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It’s been one of those weeks that leaves a person feeling stripped back to raw feeling. Nine days ago, Omar Mateen murdered 49 primarily Latinx people in a gay club in Orlando. Five days ago, Tommy Mair shouted “[put] Britain first” and murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. Look: it’s not the death tolls of these acts that horrify the most – though of course they are horrifying. But both of these acts are also stories, and they gather together a sad little collection of ideas about who we are, who we want to be, who we think we are, what matters to us, what and whom we love, what and whom we fear.

An American man of Afghan Muslim origin walked into a gay nightclub with an assault rifle and killed 49 people. A white British man with links to white supremacist groups murdered a serving Member of Parliament. Depending on where you stand, these stories will look different to you, the precise way that the strands are woven together: race and religion, sexuality and gender, mental health – but more than that, about freedom and connection, about individual versus collective rights, about the role of swivel-eyed demagogues in fomenting fear and misery … and about the amount of responsibility we bear for one another.

In the days after Orlando, memes proclaiming that “love always wins” flooded social media, and they made me angry. I am not, by nature, an angry person, and it’s not an emotion that I enjoy, but there was something about this anger that coruscated, that felt sharp and fine and like a tool that could be used for a specific purpose. The exhortations to love felt wrong, this time. I didn’t say anything: I am not particularly queer, myself; I have never experienced, and probably will never experience the gut-level fear that comes from being a core member of a marginalised and widely-hated group, without a cloak of privilege to hide behind – and so if holding up a banner of love was of comfort to my LGBTQI friends, it was not my place to take that away. The murder of Jo Cox, however, felt like something that more mine. That it happened in my country, that it happened, arguably, as part of a political discourse with which I am involved – it felt personal; it still feels personal.

A few days after Orlando, a friend posted a link on Facebook to this story, about a planeload of people expressing their condolences to the grandmother of one of the Orlando victims, as she travelled for the funeral. It made me cry, because of course it did. It made me think, as had a number of different things I’d seen or read in the aftermath oh, look: people are good, after allIt was a comfort. And then I thought: wait a minute. It is easy to be compassionate in the face of an elderly woman’s grief. Only the most pernicious hatred can stand up in the face of that. (Westboro Baptist Church, I am looking at you.) But … do I really believe that this whole planeload of people are flawless LGBTQI allies? I do not. There will be people on that plane who opposed marriage equality because they just weren’t comfortable with the idea of it. There will be people on that plane who use the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative, who laugh at homophobic jokes, who wonder aloud why transgender people don’t just use the bathroom that matches the body they were born with. These are not good people. They’re not bad people, either. They’re just people, like the rest of us.

This is the thing that is hardest to grasp, I think. I don’t believe in evil, and I don’t believe in saints, but even if I did, they couldn’t account for more than the tiniest, skinniest sliver of the world’s population. And so here we are, you and me and the other 7.4 billion of us, according to Wikipedia, wallowing about in a great tepid sea of sometimes-awesome-but-often-a-little-bit terrible. This is not news! We know this already! We are constantly buoying ourselves up and letting ourselves down and buoying ourselves up again. But I wonder if this is one of those things that’s much easier to believe about ourselves than about each other?

Here are some things I know:

  1. When confronted by someone’s pain, most people behave with compassion. See: the grieving grandmother on a flight to Orlando. See: the body of Alan Kurdi. Put a face on an issue and it becomes harder and harder to turn away from it.
  2. We’re becoming more and more polarised. We don’t always adhere to the same lines of demarcation (religion or sexuality or nationality or politics or, simply, out ideas of ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people), but we all draw them. And so it’s harder and harder to find the faces that match the issues that aren’t our own. We’re echo-chambers; we’re mirror spheres; we bounce our own way of looking at the world back and forth between us.

And this is where it comes back to love, perhaps. This is where I was wrong, perhaps, in my initial reaction against love always wins. I had been seeing love as something passive, something inward, something that we lean into, take comfort from, something that draws us together with the people who are already like us. It can be all of those things. But it can also be a tool. It can be a weapon. It can be something we take and craft and use. It can be something flung outward. It can be a firework, it can be a depth charge, it can be something carved into a goddamn mountainside. Love is acceptance, but it’s also wanting things to be better. It’s wanting people to be better, to live up to themselves, to be kind, to reach out. It’s looking for that face in other people, but also being that face itself. It’s about being more human for one another.


Written by Jess

June 21, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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