The Orlando Shooting: A Year of Hurt and Denial

It’s been a year since the tragic shootings in Orlando took place, it feels like it has been much longer though. So many acts of terror have been endured since Pulse was attacked that logic dictates a decade must have passed. There has been an incomprehensible level of violence on an a very regular schedule. However this post is not about the senseless terror that is plaguing communities accross globe, and the inevitable pain that follows, but specifically about the Orlando shootings carried out by Omar Marteen. The world grieved for the victims of the Orlando, however any member of the LGBT community will tell you the effects of the Orlando attack, and any other act of homophobia, reaches far beyond grief.

Following the attack there was a newspaper review broadcast on Sky News that went viral, the discussion was attended by Mark Longhurst, Julia Hartley-Brewer and Owen Jones. During the course of the newspaper review Mr Jones, a gay man, became increasingly angered by the comments being made by the rest of the panel. His jaw became clenched and his hands were balled tight. Mr Jones made several attempts to communicate to Mr Longhurst and Ms Hartley-Brewer that although this was a terrorist atrocity it was also a hate crime, and it needed to be treated as one. He called for media outlets to acknowledge that the attack was not just picked from a hat of western ‘sins’, but was a result of the homophobia that had been harboured by Omar Marteen. However instead of recognising that Mr Jones’ frustration was a result of the deeply hurtful effect homophobia has on LGBT people, Mr Longhurst and Ms Hartley-Brewer instead mistook Mr Jones’ raw emotion for hysteria.

The quote from the debate that has remained with me was Mr Jones stating in no uncertain terms that Mr Longhurst could not understand the pain felt by the LGBT community because ‘you’re not gay!’ Mr Longhurt’s rebuttal to the claim was that he was deeply saddened by the loss of life as he would be at the loss of any human life. I don’t doubt this. I’m sure that he discussed his sadness with his family and they agreed that it was a truly horrific massacre. However his sadness would eventually pass, and he will continue with his life uninterrupted. This is not the case if you are an LGBT person, the effects of a homophobic attack like this are far more tangible. It changes the way we talk, the way we walk, the way we hold ourselves and most importantly the manner in which we interact with our partners. It is not just sadness that we feel, it’s fear as well, an emotion that is much more permanent.

As a 23-year-old gay male I’ve never been with a partner in public where the experience of their company and the normality of a relationship hasn’t been undermined by fear. When we’re holding hands my palms will sweat, when we eat in restaurants there’s a safe distance between us and when we kiss my eyes are wide open, scanning the area for potential mobs. I was recently out for drinks with some friends and a guy I was dating, at some point in the night we were joined by two lads of a similar age to us. They asked how long me and my date had known each other, mistaking us for friends. This wasn’t a surprise as I purposely sat us on the opposite sides of the table. I responded by telling them that we were in fact dating, then made a joke that we were sat so far apart to avoid trouble from them. One of the lads bluntly responded with the question ‘Who do you think we are?’ It was a completely legitimate response. They were vegan students who didn’t like to use the word ‘munter’ because of it’s misogynistic connotations. A simple assessment of the facts should’ve alerted me that they were unlikely queer bashers.

After this chance meeting I felt fairly silly. What had possessed me to think that these shaggy millennials in head to toe vintage clothing were a threat. I was so angry at myself for letting my irrational insecurities taint a pleasant conversation. But when I think about the Orlando shooting and my personal confrontations with homophobia I realise that I’m not being irrational, I’m learning from expeirience. My efforts to protect myself with poor jokes is not a result of my insecurities, it’s a primal response to limit the chance of physical and emotional harm. A desperate hope that if I can summon a chuckle from a stranger they might be distracted from the repulsion they feel towards my life of sodomy.

During the newspaper review there were many attempts to deflect from the issue of homophobia, instead the panelists chalked the attack up to random terrorism and mental health issues. I do think that Omar Marteen must have mental health issues to carry out the attack, I’d be very unsettled if a compulsion to kill innocent people and a disregard for human life weren’t classed as symptoms of mental illness. But the cause of this was attack was homophobia, the homophobia that is present in the lives of everyone in the LGBT community. Homophobia is still much more common than we like to believe it is, and it’s learned, from our families, friends, political representatives, religious leaders, TV’s and magazines. This often non-violent homophobia is extremely damaging to the emotional wellbeing of LGBT people, and when it interacts with catalysts such as radicalisation and mental illness it can become atomic. To be able to tackle homophobia it’s essential that the LGBT people who are the victims of it are heard. Mr Jones eventually walked out of the newspaper review and he was right to do so. As a person who despises wasting time I would also be inclined to leave as well, what’s the point of talking if nobodies listening.

