In the wake of the latest dystopian nightmare-turned-reality, we wonder yet again what causes someone to pick up an assault rifle and mow down innocent people. Yes, access to assault weapons makes the killing chillingly easy, as do smaller weapons in the wrong hands. But no one who is happy with who and what they are wants to destroy innocent people for kicks. People deride the New Age movement for preaching self-love and unicorns, and yet on a micro level, besides becoming an activist, or trying to effect gun legislation (God help those who are trying to achieve this near impossible goal) loving ourselves is a very real way to bring harmony to the world.
I myself have struggled with self-loathing for most of my life. I was going to say adult life, but in fact my self-hatred started much earlier. Somehow I ingested warped messages as a child – there was something “wrong with me,” I was “too much” and unlovable. As a woman over forty, it is embarrassing to say I still sometimes indulge in self-harm as an outdated coping mechanism. Each time I think it is an indulgence I am done with until once again, overwhelmed by the strength of my emotions, these nasty series of vicious actions against myself seem like the only way out.
Of course I have never perpetrated an act of violence on a group of people, not only because I do not own a gun, but because as a woman that is not really our style. Out of all of the mass shootings in the United States, NOT ONE has been perpetrated by a woman. Rather than using this fact to vilify men (many of whom I love and have loved, besides raising sons) I write this to admit that I understand the rage of the mass shooter. I understand deeply that the world is a mirror to the self, and then when you feel as if everything has been taken from you, you are not inclined to think kindly of others. It is no accident that when these people are done perpetrating the unthinkable, they usually turn the gun on themselves.
Research has long supported the fact that a lot can be gleaned about you, by whom you choose to hate. In fact at least 80% of those who are homophobic, themselves have erotic feelings for the same sex. When you combine this with a religion that tells you homosexuality is a sin (along with all those other vital sins in the bible such as not eating a goat bathed in its mother’s milk, and not mixing wool and linen in one outfit) you create an unacceptable impasse. Having to deny who you are and hate others that have the courage to live as you wish creates a toxic cocktail that often leads to violence, though the magnitude of Orlando is staggering.
Witness how often men kill women, not just ones they know and have “loved” but a group of women to get back at those who have rejected them. No one who is happy with themselves gets “radicalized”—even sociopaths and narcissists have been proven to have a deep well of self-loathing under their bloviating exterior. Underneath every rage-filled manifesto is a little boy who was either born without a brain link, or somehow missed having their needs met as a child or both. No one who joins Isis is happy with who they are in life, including the young women and girls being recruited online from all over the world. People turn to desperate acts of nihilism when they feel their own lives can no longer make a positive difference.
Most of us have funky relationships with ourselves. Even those of us who are not diagnosed “mentally ill” abuse ourselves in myriad ways, with food, or alcohol, overwork, or drugs. We watch ourselves into a stupor with television, numb ourselves with violence, and do everything we can to distract ourselves from who we are. Self-hatred can kill us in so many ways, besides the tragedy of being shot by someone who hates themselves. Self-hate kills us slowly, and we die never having lived, the world a prison of suspicion against the “other.”
Every time there is a shooting and once again the same tropes are trotted out, what gets me most of all is this catchall handy phrase of “mentally ill.” In fact, it is easy to become mentally ill- a small tip into a spiral of negative thinking is easy to succumb to. Believe me, there is not much separating “you” from “us”- watch enough hate-filled speech, drum up the fear in people’s hearts, and before you know it, you have a political candidate that has risen up like green bile to represent the worst of the worst and incite hate.
Few talk about how addictive outrage is. In the aftermath of this horror, my hope is that the LGBT communities do not succumb to the sickness that comes from outrage, using it instead to empower positive action, but also to focus on accepting ourselves as absolutely perfect the way we are.
If we cannot tolerate people for being Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, not Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, Native American, Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bi, Pan, Transgender, Asexual, or just Queer af, chances are we cannot tolerate ourselves. (In many cases our family of origin has taught us this too well.) On a very basic level if we are okay with us, our energy resides in a positive motion towards giving everyone the freedom to express themselves. There is no way one can look out of such eyes and hate.
If you think everyone is trying to get you (unless you’re a person of color or gay or transgender, in which case they probably are) there’s a good chance you do not have your own back. If you think you need to carry your assault weapons to Walmart in case someone attacks you, you haven’t figured out the way the world works. In the history of the United States, very few civilians have ever stopped a mass shooting by having a weapon, where countless healers, crisis hotline counselors and mental health professionals, have stopped many without one.
As horrible as this latest tragedy is, it still fills me with hope that people can embrace our sexualities and love ourselves in a society that even in 2016 often tells us we are “wrong.” It takes courage to be deviants, but it’s also a ton of fun. When you come to terms with whatever you may be on any given day, you become an example of what’s possible. Not recognizing your own proclivities can ignite a dangerous impotent rage. Even though now it seems as if it has become even more frightening to “come out” than ever, repression will kills us faster by sentencing us to live a lie.
So yes, I am mentally ill. I have at least three diagnosed disorders, and who knows I may yet acquire another one- the night is young! But just being mentally ill does not qualify one to commit violent acts en masse, just as embracing one’s inner perv does not entitle you to someone else’s participation in your “perversion.” But celebrating your kinks at least frees you to love yourself a little more, and hate others a little less. Personally, embracing my sexuality has been the one thing that has saved me more consistently than anything else.
Here is something you can do today, if you are feeling powerless or sad or enraged, or all three, at all the unfolding mayhem in our country, that doesn’t even involve another person. It doesn’t entail hugging your children tighter, or loving your neighbor as yourself (how are all those hate mongers circumventing that little Commandment?) or even signing a petition or praying to the God/Jesus/Allah who values us all (though you can do all these things.) What I am suggesting is to develop a more powerfully honest, positive relationship with yourself, painstakingly and over time. Now that you know, that I know, how difficult that is, perhaps you will embark on this journey as well. Then we can both say, “I’m working on it.”