Sunday, June 19, 2016

Besos for Orlando

Olga García Echeverría
Back in 2014, soon after posting the above picture on FB, Sylvia noticed that the photo of her and her girlfriend Lillian, interlocked in a kiss, had suddenly disappeared from her wall. Someone had “disapproved” and reported the picture, claiming the image contained nudity.
Este beso
tu miedo
tu odio
tu repulsión
es nuestra bella revolución...
Being queer doesn't violate any official Facebook Terms; however, nudity, bullying, graphic violence, and spam do. I imagine whoever reported Sylvia and Lillian's picture must have felt limited by the FB categories that constitute “offensive.” What? No box for Homosexual Activity? No box for Against My Religion? Nudity, I'm assuming, was the closest category to reach for, although even this seems illogical and desperate, since there isn't even an exposed forearm or a hint of cleavage in the photo. Es puro beso. Es puro amor. Yet, someone was so bothered by it that he/she went out of her/his way to attempt to erase it.
Este beso que tanto te molesta
está hecho de cuerpo
sangre y miel
It's one of the most ancient expressions of love. Whether learned or instinctual, it's become one of the most natural ways to demonstrate affection, un beso, a kiss. Who doesn't love a good kiss? The lips, the tongue, the taste of someone you desire. Neruda said it well:
There was thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit...
Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
Oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies...
Los besos nos salvan y nos llenan de pasión, a veces de ilusión, even if for brief delectable moments. In mainstream culture, the heterosexual kiss is pimped beyond belief. It's ubiquitous. It's romanticized. It's sanctified by Church and State and Media.
And the queer kiss?
“the queer beso
not of this earth”--Mónica Palacios
Some may argue that a kiss is a kiss is a kiss, and sure it is, but queer kisses are, still, too often repressed, deemed obscene, viewed as unnatural, sinful. Whereas the hetero kiss prances around full of entitlement and legitimacy, the queer kiss gets hated on, bullied, pushed into the shadows, silenced, ignored, shamed, condemned. It gets reported on FB as offensive.
Like women's wombs, the queer kiss also gets heavily legislated, regulated, controlled. It gets attacked with laws and bills and bibles and when that doesn't work, it gets assaulted with non-regulated semi-automatic weapons.
Este beso es dulzura
Es la cereza de la vida
¡Oye tú te comes la tuya
y después me quieres quitar la mía!
Which brings me to Orlando on June 12th, 2016. To Pulse Nightclub on Queer Latin Night. To a 29-year-old assailant named Omar Mateen. To a semi-automatic weapon that was a piece of cake (a joke) to purchase. To the horrific murder of 49 men and women and the wounding of 50 others whose only crime was being themselves and seeking out a good time on a Saturday night. Goddamn!
It's hard not to talk about Orlando in fragments, in broken pieces with a broken heart, because that's what Orlando is—so many lives shattered in an instant; the ugly faces of extremism and homophobia and violence (both homegrown and foreign fed) staring back from the broken mirror that is our country, our failed government, our own terrifying reflection. I know that if we're not sickened and enraged enough to act, then we're doomed. Again. And again. And again.
Yet, I don't know exactly how to deal with Orlando. Like so many others, I've spent a good part of the week in shock, wondering, “What makes a person hate so much?” It's the question I keep coming back to. I'm sure Mateen wasn't born hating queers. Nobody is. Just like nobody's born being a bigot.
On Tuesday, I stopped by to visit my mother after work. She didn't know I was coming. I could hear her TV as I made my way up the stairs, the news in Spanish blasting. Everything was Orlando. Orlando. Orlando. When she saw me at the door, the first thing she said was “Ay, que terrible.” I nodded in agreement. Then she turned off the TV and walked over to hug me. There was fear and sadness in her embrace, and also something else I couldn't quite name. Maybe it was a sense of relief that I was there in her arms, alive and well. She has two queer children, my brother and me.
It hasn't always been easy for her to accept and make sense of our queerness. She's an immigrant from Mexico who's pretty traditional. She's a devote catholic who still covers her head with a scarf when she enters a church. She's never worn a pair of pants or driven a car. She doesn't speak English. When I first came out to her, she resisted. “You're confused. You're just being influenced by who you're hanging out with. Maybe you haven't met the right man...” Eventually, though, she stretched beyond her comfort zone to meet me somewhere. In the end, her love prevailed.
I went home Tuesday night thinking about how love, in so many of its forms, can potentially transform. How it can teach tolerance. How it can challenge us to stretch in small but significant ways.
The next day, as I contemplated this blog, I felt an urgency to solicit photos of queer kisses. I wasn't sure how it would all come together, but I knew that if I was going to sit down and attempt to write anything about Orlando, I was going to need lots and lots and lots of kisses. 
Y empezaron a llegar los besos...

y no nos tragó la tierra...

Since the mass shooting in Orlando last week, much has come to light about Mateen's past. His troubled school record. The domestic abuse against his first wife. His extremist views and political ties. His questioning sexuality. Was he gay? Was he gay? Was he gay? Inquiring minds want to know. The FBI wants to know. Was he really triggered by having seen two men kissing weeks prior to the assault, as his father said? The narrative is still being spun (in several directions) and it's likely to change repeatedly.

In the end, I really don't care if Mateen was gay or not, nor am I inclined to believe that the sighting of a lone queer kiss drove him to murder. Hijole, what power! Sounds like a Marijuana Killer Weed Ad from the 1950's, only that the contemporary version would say, "The Queer Kiss: If you see it...You Will Kill People."

What seems more plausible is that Mateen's vicious act of violence at Pulse last week was not completely an aberration (we've had too many mass shootings in recent history to call it that), nor was it an inexplicable sudden snap; it was the culmination of years of indoctrination and intolerance. Mateen's extremism was/is nurtured by the homophobia (the micro and the macro) that is perpetuated every single day not only by Church and State and Media, but also by individuals like you and me. We choose to challenge homophobia or remain silent. We choose to either minimize or attack queer love or we see it, accept it, and hopefully we celebrate it.

Which brings me back full circle to Sylvia and Lillian and their temporarily banned beso on FB. Their kiss is a metaphor. It's a lesson. It's a doorway...
Orlando, you are in our hearts.

Este beso
sigue bailando
sigue brillando
sigue pulsando
y sigue
y siguirá

6 Seconds of Whirling Pride: by Maritza Alvarez
Besos Para...
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old



ire'ne lara silva said...

Mil gracias for this post, Olga. It's been a hard week. How beautiful and powerful to share all of these besos with us. Mandandote un beso desde Austin#

ire'ne lara silva said...

Mil gracias for this post, Olga. It's been a hard week. How beautiful and powerful to share all of these besos with us. Mandandote un beso desde Austin#

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Gracias, ire'ne. Ya sabes, aqui estamos con besos y brazos abiertos. Sending you love.

Viva Liz Vega! said...

Olga, So powerful!

Unknown said...

Olga, brilliant beautiful tribute. honored to be included in this queer latinx prayer.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful heartfelt piece, gracias Olga.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amelia ML Montes said...

Fabulous posting, mujer. Ditto what Monica said: "honored to be included!"
Orale, Olga!

liz said...

Thank you for this, Olga. Poignant and beautiful.

Besos, liz

Itza said...

What a much needed touching and heartfelt tribute.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thank you for your comments everyone. El amor se ve, se siente, los queer besos están presentes!