Generation M: The Unexplainable Love of True Crime.

Every day I learn about murders, all types of murders, serial murders, revenge murders, family murders, murders of passion and every now and then something a little more light hearted, like clown murders. When I attempt to talk about this obsession with others they may give a complementary nod and exclaim ‘that’s fascinating’ but they’re often mentally handing me a lifetime ban from their birthday celebrations. Fearing that I’ll show up and talk about the fact that on this day 20 years ago a mass shooting took place at a zoo. It’s completely understandable. However I have discovered through podcasts, reddit and social media that I am not the only person who spends their hours learning about all the reasons it’s a terrible idea to hitchhike (1. stranger danger, 2-87. you’ll get murdered). In fact there’s an entire community, that’s right community, of sleuths volunteering to solve the world’s most perplexing cases and unpacking the injustices that led to needless crimes.

People have always been interested in murders, it’s the worst thing can possibly happen to someone, so naturally it’s the most interesting. Since the concept of killing somebody being wrong was invented by Abraham and God shortly after the hunger games ended there have been wild and usually unfounded rumours about those that kill. In fact after the ten plagues of Egypt took place it was commonly thought that God was a peeping Tom who slept with discarded mannequins. Not my words. Rumours in murder cases are as common as murder in murder cases, it is a natural reaction to find a reason why the crime took place and why that reason means it can never happen to you. Take the Julia Wallace case, in 1931 Julia Wallace was murdered in her Liverpool home, the prime suspect in this case was her husband. Despite there being a dispute in the timeline of the murder, questions of whether it was possible that Mr Wallace was the murderer and a mystery call from a ‘R.M. Qualtrough’ arranging for Mr Wallace to attend a non-existent address for an enquiry about an endowment policy around the time the murder took place, rumours of Mr Wallace’s motive went viral over Liverpool’s garden fences. There were whispers that Mr Wallace had an opium habit, that he was having numerous affairs, that Julia Wallace was over insured and Mr Wallace was sleeping with her sister. If all or any of these rumours were true Mr Wallace should’ve been awarded the prestigious title of ‘Most Interesting Chess Playing Insurance Salesman Ever!’ Of course these rumours were completely fictitious, but the people Liverpool could sleep soundly knowing that as long as their partner wasn’t a nymphomaniac with an 18th century drug habit, they were safe.

These folklore theories aren’t just limited to a time before DNA, CCTV and other acronyms, they’re still a part of modern day murders. Especially when murders take place in small towns. I recently watched the superb documentary Casting JonBenét, available on Netflix, which tells the story of the beyond untimely murder of 6 year old child pageant darling JonBenét Ramsey through the eyes of the amateur actors hoping to be cast in a dramatisation of the tragedy. Many of the actors auditioning for the leading roles were citizens of Boulder, Colorado, the town in which the murder took place. In my humble, and correct, opinion these future stars deserve to be lauded with awards for their tour de force performance in the complex and layered role of ‘devastated community’. Although there are still definitely elements of being seduced by intrigue and scandal, such as the rumours of paedophile ring operating within Boulder, the participants do allow themselves to be vulnerable. Bravely detailing the ways in which the death of JonBenét impacted their lives and in some cases how it brushed away the dirt covering the personal hardships they had worked so hard to bury. The stories that were circulated by the locals in the JonBenét case contrasted to the rumours that dogged the murder of Julia Wallace. The people of Boulder didn’t appear to be want to separate themselves from JonBenét, instead many of the actors seemed to have created a narrative based on their experience of childhood or the fierce, unrivalled love they feel as a parent. In an honest revelation towards the end of the documentary one actor even attempted to empathise with the parents of JonBenét, drawing from their own guilt as a parent. Please watch trailer for the documentary if you don’t trust my truly biased review.

