Since the massacre of forty-nine GLTBQ individuals in Orlando, I have cried myself to sleep every night, just like I used to when I was surrounded by the terror of hetero-patriarchy in the midst of war in Afghanistan. I have screamed my heart out in my dark, silent apartment, just like I used to in my dark, tiny room in Kabul. I have prayed for the victims and their loved ones at random hours of the day and night, just like I used to when Russian rockets would hit my neighborhood or when U.S. bombs exploded only a few steps away from me. I have wished a million times I weren’t born into this world, just like I used to when my femininity invited the catcalls and laughs of Pakistani men as I served them tea on the streets of Pakistan, with my shaky, tiny hands.
In tragedies such as Orlando, one wants to be close to one’s loved ones, to cry with them. But, I can neither cry with my mom nor my sisters, the kindest hearts I have ever known. Crying over the loss of queer bodies with my family means coming out to them and I cannot do that. When I used to live in Kabul, I also could never cry with my family because I didn’t want them to question my already questionable masculinity.
The only family member I could talk to in the middle of the night and pour my queer heart out to was the moon. Every night, when sleep would come and rob everyone off, the moon would come to my window and witness my half masculine, half feminine body rolled up on the floor in a corner of the room, begging Allah for a miracle of masculinity or an end to that ambiguous body of mine, which everyone in my family was ashamed of.
When the guys in my neighborhood harassed me for walking too femininely, when my uncle slapped me for talking too femininely, when my brothers beat me for dancing too femininely, my heart cried out to the moon, the only entity that never ridiculed my existence.
When I read that Omar Mateen had silenced forty-nine queer beating hearts, I rushed to the window, looking to cry to the moon. The moon was hiding, in mourning, behind the clouds, but the sky came down in solidarity, nevertheless, pouring her heart out and storming, like my heart, for every single innocent life taken, for every heart silenced by someone who identified in one way or another as Afghan.
I cringe in fear every time I realize Mateen spoke Farsi/Dari, my beautiful language, the language of Rumi and Hafiz. I shiver to my bones, every time I realize Mateen was Muslim.
My chest trembles in pain every time I read about Afghans trying to deny Omar Mateen’s Afghan identity. My heart rattles in blood every time I read Muslims, denying Mateen’s Muslim identity. My soul shatters into pieces every time I read Americans denying Mateen’s American identity.
My body trembles in agony every time I read about the media pushing Mateen into the “gay closet” as if that justifies the inhumane murder of forty-nine lives. My mind explodes every time I read politicians and white supremacists conceptualizing the Orlando tragedy using the rhetoric of Islamist terrorism, propagating Islamophobia and hatred for an already marginalized and oppressed community. I rage every time the media calls and viciously asks me if violence is inherent to Islam or if Islamic scripture teaches Muslims to enact violence against gender and sexual minorities.
Mateen’s homophobia and violence were not a product of his Afghan heritage or American identity, nor a result of his “homosexual tendencies” or Islamic teachings. Mateen did what he did because of toxic masculinity – a militant, weaponized form of masculinity that hetero-normative patriarchal society pushes onto every man.
Heterosexual men create standards of masculinity that every man has to abide by, else they be castrated. Heterosexual men throughout the world and history have bullied, tortured, raped, and murdered the bodies of queer men in order to prove their masculinity. These men place other men under the close scrutiny of their toxic masculinity, constantly watching, evaluating, ranking, accepting, or rejecting them. Because of this societal pressure, men must prove and relentlessly validate their masculinity. American bros bragging about their penis size, sexual conquests, hunting skills, shooting of Afghans and Iraqis during military deployments, and unquenchable desire for guns thereby prove their masculinity, while also exposing its insecurity.
This toxic masculinity, reflected in Mateen’s masculine violence and terror, brings back the haunting ghosts of my childhood, when I was ridiculed, humiliated, beaten, violated, and robbed off my childhood and teenage years just because I couldn’t be the masculine man every man expected me to be.
Mateen’s terrorizing masculinity reminds me of my all male classmates who laughed at my femininity and threw my weak little body on the floor under their kicks and spits. It reminds me of the heterosexual 6 feet 4 inch, white man who pressed my 5 feet 8 inch body against the wall in a straight bar and told me he would smash my “faggot face” if I dared stop him from harassing my female friends on the dance floor.
Mateen’s masculinity brings back memories of all those masculine men in Afghanistan who worshiped my body like a temple in the secrecy of night, but beat me up if I even smiled at them or said hi in public during the day.
Mateen’s toxic masculinity and terror do not belong to a particular religion or region, to Allah or Jesus. They belong to the culture of hetero-patriarchy installed in all societies be they Afghan, American, Muslim, or Christian.