetarian. I don’t kill bodies for food or for hate.
But I am a citizen of this world, and most of us do kill (or employ others to kill for us) for food, and too many (even though a far, far lesser number) kill for hate.
Can I say I could never kill another human? I have tried to say that, but every time I know I am being false, dishonest. If saving Jonathan or Cocoa or my daughters and and/or their families and those others I mentioned above seemed to be possible only by killing the one or ones intending to kill them, I believe I would kill first. I want it not to be so, and I want first no such harm threatened but if it is, then I want the person or persons arrested, peaceably I hope, and tried and kept apart, and I pray, changed. But I know that as much as I value each and every body, I do have a hierarchy of value. I would kill to save the bodies I love, including my own.
Knowing that, admitting that, all I know to do then is my part to honor every body I can—to help create a world that honors all bodies, wants all bodies to thrive. It is why I started this blog, and included bodies in the title. I want to be explicit—yes, that word that has come to mean seeing body parts on screen some may wish to ignore and others are hungry to see—that it is bodies I care about. I want to do my part to reverse the anti-body forces, to help transform the body haters into body lovers.
I follow Jesus whose body many believe was divine. I love him for his divinity that was expressed through his humanity, through his Jewish, male, young-ish body. And I love all the other divine bodies, too, even those who hate my body and the bodies of people like me and people unlike me.
I don’t know what else to do—except to love every body (two distinct words, say them clearly to emphasize the body) I can, even ones I may not entirely understand, doing so in ways that honor them and me and our relationship, and most of all, seek to strengthen the bond between us so that we can stand together not only in mourning for those who are killed, massacred as in Orlando, but also in active solidarity, body to body, body by body, body with body.
I extend my hand to yours, my body, too: let us embrace, body to body, as best we can, across cyber space and across the aisle, next door and down the road, everywhere we can. And let us never let go.
I’ve run the gambit of emotions these past several days. I’ve gone from sad to angry to numb to grieving to protective and back again. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, I think many in the LGBTQ communities have faced a similar struggle: we are saddened, outraged, numb, angry, hurting. Everyone I have spoken with has been somewhere on that spectrum. Yet while there is shock at the scale of this attack, I have found very few people truly surprised by it.
It seems to be the natural progression to the elevated rhetoric and discussion we have seen in the past several years around LGBTQ people. We have heard people say truly hateful things in the name of religion (many different religions, including- and perhaps, especially- from people claiming Christianity).
With the upcoming election, we have seen a rise in hateful speech toward the GLBTQ communities, toward immigrants, toward people of color. We have heard it from politicians and, when something is broadcast through a microphone, we hear it spoken by supporters in the streets. When authorities say something, it gives other permission to vocalize similarly hateful ideologies.
I have been angry. I think anger is important, and we need to allow ourselves the space and gentleness to have angry responses. But we can’t stay there. Anger is important, but it can also be corrosive. It can wear us down and wear us away until we are too tired to move forward, to act. There must be a “what next?”, and that movement rarely comes from remaining in a place of anger.
The tragedy in Orlando is the product of violent rhetoric, but it is also the product of nation desensitized to violence. It is the product of dehumanizing a person so that violence visited on those bodies is not violence toward a person, but violence toward a group. The people who were targeted were not targeted because of who they were as people; they were targeted because they frequented a gay club that night.
When we categorize people, they become a tokenized representation of a larger group, rather than an individual person with multiple communities. The people who were targeted were singled out because they were assumed to be gay, but many were people of color. Some were parents. Some were college students. They came from different religious backgrounds and family situations. But none of that mattered to the shooter. What mattered is that they were gay.
It seems trite, but it reminds me of the story of a parent and child going to a seafood restaurant. The child immediately names all the lobsters in the tank so that the parent won’t eat any of them. By giving someone a name, they become real, rather than abstract. It’s harder to kill and eat a lobster named Jonas than it is to kill and eat an arbitrary lobster.
I have been angry, but we must go somewhere from there. Christianity tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but what do we do when our neighbor is racist, sexist, classist, homophobic? What does it mean to love the people who perpetrate violence on the bodies of others because of the group they are assumed to represent?
It is the “as ourselves” that always gets to me. How do I love myself? Do I see myself as a member of a group or as an individual? What does my body represent to me?
We know, of course, that “hurt people hurt people.” For example, internalized homophobia often contributes to violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ community. Perhaps, from there, we can understand that how others treat us says a lot about how they see themselves.
I don’t want to give an answer that sounds trite. I love the sentiment that “love wins” because I think love is a verb. It’s kinetic energy, potential motion with a catalyst. It can be overwhelmingly powerful. But saying, “love wins” isn’t always comforting. I don’t want to love the shooter. I don’t want to love someone who takes advantage of an unconscious woman. I don’t want to love the people who perpetrate violence on bodies because they dislike the group to whom they believe that body belongs, or because they believe a group is inferior to their own.
And yet… and yet. Love takes work. It takes effort. It is one of the central tenants of Christian faith, and I’m one who believes that Christianity takes effort and work. God does not call us to do what is easy; God calls us to do what is right.
Do I forgive the shooter for the lives he stole? It’s not up to me to forgive, and I’m not sure that I can go there yet. It’s too fresh, too raw. Do I make excuses, apologize, or in any way try to reframe what happened by making it about mental illness or radical extremism? Absolutely not. This was an extreme act of homophobia that visited violence on the bodies of LGBTQ people. But it happened because he hated the group of people, not the people themselves. The dangerous rhetoric we have heard over the past several weeks, months, and years has dehumanized LGBTQ people as a one-dimensional group. The Gay People. Homosexuals.
In a similar manner, we dehumanize people with whom we disagree all the time. Racists. Homophobes. It becomes easier to sustain our hatred when we are not dealing with people, but with ideas. And it’s ok to disagree, dislike, and fight against ideas- in fact, it’s important that we do fight against ideas that are founded on limiting the freedoms of another person. But it is the ideas, not the people, that we need to work against.
I do not hate this shooter, although a part of me desperately wants to. His ideas and actions were atrocious, but those were not created in a vacuum. Those were created right here, in this country, by the rhetoric and language of hateful ideas spoken by those to whom we have given microphones. This man was a product of the United States.
I do not hate this shooter. I am struggling to see him as a whole person, wounded and self-hating, violent and dangerous, but a person. He was not just an idea, or the representative of an idea. There are other homophobic people, other sexist and racist and classist people in the world. But they are more than that.
Perhaps that is a part of that commandment. We struggle to see ourselves as whole people, integrated and authentic. We struggle to love the person that we see when we look in the mirror. We must struggle to see others as whole people as well, re-humanize people who have been dehumanized as representatives of a group. We cannot work to end such atrocities without first understanding where they come from, and we cannot understand where they come from without first allowing ourselves to understand the people behind them. We may hate the ideas and actions of a person, but they are, at the end of the day, a person struggling to see themselves as whole, integrated, and authentic. They are people struggling with how to love themselves.
In memory of those who have died, the list of victims can be found here.
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What do you think? How are you handling the aftermath of the Orlando shooting? How might we, as people of faith, seek to embody love, even in the face of such violent adversity? Please share your thoughts, your heart (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.