As details about the life and deeds of Omar Mateen begin to spill out into the public the one thing that has become increasingly clear is that trying to shoehorn the ideas and motivations of a mass murdering psychopath into ready made narratives is, to say the least, a difficult endeavor. Before his name and photograph were released many seemed ready to pounce on white Christian homophobes, the revelation of his ethnicity and religion then shifted control of the narrative to right wingers bemoaning the vulgar Islamic hordes seeking to infiltrate our country and slaughter us all. All this rhetoric became far more hazy after witnesses came forward to point out that this man was no stranger to the queer community.
In addition to attendees of Pulse nightclub, Mateen’s own ex-wife has spoken to the press concerning his apparent sexual fluidity. Those who saw him at the club describe a man who was socially awkward and had a tendency toward drunken belligerence as he paced the outer limits of Florida’s LGBTQ community and Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s wife of two years who divorced him citing abuse, has said that she harbored suspicions that Mateen held some form of attraction towards gay nightlife. Mateen’s former coworker, however, paints a picture of a man who was violently homophobic and racist to such an extent that he was forced to quit his job due to the level of discomfort he felt in his presence. How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing ideas?
Mateen himself seems to have made a number of different claims regarding his own ideology, over the years he has insisted that he is a member of Hezbollah, Al-Nusra, has family members belonging to Al-Qaeda and just before he began his rampage, called 911 to swear allegiance to ISIS and their leader. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the various middle eastern conflicts will immediately recognize that these groups are not only not interchangeable but stand in violent opposition to one another. This seeming incoherence may offer a clearer picture than what is immediately apparent, there is a common thread running through all of the various organizations to which Mateen seems to have had affection for, ranging from the disparate Islamic militias he claimed allegiance to, his aspirations of becoming a police officer, and good old American macho homophobia. Omar Mateen’s violent rage stems not from a commitment to any singular political ideology but a social one: aggressive masculinity.
Mateen does not appear to have registered any particular conflict in any of the extremist ideologies he supposedly had sympathies for because they all reinforced his hatred for the part of himself that lead him to frequent gay night clubs and send “creepy” messages to men on gay dating apps. All these fragments of a persona coalesce into two opposing sides, the Omar Mateen who carried guns, worked in security, hated anyone who fell outside of rigidly defined notions of heterosexuality, and viewed sexuality and relationships as instruments of dominance, and the Omar Mateen who apparently longed to be a part of that which he claimed to despise.
The arechetype of a man enraged by his own sexual uncertainty is far from a new concept and that is because it is one we have seen manifest itself time and time again. It plays out in fundamentalist religious communities and amoung families and social groups who insist on a slavish devotion to tradition. Fathers who demand that their sons “act like men” and that women “know their place”, young boys who chastise eachother with cries of “faggot”, and men who view sexuality as a power struggle. These are Omar Mateen’s constituents, regardless of their ethnic background or religious affiliation.
We can ban Muslims from the US, we can ban guns and assault rifles, and we can crack down on those who express sympathy for the extremist group du jour but until we begin to abandon the cultural enforcement of antiquated notions of sexual normalcy and masculinity, queer people will never be safe. It is not some distinct organization with a name that has terrorized LGBTQ people throughout human history, although there certainly has been no shortage of groups looking to carve a pound of flesh from those they consider to be deviant. Hyper masculinity is a violent ideology that can be found in cultures the world over and it will continue to rear its ugly head in destructive and hideous ways until we rid ourselves of it permanently.
Justin Hughes is a writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has written for New People, a monthly newspaper published by the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Social Justice.