Whenever systemic sins rear their ugly heads and people die, there are narratives that spin around in our minds and on social media. The stories we tell ourselves, more often than not, perpetuate fear and otherization. In the case of the Pulse shooting, they also revive age-old narratives of death as divine justification. They create narratives of feigned support from people who, on a regular day, don’t care about LGBTQ+ people or actively work to exclude them from churches, jobs, bathrooms, and other spaces we occupy in modern life. The difference between narratives calling this a terrorist attack and those calling it a hate crime are already implicit. We can sense where the dividing line falls.
But the complete narrative is much more complicated than that, isn’t it? What happened at Pulse was both a terrorist attack and a hate crime. Regardless of who the perpetrator is, I consider all mass shootings terrorist attacks.
Yet we have our narratives at the ready to respond to the aftermath of anything. As a writer, I understand the power of words, of narratives. It’s one reason why I enjoy analyzing fiction so much and why so many people care about diverse representation in media.
Some people now, in telling their narratives, would want me to hate Muslims. These folks are often the same ones who advocate for bathroom laws and misquote Scripture at me, my friends, and my church family. Others, in telling their narratives, are placing the bulk of the motive for this incident on homophobia as expressed through the Christian right. As more details come in, it’s clearer that the shooter had sympathies for a distorted view of Islam.
Whatever the specifics, this incident brewed from and is processed through warped religious ideologies that hate LGBTQ+ people. These ideologies have narratives of their own that rest deeply in the heart.
Even in times of relative calm, we repeat and absorb narratives. We get so good at processing them that we can make any incident fit into the same categories. And one overarching narrative through all of this tells of a permanent divide between faith and queerness.
The cover picture for this post is a juxtaposition of two magazines I bought at the grocery store one week. The headlines and layout on the Time magazine article suggest that there are two opposing sides: the religious and the queer. You’re either on one or the other–a simple narrative through which to process and navigate the world.
Even among more accepting folks, this narrative appears in innocent ways. A while back, I was talking with a coworker about relationships and stuff and I mentioned how I’d only date a Christian (I have several reasons for this that I won’t get into at the moment). She, in jest, replied “Oh, haha, you like ’em pure?” It’s hilarious because let’s just say that my love life is still a dream of youth group ethics.
So I had to explain that I was serious, but what had happened in her head was that this narrative of queer or religious embedded itself in her mind. She apologized profusely. A member at my church often notes that he found more acceptance of his gayness in church than acceptance of his Christianity in the gay community. Parsing these two deep sources of identity simply does not reflect the whole picture.
The second magazine details the life and ministry of Jesus, and does a pretty good job of explaining how he radically challenged the society of his day. Jesus is also often rendered into a simple narrative–conservatives and progressives do this in their own ways.
What happens when we settle on our simple narratives? Whether they’re about Jesus or marginalized peoples or any of the -archies and -isms we deal with on a daily basis, we often find ourselves turning to the same stories. This trickles from and stems to the fiction we consume and create. It’s all connected. It’s why Orphan Black fans are so invested in what happens to Delphine. It’s why Steven Universe fans love Garnet. It’s why Korrasami rendered so many viewers to tears.
LGBTQ+ people particularly can never neatly fit into establishes narratives. It’s been the nature of the movement in tacit and metaphorical ways to highlight undefinable existence. There will always be someone whose narrative diverges.
May we strive continuously toward diverse narratives that challenge the stories we tell ourselves in fiction and reality.