The massacre in Orlando brought me back to when I was four-years-old. I have never written of the experience, I spoke it out loud once—just a few months ago—at a Latinx conference.
At four, my mother and I were separated. She had to migrate from Mexico to the U.S. after years of physical and emotional domestic abuse leading up to my younger sister's death. I was too young to understand the violence that my mother and sister had experienced, but I knew that I was somehow safe, or at least, that’s what everyone around me kept telling me.
During the time my mother and I were separated, I lived in a household where at age four, I was expected to "act like a man," meaning that I could not cry, I could only play outdoors, and that I wasn’t allowed to play with girls. When I got caught playing with an 8-month-old girl, my caretaker forced me into a dress for acting like “una niña.” I was beaten while wearing a dress, and forced to stand outside, alone in the open streets of Mexico City. Neighborhood boys pointed, laughed, and threw rocks at me. I don’t remember if I thought I was going to die, or thought that it was a fair punishment for being feminine, and not man enough. I was four, but now that I am older, the memories come back as if it just happened.
On Sunday, I woke up to the overwhelming vibration of my cellphone on the nightstand. What the hell could be so important?
Without putting my glasses on, I saw that I had been added to a group text with friends I’d had dinner with the night before. There had been a shooting at a gay club early Sunday in Orlando, Florida, during the club’s “Latin night.” Someone texted, “50 of our people were killed last night!! We need a space for our people to process this. I need to process this.” I couldn’t comprehend the texts, so I read them again. Then I thought about my childhood, and realized that I, too, needed to process.
I realized that even though I have been involved in social justice movements since 2010, chanting all over the U.S., “undocumented and unafraid, queer, and unashamed,” the truth is, I am still afraid. I am afraid even though I am no longer undocumented. I am afraid despite the U.S. recognizing gay marriage. I am afraid because just as homophobia and transphobia—paired with racism and anti-blackness—were root causes of the torture I survived at the age of four, they fueled the shooting in Orlando. Acts of violence are committed against queer people and people of color every day, whether they are massacres like Orlando or the Charleston church shooting, or more intimate tragedies that are rarely reported in the media.
Then there’s the fact that people quoted by mainstream media have used Orlando to criminalize people from the Muslim community, and to shame those of us that are queer, transgender, intersex, etc. for trying to live authentic lives. Let’s face it: we aren’t living in a post-race or post-gay society.
As an Afro-Latinx gender-non-conforming immigrant, I must emphasize that Sunday’s massacre cannot be isolated as a random act or purely an act of Islamic terrorism. Too many people are dismissing that the shooting took place during Pride month at a Latin night event. Even friends on social media have said that this shooting has nothing to do with race, because, after all, white gay people go clubbing, too. But Sunday’s shooting was an attack against a primarily young crowd of Latinx and Black individuals celebrating their existence in a world that has continually tried to silence them. We can’t deny that it occurred because our (American) culture devalues the lives of womyn and people of color, and has through our history.
When I was four, I was tortured for acting feminine—femininity, and therefore, womynhood, was weak and not to be celebrated. If I had stayed away from playing with girls, my caretaker argued, I would have never been punished. I was beaten and mocked because I was wearing a dress, but also, because I am visibly Black. As a Black body in Mexico, my worth and value as a human being has always been questioned. I cannot detach my Blackness, my femininity, my queerness, or my mental health from an analysis on what happened in Orlando.
Sunday’s shooting cannot be blamed solely on Omar Mateen. In fact—and this is the critical, and risky part—we have to hold each other accountable in the ways in which we may participate in the oppression of people of color, the oppression of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual +) community, the oppression of religious communities, and more.
I ask all of you to help me. I cannot heal my traumas without you. The four-year-old inside me is still hurting, today more than ever. I need you to help me heal, but most importantly, I need you to help me stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors in Orlando, so that they too can heal. You can start today by committing to do these four things:
Recognize that LGBTQIA+ communities and all people of color are hurting.
This is not a time to be insensitive.This is a time when those of you who are not LGBTQIA+ or people of color can make a list of what you can contribute to our communities such as rides to work, gift cards to the supermarket, childcare, etc. Ask people around you if they need those services so that they can better continue to resist. If you find yourself stuck, offer to listen, and listen attentively, because we need to process, and sometimes, it’s easier to process with someone who is not as directly impacted.
Do not erase transgender womyn of color.
Since I first read about the shooting, articles, tweets, and Facebook statuses have mentioned solidarity with the “gay” community. As my Trans-Latina sister Bea Fonseca told me, “the advertisement for Pulse Orlando Latin Night shows two trans womyn, a Latina trans womyn, and a Black trans womyn, possibly an Afro-Latina. We need to center our analysis, our conversation, and our advocacy on the fact that this is also a crime against womyn, against Latinxs, against Blacks, and not just a crime against gays.”
Transgender womyn of color cannot be silenced in the way that they’ve been silenced in LGBTQIA+ history. Did you know that we have Pride because of transgender womyn of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson? To not erase transgender womyn of color, we need to uplift their narratives by investing in them, which means hiring them as full-time employees in our organizations, listening to them, seeing them as knowledge-producers, and as agents who have been engaged in the LGBTQIA+ struggle before it became a global movement.
Fight against Islamophobia and xenophobia.
The media has framed this event primarily on Mateen, ISIS, and the rest of the Muslim community, but no—this massacre was about society not being a safe place for LGBTQIA+ communities, or for people of color.
We have to push the media and understand that blaming the Muslim community is perpetuating the fact that xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants.
In fact, we need to remember that Latinidad is a diverse culture and that many Latinxs are also Muslim—we cannot talk about them as separate identities.
Do not pretend to understand.
I will never understand what it is to have lost someone at Sunday’s shooting, which is why my analysis is based on my experience as a Black, Latinx, gender-non-conforming queer migrant. I ask you to do the same.
We are not all Orlando. We are all individuals with different experiences.
I ask you to listen to those who were directly affected, but also to listen to LGBTQIA+ people of color, because this is our everyday reality.
If you can commit to these four asks today, you will be part of my healing process, my survival, and my community’s survival. Today, like yesterday, we will continue to mourn, but if you join us and take action, you can be part of our liberation.
Alan Pelaez Lopez is a poet, contributing writer for Everyday Feminism and serving in the steering committee of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.