It’s difficult to write this letter. I have trouble raising my voice above your incessant shouting, something you often do in unison with your friend, Patriarchy. When I do, I often feel I am not heard.
Last Saturday night, you convinced a man to enter a gay nightclub in Orlando and kill as many people as he could. 49 in total, and 53 injured. The biggest massacre of LGBT people in the western world since the Holocaust, people say. That same night, I was at a lesbian club in East London where my friend was DJing. We had a few drinks, talked about our ex-lovers and the invisibility of femmes in the queer community. You would have been bored stiff; I know you don’t care about the intricacies of queer experience. On Sunday morning, after I read the news, I tried to imagine what it would have felt like if the bar I had chosen to meet my friend ended up being the same one Omar Mateen had selected. What would it sound like, when he started shooting? How it would feel to run, to hide? Perhaps I would have been drunk or high, and disbelievingly slow to react. Maybe I would have looked him in the eye, and felt you burn through him until he burst into flames.
Since then, all week I have felt you in my body. The sky is grey, and I feel so helpless against you. I’ve become acutely aware that many people in this world hold intense hatred for me. I don’t usually react to news events, but this week I have felt teary at work and then when I get home I just curl into a ball on my couch. I didn’t go to the vigil and I stopped reading the outpouring of grief on Facebook. I isolate myself; I am lonely. It reminds me of being a confused teenager, when I felt desperately afraid of my desire. You accosted me then, during these formative years, and I was repulsed by what I might become. Even now, years later and in a stable relationship, you get inside me somehow, despite my deepest efforts. I try to ignore you. I try to be brave, to turn the other cheek, to not give a shit. Sometimes I physically put up my hand to block you out, like I did the other day at the gym when Donald Trump’s pink face was broadcasted on the television spilling vile bigotry and hate. When I heard his words, my heart rate quickened and I felt sick in my stomach. But often I can’t block you. Usually the cause is a small, covert assault, like when someone says ‘that’s so gay.’ Or when a colleague refers to her female friend as a ‘girlfriend.’ Like this is the only possibility for female relationships: that love between women is impossible, laughable even. Even then, my body jolts in reaction; subtle, but noticeable, and I wince a little. It’s a different kind of pain when I find myself mimicking you. Like when I research options for how my partner and I could have children, and you make me cringe at the term ‘rainbow families.’ Or when, upon meeting new friends or colleagues, I consider avoiding the topic of my relationship because I know that if I mention having a partner you insist on assuming a ‘he and then I have to come out, again (and again, and again, and again).
What really scares me is that you are doing everything in your power to destroy the happiness I have found with my beautiful, intelligent, girlfriend – the love of my life, really. When you see us holding hands in the street, you cause people to raise eyebrows or giggle. At the same time, you render us invisible. When we check into romantic hotels, you ask us whether we meant to book single rooms, not a double. Our relatives often prioritise our heterosexual siblings’ relationships, assuming we are not as serious or that it’s ‘just a phase.’ You have stopped us from getting married in our home country, which makes us feel that our relationship is not valid, not important. Many heterosexual people don’t understand this: I point out to a friend that posting his wedding pictures on Facebook with a rainbow flag over the top to celebrate the USA’s marriage equality act might be a bit insensitive, when his Australian LGBT friends still don’t have the right to marry, and am accosted with incredulity and claims of oversensitivity. You have caused us both so much pain, so much anxiety, throughout our lives, and sometimes I find myself looking at her and wondering how we made it through.
And then, I hear Orlando was not a hate crime. That there’s not enough money for the Safe Schools programme, even though queer kids are being bullied until they commit suicide, on a regular basis. And that sending LGBT refugees to Nauru is a good idea. And that all this, all this stuff, it doesn’t mean that queer people’s lives are worth less than others. It doesn’t mean that you actually dominate all spaces, all the time, even when you pretend not to. I hear that ‘it could have happened to any one of us,’ that all these things aren’t connected to one another and then again with racism and imperialism and patriarchy and capitalism.
I don’t know how to end my letter to you, but to beg you not to reply. I know you’ve been around a long time, and that you are getting weaker, but you’re still so present to me. I can’t stand your voice anymore. Please don’t reply. Please?
An isolated queer woman (London)
Laura Castagnini is an Australian curator and writer, and currently Programme Coordinator at Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) in London. In this text she offers a personal response to the massacre that occurred at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on the 12th of June this year, in which 49 people were killed and 52 others were wounded.