Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Case of Omar Mateen

What a lethal mix it turned out to be.

There was the religion, that vaunted religion of peace. Is it? Yes, with certain restrictions: to those who believe in Islam, and to those willing to live according to whatever customs and cultural norms that Islam is being expressed, Islam is a religion of peace. And so I—an openly gay man—might well be welcomed in a mosque in Toronto, Canada. And that would be a very real expression of Islam. Just as being welcomed in an Anglican church is a very real expression of Christianity. In fact, I’d like to believe that both are the realest expressions of those religions.

Ready to be rudely awakened?

The openness of some religions, or of some churches in some religions, is only of some twenty years or so. Thus, in the case of Christianity, this amounts to no more than a thousandth of its history. And the case of Islam is much worse: trust me, if the Arab world rose up in horror at the sight of gay people being thrown from buildings, the world would have a few more gay people today.

There’s an old saying in the gay world: the more you repress it, the more you get it. Which means that I, a wicked openly gay man, committed the moral horrors of eating dinner with my husband, sitting down in front of a television, and then consuming two hours of Netflix. I compounded this abomination by kissing my husband, and then going off—alone—to bed.

Contrast this with the blameless behavior of powerful Afghan men, who employ the service of the Bacha Bazi:

In a 2013 Vice Media, Inc. documentary titled "This Is What Winning Looks Like", British independent film-maker Ben Anderson describes the systematic kidnapping, sexual enslavement and murder of young men and boys by local security forces in the Afghan city of Sangin. The film depicts several scenes of Anderson along with American military personal describing how difficult it is to work with the Afghan police considering the blatant molestation and rape of local youth. The documentary also contains footage of an American military advisor confronting the then acting Police Chief on the abuse after a young boy is shot in the leg after trying to escape a police barrack. When the Marine suggests that the barracks be searched for children, and that any policeman found to be engaged in pedophilia be arrested and jailed, the high-ranking officer insists what occurs between the security forces and the boys is consensual, saying "[the boys] like being there and giving their asses at night." He went on to claim that this practice was historic and necessary. "If [my commanders] don't fuck the asses of those boys, what should they fuck? The pussies of their own Grandmothers?"[31]

Right—situations like these are what makes gay men bristle when the conservative right labels us “child molesters….”

So in the west, we have a whole group of gay men who are learning to change diapers and go to work after being up all night with a sick infant. But in Arab countries, we have societies that are deeply conflicted about women, sexuality, and especially homosexuality. And is there any reason to think that Omar Mateen’s father was any different?

A better blogger would have the answer: I watched Mateen’s father for three and a half minutes on YouTube, before I got a queasy feeling of sadness and disgust. I think the police have to ask tough questions, and I think the public has a right to know what happened. I’m less sure that I have the right to be part of a feeding frenzy of the press hounding a deeply proud, and now deeply wounded, father.

That’s the sad part. The disgust comes from suspecting that everything I’ve read about Mateen’s father’s views on homosexuality is true. That said, enter Miguel.

According to the interview, which is riveting, Miguel met Mateen for 15 or 20 dates in November and December of last year. He describes Mateen as loving, not violent, but also as someone who abused alcohol, and had a completely confused view of his sexuality. In Miguel is not Miguel, nor is Miguel’s face the face of whoever-the-not-Miguel is. So name and image have been changed and why? Because Miguel is afraid of ISIS, yes, but also Mateen’s father. The father, according to “Miguel,” loathed homosexuality so much that he said that gay people should be killed. And yes, he could forgive Mateen, but that forgiveness could only happen after Papa Mateen had killed Miguel. Or had him killed. 

And so, if you believe Miguel, we have a man—Mateen—who had little interest in Islam, was completely gay, and was in a marriage of convenience, probably to please his father. And then, since he had, according to Miguel, two apps for finding gay men for sex, he had two threesomes with gay Puerto Rican men. It was after one threesome that one of the men told Mateen that he (the sex partner, not Mateen) was HIV positive.

According to Miguel, Mateen freaked. Wouldn’t you? And so Miguel counseled Mateen to get tested; Mateen did, apparently by a home test. The result was negative, but also inconclusive, since—again, according to Miguel—insufficient time had passed for the result to be definitive.

And so Mateen harbored a grudge. In addition, he had suffered some rejections at the hands of some of the Hispanics at the club, where he had been many times before. Hardly surprising—unless you are Ricky Martin, or his twin brother, rejection is part of gay men’s life. As well, of course, as straight people’s lives.

He was, according to Miguel, attracted to Latinos, or perhaps specifically to Puerto Ricans, who are a large community in Orlando (there are over 500,000 Puerto Ricans there). And it’s easy to see why he’d be attracted: Latin culture is famously free and sensual. Every movement is a dance, every look is a flirt, sex is at least implied everywhere. What must Mateen, having been raised in a rigid, oppressive atmosphere, have felt on being introduced to the young, hot Puerto Ricans dancing freely in an Orlando nightclub?

Is this speculation? Of course, but is it any more farfetched than Mateen’s claim that he was a member of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and ISIS? Yeah? All—when all three are fighting each other? But could he say the truth? Could he admit, even to himself or especially to himself, the truth?

The truth would be that he was closeted, he was average looking, he lusted after the freedom and the sensuality of a culture that was harshly homophobic. For him, the young men dancing into the night must have seemed impossibly free and unfettered. He, in turn, could only look at them, want them, want what they had, and what he would never have. And then he returned to his wife and child, and to the father who had arranged and forced him into that prison. But to say all that was impossible, and so, in one of the curious twists of the story, he was busy calling 911 to establish himself as a terrorist.

That’s a scenario—but will we ever hear it? Miguel says this was not a terrorist attack. After all, Pulse is not, according to him, the biggest gay venue in town. But it was having a salsa / bachata / Latin music night.

So does it make a difference?

Yes, it makes a difference. We now have Trump talking again about stopping all Muslims from entering the country. The many Muslims who are peace loving and law-abiding are looking over their backs now, when a week or two ago the never dreamed of it. And the FBI and other law enforcement agencies will be given even more leeway to trample on the civil liberties of us all.

And we could be having another discussion, but that might a trifle embarrassing for some of us. We would have to look at ourselves, and admit that the Afghan practice of Bacha Bazi was outlawed under the Taliban, and then came back under the government we instituted. And we looked the other way, until enough media of sufficient prestige forced to admit it.

And Muslims might have to admit that there is, after all, some housecleaning of their own to do. They might have to look at their cultures, and those cultures’ attitudes toward women and sexuality.

He was a bomb waiting to go off, and he did. To some extent, we never know why any of our numerous mass murders go of. But why do I feel that in the case of Omar Mateen…

…we will never, never know?