Due to advances in technology and the increasing availability of information we now no longer have to rely on the word-of-mouth accounts of individuals, we can do our own research. In fact for those who feel their detective skills aren’t being utilised properly in their current careers, there are reddit communities who are working together to help solve cold cases, alerting local authorities to crucial evidence and assisting in undoing mistakes made by the police in the initial investigation. This development in vigilantism is, to quote the almighty TLC, CrazySexyCool. These average Joe Agatha Christie’s disprove a common misconception about people who have an interested in true crime. We are not degenerates, feeding our twisted fantasies by fawning over the gory details of these horrific crimes, we want it to stop. We are not content with simply branding the criminals as being born evil, locking them up and then just hope that we’re never in the wrong place at the wrong time when the next psycho turns up. We are not willing to accept that these murder is an unfortunate inevitability, even if it is the case. Instead we work to try and make sense of why these things happen and try to locate all the points in the story where the perpetrator could’ve been stopped.

My final piece of advice to anybody with an interest in true crime would be to download a true crime podcast, right now, no questions asked. This is fantastic advice. If you fancy a straight, no nonsense, fact heavy podcast I would recommend They Walk Among Us. A well produced and informative podcast dedicated to British crime. The subject matter is mostly murder but then there is the odd tangent into the more bizarre crimes, such as the the disappearance of John Darwin. However if your looking for a lighter but equally sincere podcast I would point you in the direction of My Favourite Murder, a podcast where two friends, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, candidly discuss the murders that have both fascinated and infuriated them. A kind word of warning would be to try and temper you’re facial expressions while listening, the details of the crimes can often leave you looking like you’ve stood barefoot in a dog turd. The pair will reassure you that your you’re not alone in your obsession, and if you follow their pearls of wisdom you can hopefully murder yourself. Top Tip: DON’T HITCHHIKE!

Girls: A Voice of a Generation, and Generations to Come.

The finale of Girls ended exactly how I wanted it to, with the complex, abusive and deeply flawed relationship that was the nucleus of the show, Hannah and Marnie. A partnership almost completely based on ignoring what the other was sharing in order to tackle the much more pressing issue of ‘you’ll never guess what happened to me today’. Two people held together by sporadic moments of complete devotion. Even after 6 years of lectures, fights and long periods of continental drift Hannah and Marnie still seem to have almost no understanding of how to have healthy interactions with each other. During the episode Marnie is trying to enforce a blog-worthy, inspiration board version of what it is to be a parent/co-parent, becoming increasingly frustrated by Hannah’s unwillingness to comply. Meanwhile Hannah feels suffocated by Marnie’s standards while simultaneously shunning the positivity Marnie is trying to bring to motherhood. The expressions Hannah and Marnie’s paint on their faces affirms that they aware that this is a completely dysfunctional set-up. They endure this set-up though, because they both want to be there for each other during their time of need. Neither of them willing to give up the much sought after title of ‘good friend’.

It’s the focus on these friendships that have set Girls have set itself so far apart from any other comedy, in fact the show deserves to be given it’s own genre, my suggestion would be ‘fiction-nonfiction comedy porno’. Many compare Girls to Sex and the City based on the fact that they saw an advert for it that had four females on it, ‘Is it like Loose Women?’, but if those people had taken the time to watch the show they would’ve have instantly realised they were suffering from a severe case of vagina blindness. In Sex and the City (I’m a Stanford/Magda/brownstone hybrid in case you were wondering) the relationships are a frayed tightrope that the characters are attempting to straddle, and the friendships are the safety net, at the ready to comfort you with a cosmo and a perfectly timed penis quip. Girls however takes a much more unforgiving approach, creating a world where the relationships are once again the tightrope however in this universe the friends are stood at the other side of the canyon hacking away at the rope, brandishing a machete that has all of the ways your fucking up neatly engraved on the blade. In the final series Ray breaks off his semi-relationship with Marnie, when Marnie informs Hannah of this news she is met with the damning statement ‘I mean, you’re, like, a horrible cunt to him, so…’ True words, simply put.

Although the sexual partners do play second fiddle in the show they are still essential. Nothing made me feel safer than knowing that there are other poor souls in this world who are also having sex so bleak they may need professional assistance to reintegrate back into society. The actors have to be commended for their commitment to the bizarre sex scene’s, of course there are cups and socks and cloth and glue and probably some sort of paper mache to create a barrier for the flesh, but there is no way to reenact ass eating without having somebody’s face nesting neatly in between your bum cheeks.

