Editorial: Toxic masculinity and mass shootings

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Let us, for one moment, put aside the pro- and anti-gun arguments that proliferate on social media, around the water cooler and on barstools across the country following mass shootings, and instead try to look a little deeper than interpreting symptoms as causes.

First and foremost, we are fortunate to live in a region of the country where gay and lesbian couples have been afforded the same protections and advantages given to same-sex couples. In most of the Northeast, many LGBTQ people can walk down the street, holding hands or expressing their own unique gender identity without fear of attack, whether that be verbal or physical. Granted, this is not always true in every community, but the Northeast has been leading the way when it comes to accepting people who were for too long forced into the shadows.

Unfortunately, this is not always true in other parts of the country, as witnessed in Florida this past weekend. And by labeling it Islamic terrorism, many people who have been hostile towards the LGBTQ community are attempting to disconnect this savagery from the treatment of LGBTQ people in the United States as a whole, treatment for which they have often advocated. That is disingenuous at best, and hypocritical in truth.

"He targeted the gay community because of the views that exist in the radical Islamic community about the gay community," said Sen. Marco Rubio, who left out some very pertinent information — that he has opposed public-accommodations protections for LGBT Americans.

As Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate, noted, "As a party, after all, the GOP has spent decades attempting to degrade sexual minorities and even drive them out of public life." Stern noted that not a single congressional Republican who tweeted about the shooting mentioned LGBTQ people.

Chad Griffin, the head of the Human Rights Coalition, argued "The maniac who did this was somehow conditioned to believe that LGBT people deserve to be massacred. And he wasn't just hearing these messages from ISIL. He was hearing it from politicians and radical anti-LGBT extremists here in our own country. Every time we see legislation that puts a target on the back of LGBT people; every time a preacher spews hate from the pulpit; every time a county clerk says that acknowledging our relationships violates her 'religious beliefs' it sends a signal that LGBT people should be treated differently, and worse."

Mara Keisling, the head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said this kind of rhetoric creates a culture of fear. "People are calling us predators. It is not surprising that some unstable people are going to think something of that."

According to the FBI, crimes based on race accounted for 46 percent of hate crimes committed in 2014. The second-most common reason was sexual orientation and religion, tied at 18.6 percent.

The attack on the nightclub is just one of many that have occurred at spaces deigned to be safe for the LGBTQ community, though admittedly, not as deadly. "And it's a reminder of the animus against LGBT people that still exists, and the ever present danger with which we still live," wrote Michelangelo Signorile, for the Huffington Post.

Since this horrific act, there has been evidence offered that the killer was actually gay himself, but it's not surprising that he might have been a self-loathing homosexual, given the nature of the homophobic environment he was raised in, both at home and in the community at large. He was a product of toxic masculinity, noted Slate's Amanda Marcotte, which "aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly."

And if there is anything we have learned over the years, it's that toxic masculinity is prevalent in many societies — not just Islamic, such as in Afghanistan, but right here at home.

"There's a lot of pressure in our society for males to conform to a masculine ideal," wrote an anonymous gay man on a social media site. "Gay men especially feel this pressure. As kids we are told to man up, stop being a sissy. We feel immense pressure to conform, to pass as straight. It translates to cruelty that we perpetuate on our own community. On dating apps, we see the same profiles, clearly indicating that anything else is lesser."

To blame the killer's religion, or to classify it as "Islamic terrorism," leaves out a vital component: Islam is not the only religion that condemns homosexuality as deviant behavior worthy of death, and Islamic societies are not the only ones contaminated by toxic masculinity. Our nation's own history with mass shootings, domestic violence and gang warfare should be proof enough. So rather than blame the availability of guns and the distortions of religion (which do play a role in this violence), let's examine the true roots — how men are expected to think, act, feel and behave and what happens when some of those men can't attain the supposed ideal.


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