Imran Yousuf is a hero and is the kind of man who, when pressed on his heroic status, might downplay or completely deny his heroism, humbly insisting that he was only doing his job. A former U.S. Marine seargeant, Yousuf has been hailed a hero for saving many lives when a terrorist attacked the gay club Pulse during Latinx Night last Sunday. He says in an interview, “I kept screaming, ‘open the door, open the door,’ but nobody moved.”
He says, “There was only one choice: either we would all stay there and die or I could take a chance on getting shot and saving everyone else,” said Yousuf, adding that as soon as he unlatched the door, more than 60 people poured out.
He says, “There were a lot of people dead. I wish I could have saved more.”
This is, of course, the portrait of heroism that America is uncomfortable with: A valiant, brown man. It is a portrait of heroism that tells us that heroism, like villainy, is not specific to any one kind of people.
In between crying fits after hearing about the news of Orlando, I found myself trembling with fear at how the people with the power to put words to very large audiences in a single swoop would misuse this power. It is almost sorcery, this ability to heal people or hurt them further, with the deployment of a few calculated words.
I closed my world off to all but a select few who I knew I could trust to be sympathetic and thoughtful, a select few who wouldn’t rush to hot takes or a hasty call-to-arms, but would consider the sheer magnitude of what happened and its implications: Decades of Republican-assisted hate-mongering against LGBTQ+ Americans had finally fomented into fiery attack that has burned itself deep into our brains.
The writer Alexander Chee penned an op-ed at The New Republic entitled “The Courage of Being Queer.” In “Courage,” Chee connects the events of Pulse back to the larger unresolved issue at hand: Being queer in America itself remains a wildly political act.
I am thinking a lot about Chee’s decision to use the word “courage” in the title of the piece — to pivot his argument around that word. I am thinking a lot about Yousuf’s display of heroism — his refusal to run from danger. I am thinking about you, our friends, and myself, and how “courage” is no longer optional for us — it is required if we want to make a better world for the future.
On a commute a few days ago, I noticed something remarkable — at least, remarkable for a town like mine, in a state like mine, where legislators have fought tirelessly to ensure queer individuals will never earn the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts — American flags were at half-mast. After days of crying, I thought I had regained composure — and seeing that local businesses cared enough to lower their flags to mourn for the queer community caused me to tear up again for the rest of my commute.
There are some friends who have told me that they don’t think allies — that is, our heterosexual brothers and sisters — shouldn’t feel responsible to chime in, check in on us, offer their condolences, or assist in this fight.
During times of grief, it is useless to be prescriptive, to tell people how they should act. However, I think many of us, in times of grief, count on a base level of sympathy — be it from our celebrities or our best friends — if only because they understand how easily an attack like this could’ve endangered us. Or perhaps they remember how difficult it is to be queer in America, still.
For me, it was critical to note Bollywood celebrities who were willing to express — even if superficially — some kind of condolences to the victims of this. Priyanka Chopra led a chorus of other celebrities who, in the coming days, would come to express their outrage and sorrow. But again, social media is performative. As much as I do adore Chopra, her tweet — a low-labor investment of emotion — is nothing more than another move on the chess board in her bid to conquer America. For other stars, then, it is similarly difficult not to be cynical about about their “thoughts and prayers,” too — similar low-labor investments in reminding their fans that they have human feelings, too.
It’s a catch-22, though: A star like Taylor Swift faced backlash for her failure to perform sympathy initially — although her eventual follow-up was a stroke of genius.
Our grief has suddenly turned into a publicity opportunity for a ruthless celebrity.
In the past week, my inbox has filled up with check-ins and well-wishes from exes, former friends, a cousin, and even a couple former co-workers: Private exchanges with no transactional value.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude from these check-ins — I can feign stoniness and yet, to be reminded that there is a community when reality becomes crushing, is a kind of mercy.
It is the note from my cousin that made me feel less alone in the wake of the fire and brutality — that someone who I told years and years ago about my sexuality has become an ally in her own right: A teacher who has set up a QSA in her own school to create a safe space for queer youths to congregate.
Grief is a weird thing. There is no correct way to grieve; some of my friends drank in excess to cope, others became monastic, unable to eat; many of us cried for days. Grief is ugly because it is one of the basest human emotions that there is no correct or incorrect way to perform — the shape of grief is sprawling and unpredictable.
In Bengali culture, when our parents pass, we are expected to shave our hair off, abstain from eating poultry, and forgo any number of other perceived “comforts” for an extended period of time — all as a sign of respect and symbols of grief to others within the culture. These are rituals I am unlikely to observe.
My own ritual of grief is to adhere as closely to my daily routine. The structure of a daily routine helps me pantomime normalcy, at some point, usually at the end of the day. The past week was no different than weeks before it: I woke up at dawn, went to Crossfit, worked a full day, and then came home. It’s usually at that last day where I allowed myself to cry, to unspool, to feel whatever there was to feel.
Perhaps for celebrities — or any of us, really — performing grief on social media is, oddly enough, how we are able to cycle through whatever these feelings are that we feel.
To use LGBTQ+ in a bid to lump trans* experiences into Orlando without further mention of the embarrassingly medieval underworld of violence that specifically targets trans* people in America is irresponsible. Goddess Diamond, as of a few days ago, has been the 14th trans* person to be reported murdered in America in 2016. This is to say nothing about the bullshit bathroom laws; this is to say nothing about heightened workplace discrimination; this is to say nothing about housing discrimination.
Because equality has never been meted out fairly — and always tends to be delivered first to those who closest fit the profile of a straight, cis-gender, white man — we have to work tirelessly until all of us have equality. We may never stop working, then.
Pulse may get the blood coursing through our veins and spur us into action — but we cannot flatten our calls for equality to what works for most of us. That’s akin to building a house with a broken windows.
Hello, Hasan Minhaj.