When I felt like one of girls was entering an encounter that would whittle away at their self-worth I found that it evoked the same emotions that I experience watching the final scene of Silence of the Lambs, where Clarice shakily hunts down Buffalo Bill, but instead of shouting ‘don’t go in there, he has a gun!’ I’m shouting ‘don’t go in there, he’s a massive d-bag!’ However even these relationships were portrayed in a completely new way, this was the first show I had ever seen where the protagonist was at times somebody else’s poor choice. In almost all TV programmes that have come before Girls the central characters have more often than not been the victims of drive-by romances. Gunned down by men that are ‘too good to be true’ or strung along by a temptress, who despite being intelligent, beautiful and have the ability to choose any man she wants, has chosen to dedicate her life to destroying the marriages of middle-aged dentists. Contrary to this formula Girls dared to show the main characters using others to fulfil their own personal agenda. Whether that be a dark fantasy, an ideal of what their partner should be or to kindly remind an ex that they have 100%, absolutely, positively (not) moved on.

Girls does have it’s critics, which is perfectly understandable. Many complained that the characters were entitled, selfish and achieve a level of narcissism usually reserved for serial killers or politicians. That is actually a fairly spot on analysis. I believe that the world had been starved of these characters for far too long. There are an abundance of TV idols for the viewer that wants to see a character who may make mistakes, but will regularly remind the audience that deep down they have a heart of gold, there are six of them on Friends (I’m a Gunther/Janice/coffee mug hybrid in case you were wondering). This show is doesn’t portray that person though, this show is for the people in the world that are sometimes so self involved that they begin to believe that they are trapped in some sort of Truman Show type scenario. The people who will read a heartbreaking story about an individual coping with a terminal illness and almost instantly think about how they would bravely cope with that very same illness. How they would tell their partner that they would ‘find someone else’ and sometimes even imagine the secret tape they would film before they passed, letting their loved ones how they made it all worth it. Girls is the show for that person, it’s about time we had our idols.

When I first began watching Girls I thought it would be a lesson in how to avoid doing shitty things, this was not what I learnt. What I did learn is that I am going to do shitty things, both to myself and others, but I can choose to become a slightly better person when I do. It is because of Girls I discovered that over time I will learn that my personal grievances are not those of the world, that I should be caring and compassionate towards my partners and maybe most importantly I can learn to be a ‘good friend’.

The Whimpering 20’s: When the Best Years of Your Life Are Alright.

I’m doing everything I can today to distract myself from having casual sex. Being a young gay man with only a slightly doughy frame I have found that casual sex is a shockingly accessible pastime but I have managed to find a number of inane tasks to complete instead. I’ve rearranged furniture in my bedroom, I took a lengthy walk on a route that I know well and I’ve treated myself to 2 showers followed by a bath. Despite not having any plans that require me to be clean. Finally I have masturbated 3 times, which was partially the reason for the unusual spike in personal hygiene. I have done all these things to alleviate my boredom because once again I’ve arrogantly assumed that my social calendar would be flooded with invitations. With so many channels of communication available I’m not even allowed to pretend there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why these invitations haven’t reached me, like a defective carrier pigeon. However I am determined not to allow this boredom to drive me to sleep with a stranger, because I believe boredom probably the saddest excuse for sex.

This is not to say I haven’t had sex for questionable reasons, like loneliness or to finally achieve double figures, because that would be a royal stinker of a lie. However I refuse to let an unknown into my bed to commit the most intimate of acts because there was nothing better on the TV. I can’t justify that behaviour while were experiencing this golden age of programming. Luckily this time I had Don Draper to pry me out of the arms of a gentleman unfortunately named AssPissSlave27. Despite this determination I have to confess I have been cruising Grindr every 10 minutes, and if a man under the age of 43 had thought I was worthy of a hello the day might have gone in a different direction.

