News & Opinion

Orlando Massacre

Was Orlando killer Omar Mateen poisoned by the closet?

The Daily Beast

June 15, 2016

Was homophobic mass murderer Omar Mateen himself gay? We will never know. He certainly didn’t identify as such, whatever gay chat apps he may have signed up to, and however many times he visited Pulse nightclub.

Mateen may well bear out the well-worn maxim that the biggest homophobes tend to be gay themselves—or harboring same-sex desires they are revolted by, and in revolt to. This theory is even grounded in the scientific research of a 2012 study.

He was twice married, an alleged abuser of women. His father, in retreat from his son’s horrific actions, states that only God can punish homosexuals.

He was reportedly a domineering presence in his son’s life. Were religious prejudices inculcated early in Mateen, only to be fostered more psychotically later?

Even if he was in the closet, even if he hated the idea of being gay or attracted to men, he could have just, as others like him have, gone on to live a very unhappy life, quietly—rather than embarking upon gruesome mass murder.

Authorities say his second wife, Noor Zahi Salman, helped Mateen acquire ammo, and accompanied him to Pulse: was she an active accomplice, pressured to do so, trying to moderate her husband’s anti-gay antipathy, or struggling to understand him?

Weary, battered LGBTs looking at this shifting palimpsest of information see at the very least a poisoned and poisonous closet case, his screwed-up inner demons stoked and legitimized by murderously homophobic ISIS ideology.

If there are questions about Mateen’s own sexuality now to be raised, the straight body politic, and mainstream media, will need to do something it has singularly failed to do in the last three days: to understand and name out loud homophobia in all its forms (violent, and in the statute books), and to understand what being LGBT means, and the sometimes extreme cost of living in denial of it.

Mateen, if what we are being told is true, was a man possibly attracted to men who didn’t see himself as gay, who—if the facts are to be believed thus far—hated both that idea as it applied to himself, and to others.

He was, by virtue of his actions at Pulse, virulently anti-gay: not just self-hating, but LGBT-hating in extremis, with ISIS ideology a bedrock of still unclear-importance.

Mateen’s closet, whatever was hanging in there, was polluted and toxic. So, if they are going to bandy it around as a possible cause, the media and politicians at their podiums need to understand the complexity of that closet.

Am I hopeful that they will? Not at all. Thus far, almost three days after the Orlando tragedy, and with honorable exceptions like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Anderson Cooper, nobody has addressed Orlando as a uniquely LGBT hate crime and act of aggression. LGBT voices are almost absent from our TV screens. Bar pretty pictures of vigils, with sonorous music playing over them, LGBT experiences have been erased and nullified.

It has been truly shocking, upsetting, and harshly, depressingly instructive to watch LGBTs be reduced to a rushed mention on news show, or—as I saw on the third hour of NBC’s Today Show this morning—erased all together.

“When you think of Orlando you think of families,” one presenter rhapsodized.

“You think of the mothers, parents, brothers, and sisters,” another ruminated.

Yes, this has affected families—appallingly. But again, just as I had seen on a NBC Bay Area morning news bulletin the day before, minutes and minutes of hand-wringing and furrowed brows passed, and not one mention of Pulse as an LGBT nightclub, or its predominantly LGBT patrons.

Not one mention of those dead and injured as partners to loved ones who are now bereft, or as LGBT men and women whose LGBT friends and friendship circles—their other ‘families’—are now suffering so much.

I am not sure whether this lack of comprehension is willful, or if producers are sitting with their editorial teams and saying, “We need to go easy on the LGBT thing. We don’t want to piss off advertisers, or Middle America.”

But this erasing hallmark of media coverage, and the politicians rushing to soundbite, has now become so pronounced as to be not just insensitive and ignoring of the terrible facts of the event, but an offensive absurdity.

Images of vigils and rainbow flags are not enough. Those images need to be contextualized and understood, and those who died—the majority, but not all, were LGBT and Latino—need to be fully remembered as who they really were. Name them, and speak about them, and their lives.

And then there is Mateen. If you want to place him as a poisoned closet case, you also need to ask why he was that way. Ask what we can do to ensure other young people, Muslim and non-Muslim, grow up to understand that being LGBT is fine; that they will be accepted; that they will love, and be loved for who they are.

The closet is a place familiar to many, if not all, LGBTs. We have all spent time there, sometimes very early, sometimes for long periods, sometimes for entire lives. Some people furnish these closets in whatever way they find acceptable—lead double or triple lives, or just stay fearful.

Many, fortunately, find the friendship, support, courage, and love to leave the closet. Or we just get impatient at the ridiculousness of lying, eliding, and hiding. Some of us keep vestiges of it around us.

To leave the closet’s darkness and claustrophobia is ultimately only a good thing, however you choose to do it. If this latest narrative is true, then one thinks if only Omar Mateen had figured a few things out for himself, ISIS ideology perhaps wouldn’t have found its terrible foothold.

If only Mateen had found a way ‘out,’ perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten married to women he mistreated. He wouldn’t have been the angry guy at the LGBT bar who scared people. He wouldn’t have gone to that bar, and did what he did.

His closet—if that is what it was—his hatred, happened here. What if the America he had grown up in had had full legal equality for LGBT people? What if, quite besides the ISIS ideology he may have been influenced by, the public debate here had been healthier and less hateful?

ISIS may throw gay men to their deaths from roofs, but there is a connecting line between that very visible horror and bigotry, and the determined efforts of lawmakers in this country to dehumanize LGBT people by denying us our civil rights, and by vocalizing that in mean-spirited, ugly terms.

If you stand against ISIS, and for the victims of Orlando, then you must do all you can actively to campaign for equality for LGBT people.

This was not an “attack on all Americans,” it was an attack very specifically aimed at LGBT people, and Latino and people of color predominant among them.

Fine if you want to join the LGBT cool crew now, GOP members in Florida and elsewhere (you were content to legislate and lobby against us until the Pulse massacre), but in order for us to join you under the “all Americans” umbrella you need to make us equal to you. You can’t embrace it, then kick us.

Let’s say this good, long-overdue work was done. Would it shatter all those closet doors? No. But legislative equality sends a message to all LGBT people—young, old, out, or closeted—that they count. They are at least, under the law, at the same starting line as everyone else. And that bold fact will help them come out, to themselves and others.

There is no doubt that Harvey Milk was right—as he was right about most things—when he famously beseeched LGBT people to come out to the benefit of themselves, their loved ones, and the communities around them. Coming out is a numbers game, it is a presence game.

Milk, of course was slain by an unbalanced sick person in the late 1970s, just like the 49 club-goers of Pulse were on Sunday. Like those club-goers, however, it is Milk’s presence that has resonated in the intervening years: his smile, his fist in the air, his joy at life, his living ‘out,’ his lack of fear, his determination, his inspirational advocacy, his relish of life and of living.

If Omar Mateen was in the closet, then let his appalling massacre be the impetus for the smashing open of as many closets—and all their poisonous innards—as possible. This year’s Pride events more than ever in recent years should be expressions of LGBT and LGBT-allied openness and open-heartedness.

Maybe Mateen himself could have lived as openly and happily as many of the people he killed. Now, in his despicable wake, it is incumbent on the media and political classes to understand and say loudly the acute LGBT pain, fear, and confusion of now, and then for politicians particularly—using whatever powers available to them—to ensure LGBT people can live their lives as freely, openly, and equally as possible.

Truly, the only effective antidotes here are love and acceptance—of oneself, and of others.