Being an Ally After Orlando

Terese Mailhot

After the shooting in Orlando, mainstream media outlets reported the shooting as “the worst in U.S. History.” Most Native people and activists knew this to be untrue and took to Twitter and Facebook to fix the headline and clarify. I reposted one of the clarifications, “Don’t forget Wounded Knee, or the East St. Louis Massacre …” and then something felt wrong.

It felt like posturing. It felt like, while I wanted to stand against historical erasure, I needed to honor the LGBTQ voices within the Indigenous community who didn’t want to see reminders of Wounded Knee on top of it all. Also, there’s something sickening in the white media’s incessant need to rank atrocity.

The erasure of Indigenous history is important to me, but why would it be necessary for me to correct a headline, when I find fault in the nature of reporting massacre? I’m tired of the media’s obsession with ranking violence. Cumulatively, it was enough years ago to make schools unsafe. It has always been unsafe for LGBTQ people. Every day there is a missing Indigenous child’s poster on my feed. It feels like every day I see reports of another Indigenous woman’s body being pulled from a river or ditch. In total, it has been too much, and still not enough to take away the weapons we don’t need or protect the people who need it.

There is a way to be an activist for Native rights and an ally for LGBTQ rights. When someone speaks, listen, and consider what it’s worth to acquiesce, to change the dialogue, to implicate white media outlets for the fact that they incite this type of ugliness. It’s the media that elicits a comparison of pain. It’s the white media that featured Trump ad nauseam, and it’s the white media that constantly gets it wrong. By loving one another and bearing witness to this tremendous grief, our voices become louder when we say, “It’s enough.”

I took down the post clarifying which massacre was worse, because I don’t think I can participate in a discussion like that. When the shooting happened, the first person I thought of was my brother: a proud, Two Spirit man. I thought the news of this shooting would break him. How much of his life has been filled with grief and struggle?

When he was born, my mother knew he was special. His name roughly translates to, “The Good Message.” All the stories of our past indicate he had foresight. The day before a train hit my mother’s car, he predicted it. “Train’s gon’ bite our ass,” came from his toddler mouth, and sure enough it did.

He spent much of his life as a misfit. He was not ‘out,’ but so clearly different. When everyone was wearing neon and god-awful bulbous, white running shoes, he’d arrive in black, with a trench coat on, no matter if it was summer.

I know he lived in pain, and he took most of it out on himself. He came home hurt sometimes. He left home for months sometimes. Our family called his partners ‘roommates’ for years and cousins often asked him when he’d ‘settle down,’ as if they didn’t know. I can’t know that pain, but I bear witness to how he survived. His story is not uncommon within Indigenous communities. So many LGBTQ Indigenous people are born with gifts that communities fail to see and nurture.

What a beautiful survivor my brother has become. He carries every story from our lineage­­­—always picks up the phone, and he hates the phone. And he’s still got that pain. The pain of having to live with so much love and kindness in his heart, when the world is so full of prejudice.

Nowhere seems safe, but my brother is not bound up by fear. His message after Orlando was that we should all carry love and understanding in our hearts. I have to hold the space for his grief, for his love, and for his voice.

My brother’s survival in this world has given me so much. We all have people who mourn the deaths in Orlando because they are part of a community at risk to violence and degradation. Some of us are those people. When I think of my brother, I think there is no reason for him to love this world, because of how he’s been treated, but I have never seen so much containment in a man, or love, or victory.

Terese Marie Mailhot graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has been featured in Yellow Medicine Review, Carve, The James Franco Review, The Toast, The Offing, and is forthcoming in The Rumpus.    

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