I imagine it's odd to wake up and discover your previously mocked, reviled, marginalized, often persecuted, within-recent-memory prosecuted sexuality has been adopted as a symbol of Western superiority. But suddenly, in some unexpected quarters, being gay is as American as apple pie.
The horrific news that 49 people had been gunned down at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, was met with a now-predictable response from many pundits, politicians and pipers-in. An unsurprising number of people were quick to say that the premeditated attack on gay people at a business explicitly operated to provide a safe haven for LGBT patrons was not an attack on the gay community in particular.
Consult your American Encyclopedia of Mass Shootings, leaf back a couple of years, a few dozen pages perhaps – so, 12,000 or so innocent victims' names previous – and you'll find the Isla Vista killings of 2014. That was the California mass shooting now lost in the mists of American mass shootings, in which six people were killed and 14 more were injured by a man who left a video manifesto in which he explained that the shootings were one stage of his "War on Women."
He originally targeted a sorority, having said "I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender." He said he dreamt of seeing all women starve to death in a concentration camp because, he complained, they wouldn't have sex with him, and sex with hot girls was his gender-given right.
Yet many people insisted that the misogyny the killer spouted, opinions validated on the men's-rights websites and Web forums on which he lurked and from which he cribbed portions of his manifesto, had little or nothing to do with the killings.
Similarly, in June of 2015, when a young man who got his kicks posing with neo-Nazi and white-supremacist symbols shot nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., Fox News worked overtime and many others volunteered to try to frame his actions as a secular attack on Christians.
The killer readily admitted that he'd carried out the shootings in the hopes of starting a race war because "blacks were taking over the world," but people were warned not to jump to conclusions regarding his motivation.
It was "time to have a conversation about …" something, anything other than the issues faced by the actual targeted group then, just as it is now, apparently.
Gay people had every right in the wake of the Pulse killings to expect to be swept under the narrative rug in this manner, and indeed they often were. They were thrown on the pile of vulnerable groups who insist on making being killed for being themselves all about themselves.
"It's something that's carried out against human beings, isn't it, no matter what …" Sky News host Mark Longhurst had the temerity to say, expressing a sentiment that was making the rounds.
He said it to a guest on his show, Owen Jones, an out gay journalist, who'd stated the obvious, which is that "At the end of the day, [the Pulse massacre] was a homophobic hate crime, as well as terrorism."
No, according to Mr. Longhurst, the killing of lots of gay people was an assault on "the freedom of all people to try to enjoy themselves," and he was backed by his other guest, Julia Hartley-Brewer, who accused Mr. Jones of feeling he had "ownership" over the killings because he's gay.
Mr. Jones rolled his eyes and eventually just got up and rolled off the set, God bless him.
It's possible that LGBT people recognize in these killings a grotesque manifestation of a lesser hostility that they encounter constantly. Perhaps the hate from that night in Pulse is something they feel around them to a lesser degree all the time. Sure, conditions change depending on the day and where they are, but for the gay community, one way or another, that atmosphere is always there.
Maybe homophobia exists for LGBT people like another weather system; if you're gay, there's a whole other set of elements at play for you that the rest of us don't have to take into account, and seldom notice.
Careful observation, quiet listening suggests that to be LGBT is to be forever at the mercy of this secondary set of variables. To be gay means eyeing another sky, reading a further forecast, one that, if you're prudent, you consider carefully, you dress for and you calculate into every journey you make.
Even being in your own home has traditionally offered little protection from these metaphorical meteorological conditions. Legislatures will come in from time to time and open all your windows.
Sure, the Pulse murders were a deadly weather event but it didn't come from nowhere and it didn't come from afar, which is how this thing is being spun.
Throw a Muslim into the mix (the shooter was born of Afghan parents and pledged himself to Islamic State prior to the attack) and suddenly the same people who have happily spent years claiming, subtly or not so subtly, that granting equal rights and security of the person to gay people will be the downfall of Western civilization are suddenly claiming gay rights as part of the American brand.
The Pulse killings offered social conservatives a definition of homophobia with which they're comfortable. This they can (mostly but not entirely) condemn. They totally see it now: Homophobia is when a Muslim man shoots 49 people he believes to be gay. Class dismissed.
Homophobia only becomes bad once it's identified as a foreign import. It turns out LGBT people can be embraced (but not in a gay way!) provided they're being used as ammunition against Muslims.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has promised to repeal marriage equality. His "liaison for Christian policy," Frank Amedia, has said AIDS is a consequence of "unnatural sex." This month, Mr. Trump will be attending a meeting co-hosted by (among other similar organizations) the anti-gay lobby group the Family Research Council, in the company of a number of social-conservative activists, including Pat Robertson – of gay-people-are-using-special-sharp-rings-to-infect-people-with-HIV fame. But Mr. Trump has been gleefully congratulating himself on being a gay ally all week.
Mr. Trump's pledge to, if elected, ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. is being waved about like a rainbow flag, because the killer was Muslim, as are, you know, a lot of gay people.
When it was pointed out that the killer was American-born, Mr. Trump jumped in to say "but his parents weren't. And his ideas weren't born here. His ideas were born from someplace else."
Oscar Wilde rolls over in his grave, mutters something pithy.
Last November, while they were all competing for the position Mr. Trump now holds, Senator Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and then-governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal attended a conference headed by Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson. Mr. Swanson is a man who supports the death penalty for gays, and to me hanging out with a man like that looks bad, but then of course those would-be would-be presidents didn't actually shoot 49 people in a gay bar and apparently, when viewed like that, they're practically three bags of Harvey Milk.
That's what makes America special, you see, that generously-not-shooting-people level of tolerance, and that's also what makes America vulnerable, it's being said in some corners.
I hope you appreciate that, my good gays, you newly minted icons of American exceptionalism.
Having been threatened for years, shot at, deprived of their natural habitat, forced against incredible odds to make a comeback from the brink of extinction, gay people may be surprised to find they've been co-opted as the very symbol of all those United States.
This is something they might want to take up with the bald eagles.