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Commentary: The Intersection of Sexuality, Self Hatred & Terror

"Was Omar Mateen gay?" NBC OUT Contributor Jason Page explains why this question is problematic and misses the point.
Omar Mateen, the gunman in the Orlando nightclub massacre, poses in an image from his MySpace page.MySpace via AFP - Getty Images
Image: shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando
A handout photograph made available by Univision Florida Central showing a view of the general scene of a shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, USA, 12 June 2016."UNIVISION FLORIDA CENTRAL / HAN" / EPA

In a story where the narrative is constantly changing, there is a strong possibility that by the time you finish reading this article, another yet-to-be-found story will be uncovered. However, one thing will not change. At least 49 people will have lost their lives at the hands of somebody whose mind was incapacitated by hatred and apparent confusion.

There is one thing I need to make clear before continuing. Nothing excuses what Omar Mateen did in the wee-hours of Sunday morning at Pulse Nightclub. No qualifier goes along with that. It was disgusting. This isn’t an attempt to show him as a victim, it’s an attempt to analyze the way the media and public-at-large views the GLBT community.

From Sunday morning through Tuesday morning, the 49 lives that were snuffed out gradually took a back seat to the more salacious details regarding the shooter responsible for this heinous act. The question on the tip of everybody’s tongue: Was Omar Mateen a closeted gay man?

It struck me as curious to see the media starting to salivate over this aspect of the Orlando massacre. Especially when you consider the relative discomfort that the same media displayed when having to say the words “gay nightclub” just 48 hours earlier. Sunday morning, various network news anchors seemed noticeably uncomfortable trying to figure out how to phrase something that should be so simple to say. Try it with me again… “Gay Nightclub.” Yay! That wasn’t so hard now was it. Those same anchors and reporters seem far more comfortable delving into the details of Mateen, his profile pics on gay social apps like Grindr and various trips to gay bars that his wife may or may not have known about. It’s a sad indictment on much of the news industry that many Americans count on for dissemination of facts during these trying times.

While the mainstream media and its struggle to discuss the events of Orlando (without looking like my mother asking what a “bear” is) was tough to stomach, I am far more troubled by the simplistic thinking when it comes to the topic being tackled as of the time I am writing this piece.

Omar Mateen in this undated photo from his Myspace page.MySpace via AFP - Getty Images

“Was Omar Mateen gay?”

The answer to the above question will never be known. But the question being asked is one that again paints the media in a negative light as far as this writer is concerned. Because to ask the question is to show a lack of understanding of sexual discovery and the difficulties that come with it for so many boys, girls, men and women across this country and around the world.

As a teenager, I was what many would consider a typical guy. I dated the captain of the cheerleading team and plenty of other girls throughout my high school years. After high school, I started to experiment with other men Still, I was engaged at 20 (to a woman.) That relationship would eventually end when my fiancé realized who I was before I had even realized it. Even after coming out privately to my family in 2000 and having many relationships of the lengthy and not so lengthy variety, I would have one more relationship with a female in 2009. I was honest with this woman about my sexual orientation, but I decided to give heterosexuality one more shot. That relationship would end after just a few months. The point of this isn’t to catalogue my sexual escapades of the past 20 years, it’s to make the point that sexuality has many shades of gray.

The quick-draw inquiry from the media as to whether Omar Mateen is gay or not shows a perpetual lack of understanding of how sexuality really works. Furthermore, it frustrates me that these news anchors, whose responsibility it is to be informed on the stories they report, seem less than interested or even comfortable with the idea of learning a little bit about sexuality before casually asking a question like “Is Omar Mateen Gay?” The answer is far more complicated. While I identify as gay, many would consider me bisexual given my past proclivities of mingling in a more than casual manner with the opposite sex. One word of advice for my heterosexual colleagues in the media who wish to discuss the topic of Mateen’s sexuality. Read about the Kinsey Scale. The blurred lines between gay and straight are numerous.

Let me show why asking the question regarding Mateen’s sexuality is far too complicated for the “gotta-have-it-now” mentality that drives the media and its audience on a daily basis.

Omar Mateen was married twice. He had a child. That doesn’t make him straight. Omar Mateen had profiles on at least one gay dating app and by at least one account, made moves on a fellow student while trying to become a cop at the Indian River Community College Police Academy in 2006. Well I guess that makes him gay. No. It makes him like so many others that suffer confusion over their sexual orientation.

In what is far from the final analysis, the media and public at large need to remember that while homosexuality is largely condemned by Islamic fundamentalists, it’s also far from being 100% accepted and embraced within the borders of our own country. And while Mateen may have traveled to unaccepting Muslim countries, he has spent the overwhelming majority of his life in the United States. This is just another layer of a complicated story that the media simply encapsulates with one question: “Is Omar Mateen Gay?”

Ultimately, the events of Sunday morning, June 12, 2016 at Pulse will likely be categorized as both a hate crime and a domestic terrorist attack. But we may ultimately add one more description: The events of 6-12 may be viewed as a crime of self-hatred as well.

Jason Page is an openly-gay sports/talk radio personality both locally and nationally. He’s been featured as a commentator on MSNBC as well. Reach out to Jason on Twitter @TheBackPage.

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