Ex-pat Kate McCabe had just taken part in a US Pride march when she learned about the Orlando killings. Sometimes explaining America is fun, sometimes it’s not.
I’m an American who lives in Britain and I came home for my annual summer trip about 10 days ago. I love coming home. I love America. I love our monstrous food portions, our loud friendly voices and our diverse terrain full of character and colour. We’re great.
I’d been having a typically awesome time attending an annual improv conference/retreat/championship/hootenanny. This year the ComedySportz World Championship, which floats from city to city, was held in Indianapolis. Indy is a pretty cool place. It’s got big-city beauty and conveniences but also it’s manageable in size and full of midwestern charm. It was also an important choice of location to the LGBT+ members of CSz Worldwide because Indiana was such a problematic terrain for members of the rainbow brigade this year.
Earlier in 2016, the Republican Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The act allowed discrimination against the LGBT+ community on religious grounds (religious freedom apparently means denying cake to lesbians).
CSz Worldwide had arranged for LGBT+ players and allies to represent in the Indianapolis Pride March on Saturday. About 60 of us got up early to have breakfast together, make goofy signs and grab fistfuls of candy and show vouchers to give to spectators.
It was a bright and blazing sunny day. I was enjoying the camaraderie of my friends. The parade-goers were a mile-long stretch of eager high-fives. We were surrounded by cheer, hope, and love. Someone gave me a bead necklace (I did not show my boobs to get it). It was great to feel the hateful views of Mike Pence drowned out by utter joy.
“Out of knee-jerk defensiveness, I want to say that Omar Mateen isn’t an American. But who am I kidding? He was born in Queens.”
The next morning, while traveling, I learned about Orlando. Like millions of people around the world, I spent the rest of the day bitterly ingesting the news and reflecting on why this happened. Sometimes America is the centre of progress. Other times, bad things happen here.
We may never agree on why the killer gunned down a room full of LGBT+ people. Current theories include the following:
• He did it for ISIS
• He was mentally ill
• Religion compelled him
• He was closeted and filled with self-loathing.
It’s possible that it’s a bit of all of these. It’s certainly easy to draw a big mind map linking all of those reasons together, demonstrating a brutal cycle of cause and effect.
Not a day goes by here where I’m not questioned about the decisions that Americans make. Often, I try to be the best ambassador I can. It’s a lot of explaining the etymology of American euphemisms, diagramming S’Mores and laughing at our differences (did you know we say Ore-egg-uh-no? For oregano, that is… not just randomly or all the time).
Of course, when America does dumb stuff, like letting a room full of old men legislate on women’s health issues, my repertoire includes a lot of hashtagging #NotAllAmericans & saying things like, “Citizens United is a big problem.”
Almost daily at work, I’m teased by my boss that if Trump wins I’m fired and that I better stop it from happening. He’s kidding, of course. But the anxiety for the international community is real. They’re worried about the impact America has on the world around them. I understand this. We’re big and our footsteps are felt all over the globe.
Rarely has it been so difficult, as an American, to rationalise a series of events. Typically, when a nightmare like the one in Orlando happens, people across party lines… for at least 24 little hours… manage to come together and comfort each other. We find things to agree about and lean on each other in our grief.
But we’re living through an especially challenging election cycle and of COURSE it would be Donald Trump to shout “Moar guns!” in answer to the violence in Orlando. I’m sure he wasn’t the only person to suggest this non-solution (he also took the opportunity to reiterate his impossible and draconian immigration platform) but he’s the one with the most cameras pointed at him. This makes it difficult, as a nation, to regroup, mourn our dead, and think rationally.
“Not a day goes by here where I’m not questioned about the decisions that Americans make. Often, I try to be the best ambassador I can. It’s a lot of explaining the etymology of American euphemisms, diagramming S’Mores and laughing at our differences.”
We all want to know why and how a man who was full of self-loathing, who had professed allegiance to terrorist organisations and had been profiled by the FBI twice got his hands on guns. Out of knee-jerk defensiveness, I want to say that Omar Mateen isn’t an American. But who am I kidding? He was born in Queens. He was most likely mentally ill and he was very susceptible to the rhetoric that radicalised Islam spouts.
Sure… but that’s also rhetoric I’ve heard from other religions practiced in America, broadcast from our country’s garish mega-churches. It’s also language I’ve heard from American politicians. He had dreams of being an NYC cop. He bought his guns legally in America. He’s definitely American. He is the outcome of a certain kind of life in America. As Americans we need to accept this and strive for the change needed.
Even as Trump threatens to suck away a nation’s sense like a black hole on our hivemind, it’s important to remember the light always striving to obliterate the darkness. For every nightmare there is a waking solution awaiting us.
You see the swathes of people who are stimulated by Trump’s rhetoric but we also see the tearful poetry of Lin-Manuel Miranda accepting his Tony award. America gave us the music of Rebecca Black but it also gave us the music of Tina Turner.
America is the land of Kim Davis and Mike Pence yet it’s also a place that technically legalised gay marriage before the UK did. We have a serious problem with racism in America. Yet, in 2008 we did something no European nation has done yet: we elected a black man to our highest office.
The day before yesterday, I watched the news for hours. I saw the act of hopelessness that Inside Edition produced, a segment about how to survive future nightclub shootings. But, I also saw Rachel Maddow on The Rachel Maddow Show calmly and rationally analyse a pattern of violence against the LGBT+ community.
Bad things happen in America as they do everywhere that humanity dots the globe. We pick each other up and we push towards progress. We look for answers and for the strength to make change. Thank you for your vigils and for your solidarity with the people of Orlando, particularly its LGBT+ community. As someone who often feels like an amateur American ambassador among my British circles, I’d like to thank you. We see you helping. We see you seeing us.
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Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.