My heart broke into pieces when people in the Orlando gay community reported that Omar Mir Seddique Mateen may have been gay. I did not want him to be gay. I wanted him to be simple hateful man that I could blame for all of my sadness and rage on right now. I have no sympathy for Mateen. None. He was a murderer. A murderer who legally bought powerful guns in order to murder members of my community. I wish he and those guns never existed.
Obviously, I support a ban on assault weapons. Hell, I am a radical and I support a ban on all guns. However, if there is truth to the reports on him being in the closet than we need to talk about it. Guns are a critical part of the problem, but queer hatred (whether internal, external, or both) is the other part of it.
The closet is a dangerous weapon. For any of you that have experienced it, you know what it can do to you. The closet makes you hate. First it makes you hate yourself. Then you hate those who escaped the closet. You probably hate the people who you blame for putting you in the closet. The closet breeds hate. You hate being in the closet, but you hate the idea of being out of the closet even more. It’s the place queer hatred is born. The closet is the worst place anyone can imagine and many queer people have spent too much time in it.
The only analogous place that I can imagine is solitary confinement. I’ve never been in solitary confinement and probably never will be, but one glance at letters from the prisoner’s in solitary confinement look like many young queer person’s journal. Phrases like: “Please, somebody help”; “I need HELP!!!”; “I hear voices echoing as I try to fall asleep.” are all from prisoners in solitary confinement, but undoubtedly resonate with someone trapped in the closet. Being in the closet is our solitary confinement. You are alone, begging for help, being punished with incomprehensible severity, and never sure when it will end.
Like solitary confinement, being in the closet is a recipe for disaster. Being in the closet is a torture that strips people of their dignity, humanity, and sense of self. Do you know what’s the worst part? We force children to develop in the closet. If you need a guarantee for madness, then stay in the closet. No one survives in the closet. Coming out is the only way to survive.
The Orlando Pulse Massacre has made me think about when I came out of the closet and my discovery of my first gay dance club. It was November 16, 2000. George W. Bush had just stolen the White House from Al Gore, and I had used that campaign to come out to my canvassing partner. He himself was gay and like a bunch of silly college boys, we drank cheap booze, snuck beers on the Pittsburgh city bus, and went to a seedy subterranean bar called Pegasus to dance the night away. I had never danced with a man before, and from the top of the steps I saw 50 beautiful men dancing with one another. It was shocking, inspiring, and it was the happiest thing I had ever seen. As I write this, I am smiling, just recalling the memory. Barry Harris’s “Dive in the Pool” was blaring on a bad music system, and I made my way to the dance floor. It was fantastic.
There was no going back in the closet after that night. I keep thinking what would have happened if I had not escaped the closet. What if I was weak willed? Or had excessively oppressive family? Or a right wing religious tradition? What could the closet have done to me? Obviously, I would not have went on a killing spree. The closet makes life topsy turvy. The logical thing to do, would be to come out of the closet and live a truthful life. However, the closet does not let you use much logic. Let me tell you a story about how insidious the closet is to a person. At the age of 18 I was like every other horny 18 year old. I thought about sex a lot. I was very much in the closet, but my fantasies continuously drifted toward men.
That year my grandfather died and one night I fantasized about some male model I saw on TV. I cried for an hour before I went to bed, because I thought my heavenly bound grandfather now knew I was gay and I hated that feeling. I was an intelligent and critically minded young man, and sexual fantasies were leading to full scale delusions like I was some Bedlam mental patient. How did I rid myself of the paranoia of a judging ghost relatives? I came out of the closet 8 month later.
Every time we allow someone to stay in the closet, there is serious potential for something terrible to happen. Coming out is a revolutionary act and we need to embrace and encourage it. We need to be out and proud. It is not good enough to smash our own closets, but we must destroy all of them.
I get why it is hard to come out of the closet. I really do. Queer hatred runs really deep in a lot of places. It does not help that the right wing politicians and their religious vanguard clamor to spit their dangerous anti-queer rhetoric. No one wants to come out in a world that feels dangerous.
What would have happened if Mateen would have come out of the closet? Maybe he could have escaped with some humanity and not have become the inhumane monster that he did. If staying in the closet has any chance of creating another Mateen, then we need to ban the weapons and smash the closets.
I am lucky. I survived the closet. Many others were not lucky.