I Am Not Orlando

rainbow planet
CC Image, “Rainbow Planet”, courtesy Nicolas Raymond

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya

“Is all the world jails and churches?” – Rage Against the Machine

I am not Orlando.

I am not Pulse.

I am a straight, white, Christian, cis man. I have never faced the threat of violence because of my gender and sexual identity. My partner is bisexual. She is proud of her identity. She is out, open, and unashamed and I love her for that. She is an inspiration to me, and has helped me to live openly with bipolar. Even though I am married to a bisexual woman this is not my tragedy. To imply so would erase the identities of those who were attacked – those who are attacked daily – because of their gender and sexual identities.

I am not Orlando.

I am not Pulse.

I wasn’t attacked. LGBTQ+ persons were attacked. They were attacked in a place that should have been their safe place, that should have been their sanctuary. I can take my straight identity wherever I want to. The world is my safe place. The world is my sanctuary.

I am not Orlando.

I am not Pulse.

I didn’t want to write this. I do not want to co-opt this tragedy. But because I am bipolar I have to write. I have to write because every time there is a mass shooting there is a push to make the issue about mental illness and not about gun culture and toxic masculinity. This shooting is no exception. The shooter, Omar Mateen, has been described repeatedly as being bipolar. It’s in the news coverage. It’s all over social media. This is how his ex-wife described him and that description has stuck.

Omar Mateen abused his ex-wife. I have a great deal of sympathy for her. I am glad that she was able to get out of what was obviously a very dangerous situation. But Omar Mateen was never diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the only support given for this “diagnosis” is his violence. Violence, however, is not a symptom of bipolar.

This is stigma, plain and simple. When violent acts happen the perpetrator must be mentally ill. He must be unhinged. He must be a crazy, psychotic lunatic. But the plain truth is that the perpetrator of violence is almost never mentally ill.

While only 4% of incidences of interpersonal violence are committed by people with mental illnesses, roughly 55% of news reports on mental illness link it to violence. This shifts the focus from the real causes of violence and places the focus on marginalized people. Having a mental illness makes you 286% more likely to be the victim of violence. This is an astonishing figure. 25% of people with mental illness are the victims of violence in a given year. This too is an astonishing figure. And yet, if the media is to be believed, we who live with mental illness are the ones that are “dangerous”.*

It is interesting that mental health reform is only ever discussed in the wake of a violent tragedy. We could discuss it at any time. We could work to change the dominant paradigm of emergent care as the only care available for those of us living with mental illness. We could work for early screening and intervention. We could work to destigmatize mental illness and stop blaming the mentally ill for their own illnesses. We could work to change the fact that prisons are the largest housers of the mentally ill.

But the only reason we talk about mental illness at all is to avoid the topic of toxic masculinity and our national gun fetish.** The focus on mental illness in this tragedy also serves to erase the LGBTQ+ identities of the victims, which also helps to avoid the issue of the heteronormativity that is literally killing LGBTQ+ persons.

Mental health reform is a smoke screen. I am sick of being a distraction. I am sick of being a diversion. I am sick of being a scapegoat. I’m sick of it.

I am not Orlando.

I am not Pulse.

But I am pissed.

* Figures from a 2012 meta-analysis by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University and a 2016 study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Both looked at 20+ years of data.

** I acknowledge that the national conversation about guns has gained more traction in the wake of this tragedy than it has in the past. This is especially true with regards to assault weapons like the AR-15. I don’t want to diminish that. But this national conversation is primarily about keeping people on the terror watchlist from purchasing weapons. It participates in the rampant Islamophobia that has been sweeping the nation and sidesteps toxic masculinity, dismissing that the most likely people to commit mass shootings are young white men. 

 

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