So Let Them Hear Our Hearts

After waking up, getting showered, and getting myself in the mood to start writing the last few papers of my Associate’s career, I casually flipped through Facebook to catch up on what my people were talking about. I am extremely introverted and when I’m taxed by college and in particular finals week, I am grateful for this tool which allows me to keep in touch with my people. There were a couple of random posts sharing articles or highlighting people’s lives, but it did not take long to see my feed inundated with articles about death and Orlando, Florida. I started reading these articles and reading how other people felt about them and was quickly overcome with a feeling of misery and dread.

I stopped then, not because I did not want to read more, but because I have a timeline that I need to complete in order to finish my classes and earn my degree (and ideally retain my GPA). I go through waves in which sometimes I am a resilient rock who gives no fucks about pain, and other times I am so sensitive that if I allow the smallest, most distant thing to affect my mood it will change my behavior in an impactful and long term way.

This was not a small or distant thing.

I am straight, but the LGBTQ community has always been part of my community. Members of my close family are gay and I have had more than a few of their partners act as parental figures – extremely loving and influential parental figures – in my life. I would not be the person I was without two of them in particular, let alone my family members themselves. I went to high school in the 90’s, where homosexuality was not easy to celebrate openly, and I universally defended friends who were part of this community, not out of some distancing reasoning like saying, “They’re just like my family!” but because they were human beings who were not being treated as human beings – something which I can understand on a different level.

I have two distinct families with very little overlap. One of them is white, the other is brown. Even in my white family I have three cousins and an uncle who are Latinx. My brown family consists of people who identify that way, or who identify as indigenous. Both are brown, and if you want to dig into the nitty gritty, all Latinx people are indigenous. This is my mother’s side of the family, in which I also have two gay uncles, one through blood, the other his partner. I could probably get in a lot of trouble for saying this, but they have always been my favourites. They have been so loving and supportive of me and of our family as a whole. Their home is filled with pictures of all of the children of my generation, and also the generation after mine. No one more than them seem to know the details of my family’s story from every perspective. They are the kin-keepers of my family.

So if it’s not obvious, my uncles and other close family members are brown and gay.

Anyone with a heart is outraged and grieving about this tragedy, but I had to walk away from it, because in those moments before we understood the details of the identities of those people, their faces were my close family members and my uncles. Their faces were indigenous, two-spirit people – people who in the adopted colonial attitudes of this country are treated as deviants instead of sacred teachers. People who are subjected to some of the worst violence in this country.

When I first decided to lift my head and open my mouth on this, my decision was to confide my thoughts in someone who I then understood to be a friend; someone who felt safe. I brought up two things initially, one was that I noticed they had said that it was the largest mass shooting on American soil (which I felt the need to correct because of the numbers of mass shootings of indigenous folk who to this day are not respected as human when statements like that are made) and that this event was the most recent tragedy involving the mass execution of brown people in our country, and also that I was disturbed by the fact that they were brown people was not being reported on as heavily in the media as the fact that they were part of the LGBTQ community.

Let me re-emphasize this point: I was not trying to bring this up because I wanted to play the oppression Olympics and make this tragedy seem less terrible. I was bringing it up because even when the country is capable of realizing the damage and violence committed against LGBTQ people, they refuse to acknowledge the damage and violence being committed against brown, indigenous people – even when they are the same exact people.

The response to my points from my assumed friend were as follows: They felt that I was using a tragedy to further my own biased cause, and they expressed the fact that “you can’t blame this on white people this time. The shooter was a Muslim, and this is brown-on-brown crime.”

Suffice to say that we were no longer friends (and I suspect we never were).

But then my response was to shelter up again. I wanted to get away for many of the same reasons I have been trying to get away from discussing this election cycle and the impact it has on indigenous people and the ways in which candidates support and further the colonial agenda in ways that are as minimal as saying shitty things like “get over it” or huge things like placing and funding governments that destroy indigenous land and assassinate indigenous leaders, but that’s another subject entirely.

I’ve been following another indigenous friend of mine on Facebook who has unrepentantly been repeating the fact that indigenous people were murdered by colonial settlers and you can’t get away from that fact. Indigenous people who celebrated and revered Two-Spirit people had their lands settled and their ways of life utterly destroyed to make room for a way of life which has invited the hate of LGBTQ people. This hate is a result of settler-colonialism, they are not separate issues. I’ve been thankful that she’s speaking out, because it reminded me that I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t wrong in what I was trying to express.

Then, one of my oldest friends, who used to be my roommate for a year, and who is also gay made a post about the silence of straight people on this tragedy. I remembered how often that I express that white silence on indigenous rights and black & brown rights is a bigger problem, if not one of the biggest problems, when it comes to racism. It is the same with homophobia. I am straight and indigenous. I am speaking out. This is my perception and my experience. This is not a tragedy that any of us are going to be able to “move past.” No one should and we should absolutely not forget. It is not going to be easy going forward, but with this shared experience we should stand up and act and remember that homophobia is real. Racism is real. Hate is real – it has a source – and our responsibility is to cut it off at the source.

Published by J.F. High

J.F. High is an advocate for indigenous rights and an (urban) fantasy author who lives in Washington (state), but is originally from Los Angeles, California. The differences are staggering (particularly in temperature) but the ocean and the I-5 are exactly the same. J.F. is a Chiricahua Apache (Ndeh) and Cora Indian (Náayarite). He may or may not be a believer and/or practitioner of real world magic, but if he were, he is not interested in your hippy-dippy, crystal swinging, dream-catcher slinging garbage. But magic is real, let's not fuck around.

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