Editing the list of names of people killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last Saturday brought home to me how long a list of names forty-nine victims makes.
Two years after Stonewall, Merle Miller wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine called "What it means to be homosexual". As a fourteen year old, uncertain and frightened of my sexuality like most teenagers, I dreaded that article. I remember avoiding the magazine for days before working up the courage to read it.
I remember many things about that article, above all the surface diffidence covering a firm declaration and demonstration of the humanity, the essential dignity of Gay men, and its account of the fears and the trials they faced.
Considering the slaughter in Orlando, I remember a specific incident from Merle Miller's essay, in which he remembers going back to his home town and encountering a homophobe who harassed him. "A closet queen at heart?" Miller asked before dismissing that answer as "too easy." Easy or not, the latest public revelations about the killer seem to point to a person loathing their own sexuality to the point of lashing out at it murderously.
Perhaps in the end most of us will decide to sum this story up as a man trying to kill his own sexuality by shooting it in forty-nine different people with an AR-15. If all the evidence we collect ends up pointing that way, then the blame should go not to religious texts dating back millennia, but on very modern, industrial age homophobia.
The Bible, which contains many inspiring accounts of marriage, contains stories of loving and
faithful relationships between people who happen to be the same sex at critical turning points in the narrative. Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Jesus and John: all these relationships mark turning points in the arc of the biblical narrative. Even if you assume these relationships had no physical expression, their existence runs counter to the imperatives of mainstream industrial culture. Our culture needs set men against others, as rivals, as enemies, as competitors. Conflict clarifies, conflict purifies, but above all, conflict motivates. Our culture, driven by competition and rivalry has achieved unparalleled levels of productivity and accompanying that, unparalleled levels of environmental devastation.
We don't have a problem with same-sex behaviour, as long as it reflects this desire for dominance. Our culture treats man versus man rape as a joke or a tool. Most of us know the jocular slogans: "If you hear banjos, paddle harder." We measure our hatred for malefactors by the hope they will fall victim to prison rape. We accept that; our culture just can't accept two men in love, two men tender and vulnerable and sweet with each other. It violates the cultural imperative that makes so much money and causes so much anguish.
We have a way of enforcing our cultural imperatives, the things we need to believe, need to accept. We will enforce them at whatever cost. If more evidence does not change our conclusion, we may end up writing his story as one man carrying out our cultural imperative at the cost of forty-nine lives as well as his own.