Thursday, June 16, 2016

Omar Mateen - The Lethal Impact of Living a Lie?

As more details about the deadly homophobic terror attack in Orlando come to light, one of the more troublesome details is that the shooter, Omar Mateen may have been himself, a Gay man. Witness at the club have told investigators that Mateen was in fact a regular patron of Pulse apparently visiting the club on average once or twice a month over a period of three years.

An article in the Telegraph newspaper in the UK cites friends and family who also claim that Mateen was deeply conflicted about his own sexuality.  

Mateen’s ex-wife, Sifora Yusufiy, has said he alluded to a secret private life before they were married – a marriage arranged online in 2008, which lasted two years.

"When we had got married, he confessed to me about his past - that was recent at that time - and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife," said Ms Yusufiy, who divorced Mateen in 2011 and said he was abusive and unstable.

Others who knew the 29-year-old have described him in less reticent terms.  In 2006 Mateen attempted to join the police. And a colleague in his academy class said he believed Mateen was gay. 

Mateen had asked him out, the classmate, who did not want to be named, told local television in Orlando.    “We went to a few gay bars with him,” he said. “I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer.”

Kevin West said that Mateen had contacted him on gay dating apps, and the pair exchanged messages for around a year. They had never met in person, though, until they crossed paths by chance an hour before the shooting.

These latest revelations raise the question , does any of this matter?  Is, or should, Omar Mateen’s sexual orientation be relevant to how we respond the horrific act of domestic terror he committed?
 It’s a difficult issue. 

It has become something of a modern cliché that public figures who are most vocally anti gay , at some point invariably get exposed as self hating closet cases who have been attacking what they most fear about themselves. Matten’s ex wife went on to tell CNN that his own Father had on more than one occasion publically accused his son of being homosexual.

Public response to these revelations have taken a number of interesting tracks. On the American Taliban wing nut right, there has been honest confusion about how to approach this. They want to give in to their natural instinct to gleefully point out that a mass murder was gay. (Some right wing websites are still flogging the lie that Mateen was Clinton campaign volunteer.)

Yet to do so would get in the way with the right wing talking points that Mateen was a radical islamist hell bent on killing Americans and non-Muslims, and by not focusing on that, President Obama must be sympathetic to the Islamic State.   That desired narrative doesn’t hold up if Mateen, is was in fact, a deeply conflicted, closeted gay man lashing out in a lethal mix of anger and self-loathing. The origins of that self-hatred are frankly, not hard to track.

In recent interviews Mateen’s father has adamantly asserted that his son was not Gay. Coming across in some interviews as being far more concerned that his son might be thought of as Gay, as opposed to being seen as a radical Islamic terrorist. 

Part of the toll, life in the closet takes on people is the constant fear that your "secret" will be discovered. Threats to that secret are always in the front of the mind. People who question your sexuality must be rebuked and marginalized . Psychologists tell of how this can lead to feelings of alienation against "out" LBGT people. A toxic mix of jealousy, envy, fear and anger. 

From the Journal Psychology Today:

There is some evidence to suggest as much. In a study, levels of homophobia were assessed among 64 men along with their sexual arousal (measured by increases in penile circumference) in response to erotic videos of heterosexual, same-sex female, and same-sex male encounters. Those who scored high on homophobia were more likely to also manifest sexual arousal in response to the videos of male homosexual encounters.* In a more recent study it was found that men raised in authoritative households were more likely to repress same-sex attractions and to exhibit more hostility to gay people

Emile Griffith, a recently deceased welterweight and middleweight champion, pummeled an opponent to death after he had called him an anti-gay slur, Griffith continuing to punch him in the head well after he had clearly won the fight. Though he denied he was gay or bisexual at that time, later in his life Griffith admitted to having had affairs with several men including a male partner who cared for him up until his death.

Add this anecdote to several others including that of right wing politician Larry Craig, who pled guilty to lewd behavior toward other men in an airport bathroom but who also championed anti-gay legislation during his political career, and Ted Haggard, leader of the famously anti-gay National Association of the Evangelicals, who resigned after it was discovered he was engaging male prostitutes.

Richard Ryan, a co-author of the study and psych professor at the University of Rochester, told USA Today; “If you come from a controlling home where your parents do have negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians, you're even more likely to suppress same-sex attraction and more likely to have this discrepancy that leads to having homophobia and feeling threatened.”

Is that what drove Omar Mateen to commit mass murder? Frankly we will never know for certain. Yet the impact that deep seeded messages of hatred and bigotry towards LGBT people may have on those struggling with issues of self identity and acceptance is very real. The research backs up the theory that bullies are often acting out of their own insecurities.

“Some people who are threatened by gays and lesbians and are most vociferous in their opposition to them are suffering internally themselves,” Ryan told USA Today.

When a Baptist Preacher in Northern California posts a video online, enthusiastically  praising the murder of 50  Americans at the Pulse nightclub,  part of me wonders  after  I watched this disgusting video; What is it inside of this person that could drive that that level of vitriol?

To be that hate filled towards people to whom you have no connection with, and whose lives do not impact yours in any way,  is not normal or natural. 

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