This unquenchable boredom is not a new experience, in fact it has littered my weekends frequently since I left university. Which like a number of other world events that have occurred in the last 15 months has left me mystified. For anyone wondering I am equating society’s harsh swing to the right with my lack of binge drinking, in my mind they carry equal weight. I had always thought that when I left home and got a job and left home there would be an easy to assemble support network ready for me when I got there. An instant posse of dreamers that would be waiting to help me unpack failings in my romantic endeavours and the monotony of being a young professional. We would all have the exact same of what constituted ‘blowing off steam’ when the much anticipated weekend finally arrived. The itinerary would be catchup with a bottle of pinot of Friday, dancing and coke on a Saturday, and an ‘ironic’ brunch on Sunday, because brunch is for middle-class fools, which obviously wouldn’t be us. However this has not been the case, I do not have a flat-pack friendship circle to ease the burden of an uncertain future. Instead I find myself awkwardly balancing on a structure made of loose wood and corrugated iron that can just about hold my weight but is at constant risk of collapsing, as most of the parts are looking for a graduate job in London.

That’s not to say that I don’t have good friends, in fact it’s quite the opposite, my friends are a fucking carnival of fun. Some of them are psyching each other out playing ‘splat the rat’ fun and some of them vomiting on the waltzers fun. They are very present and I love them endlessly. My issue is that we’re not all on the same street experiencing absolutely everything as a solid, intoxicated unit. They’re not all at my beckoning call for a hand-holding session when I’m suffering through any given twang of emotion. Instead the stories of foolishness are shared during scheduled monthly phone calls, usually lasting between 40 and 50 minutes. To avoid sounding too completely and utterly devoted to the divine purpose of me, dreaming of a world where my friends an infinite resource waiting patiently to feed me grapes of empathy, I would also like to highlight that in this fantasy the shoulders and ears lent to me would be reciprocated. There’s nothing I desire more than to be bestowed the honour of being the supplier of chocolate and blind support during a particularly brutal break up. This not the case as it turns out there’s nobody battering down my door demanding to be comforted by the grasp of my pasty, gangly arms. They remain vacant.

As I have discovered being in your twenties is not an extension of your time at university. I had previously thought it would be a period that would merge the camaraderie of living in student accommodation with the luxury of being able to being able to afford fresh herbs. At university everybody is enduring a shared life experience and therefore everybody has something in common. There isn’t one person who has attended university that doesn’t have a tale of waking up on the bedroom floor of an undisclosed location or finding a mystery poo that was found in a place that poo does not belong. Because of the uniform way that university students live it is easy to form support networks, the lifestyle forced upon you transcends personality and interests. The ray of sunshine Katy Perry fangirl will bond with the the brooding introverted new romantic if you pack them into a small enough space. However even if a tight bond is formed, when the captives are released they will instantly run in different directions.

I understand that it may just sound like I’m being a whiny brat because the world isn’t recognising the significance of my company, but thats only 85% of what’s going on here. The other problem I have is that because my friendships have dispersed over the country and overseas I have only allowed myself to be vulnerable maybe twice in the last year. These slip ups have been caused by a very specific combination of alcohol and somebody going first. Displays of icky feelings were frequent at university, when every interaction was a social one and your sobbing can be heard by the next 2 floors having to confess when things were going a bit shit was unnecessary. But not now, now if I’m feeling blue I find that the simplest remedy is a cocktail of Norah Jones and a dark room. Although I always enjoyed being left alone during these periods, it would be pleasant to be welcomed by a smile and a takeaway for two when the wallowing ends.

The reality of this new world are slowly beginning to burrow into my brain though and the positives are starting to appear. As I said before when you are at university an entire world is forced upon you and you have to assimilate. I think at this turning point it’s a positive, if I had not gone to university the only thing I would have assimilated to would have been my bedsheets. When you enter your twenties though the opposite occurs, you have to force yourself onto the world. You have to find a a job that supports the existence you desire and you have to fill your existence with the people and experiences that won’t cause you to go batshit crazy. I have managed to achieve elements of this, I can finance trips abroad when I save up and with a headlamp attached I have managed to find obscurest of niches hiding in the city. If university is an easily assembled piece of furniture then the only problem is that it is mostly assembled by other people, the friends that you have been assigned to you, the university that has allowed you to join them, and the government that determines what you can afford to do. Now I have my own furniture and although it’s barely fit for purpose at least I’ve built it, and I am beginning to have faith in my craftsmanship.