I was not surprised that Orlando has such hatred in it given my experiences with teachers, friends, classmates, pastors, community members, neighbors…the list goes on. Always brown skin is not welcome. We are too foreign. Too Hindu. Too Muslim. Too different. And combine this with my queerness—the faggots burn in hell—get AIDS and die—that came from both inside and outside of my family, you can see a complicated picture starting to form.
This is a journal that I kept in the days after the shooting to make sure that I was sane, to protect myself against erasure, to have a conversation with myself about racism, Florida, the United States, and murderous homophobia.
I am catatonic, listlessly sleepless. I keep counting the beads on my blinds making up prayers as though some god can hear.
Jordan and I woke up, made breakfast and drove across O‘ahu through Waialua on our way to Mokulei‘a—a beach to be gay on after the reeling sensation of knowing Pulse intimately and being so close to murder.
The cloud cover is thick and I don’t remember what the sun feels like. I want it to scorch me. I want it to make me itch and feel my pulse.
We could not stop driving, there was a place we had to be that was not here in our home, reading Facebook messages and posts where people were being counted. I talked to my sister who said that two of her friends were injured one dead on the dance floor. They’ve released the names of those who did make it and I search the names for ones that are familiar or familial to me. And all I hear are screams. And all I hear are sobs.
Mom texts me to say that Emily is taking it hard. That she can’t see any light. My sister lives eight minutes away from the gunshots but has invited their echoes into her house and has drawn the curtains.
I feel like time is just slipping away and I’m helpless. Like I should be healing people. This is a tragedy causing acute pandemonium and I’m sitting in my apartment.
I tell her she is allowed to have a reaction to this. Take time. You are one of the traumatized. Help where you can but put your own oxygen mask on first. You are chronically ill woman of color. You are under attack. Put on your own oxygen mask first. These are your friends that were attacked. You have spent so much time at Pulse. Grieve. Grieve. Grieve first, then donate your blood.
My sister can’t sleep and pops two Xanax and I do not want to live in a world where this is the world. I grew up in Orlando and I know what people there are like: faggot hating and terrified of brown skin.
And now this: Omar Sadiqui Mateen could have himself been closeted. I tongue the name Sadiqui and its spelling. This name tastes like blood—like South Asian blood and forty-nine dead.
inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un
Ryan calls me on the phone today in tears I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do it. He says. He is wearing a black shirt that says Brown As Fuck. Everywhere I go people are looking at me. I am serving white people all day. One man said to me Your shirt is a statement and I said to him that Yes it is a statement. When I woke up today I knew I had to wear it. What would you like to drink? We are under attack—faggots and brown people. I am so alone here.
He is not at home in his own family and I know that I was once his family—brown and the wrong kind of brown. Not Desi but Desi. He was born in Kolkata and adopted by a white do-gooder family and made to feel alien.
I remind Ryan that he brought me to poetry after he read fifteen poems to be in his Baltimore apartment. I remind Ryan that I love him and that he is safe with me.
They were all starting at me, afraid of me. I didn’t do anything.
I remember my own family: Pari and I bob in the waves at I Dream of Jeanie Beach in Cocoa Beach. She is my father’s sister’s daughter and a part time friend to the only faggot in the family. They all gather and tell jokes about me but I’m not there—I’m no longer invited into their houses.
Today the sky is clear, without any clouds at all and the water is warm. I want to get roasted by the sun—to prove to myself that I’m alive. We jump up and down like graceful ballerinas in the Atlantic that’s filled with the memory of blood.
Pari: My mother says that I shouldn’t hang out with you and that I shouldn’t drink from your cup because I might get diseases.
Orlando lesson: Faggots burn in hell. We hate Muslims—or anything that we can read as Muslim like brown skin and Middle Eastern languages like Hindi
even though Hindi is not a Middle Eastern language and that brown skin doesn’t mark any kind of allegiance or national affiliation it’s just melanin
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old; Amanda Alvear, 25 years old; Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old; Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old; Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old; Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old; Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old; Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old; Cory James Connell, 21 years old; Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old; Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old; Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old; Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old; Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old; Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old; Frank Hernandez, 27 years old; Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old; Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old; Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old; Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old; Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old; Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old; Kimberly Morris, 37 years old; Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old; Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old; Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old; Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old; Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old; Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old; Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old; Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old; Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old; Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old; Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old; Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old; Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old; Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old; Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old; Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old; Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Tweets that could have come from Orlando but didn’t today:
The good thing is is that there are 50 less child molesters in the world today. You reap what you sow. Keep Muslims out of Orlando. Appreciate the congrats on being right on radical Islamic terrorism…
I love you and your skin and beard. I don’t want you to be targeted. Jordan’s words to me tonight as I shake.
A plumber comes to the door and looks at me and then at Jordan. Do I really see suspicion in his eyes or is it that I think I see suspicion in his eyes. Is this suspicion deadly? I wonder as he returns to his white truck to bring back tools to fix our kitchen sink. It’s been broken for over a week and some dishes rot on the stove.
Corinne asks me if I can write something about being brown and queer in Central Florida—Orlando because it seems that people can’t envision a body being both queer and brown—gay and Muslim. I’m not Muslim but I may have had a Muslim ancestor who was adopted by a Christian family in Georgetown, Guyana after her mother died on the boat from Chennai to the Caribbean. I don’t know what it means to be a Muslim in America but there is a commonality, something kin to my experiences with racism and homophobia in Orlando: being pushed into lockers in high school by the rednecks in Wrangler jeans, being called “beach-bum habib” by a white Mormon girl and having all the upper classmen in chorus call you this, being followed home and threatened by southern accents, being told repeatedly that we don’t like Muslims, having your senior year English teacher tell you all the reasons she hates curry because it tastes like throw-up, being told in Craft Azalea Park that faggots burn in hell, when working at Whole Foods the managerial staff refusing to believe that a patron’s letter was demeaning and racist, being told that my family is bringing down the property value by a neighbor, a neighbor who says What would God think about you having Islam written on your arm about a tattoo in Hindi, the amount of people who have Leviticus 20:13 memorized…
Leviticus 20:13 King James Version (KJV)
13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
13 If a man-eater also ligament with mankind, as he lieth with a woodshed, both of them have committed an abstraction: they shall surely be put to debutante; their blowlamp shall be upon them
13 If a manger also light with mankind, as he lieth with a woodwind, both of them have committed an abuse: they shall surely be put to decade; their blowpipe shall be upon them.
13 If a mango also lighthouse with mankind, as he lieth with a wooer, both of them have committed an acacia: they shall surely be put to decathlon; their blubber shall be upon them.
I am a Guyanese queer that grew up in Orlando and left when I was eighteen and then again when I was twenty-five. I wrote a book of poems about it called The Taxidermist’s Cut. My sister still lives about eight miles from the site. I have been to Pulse, once upon a rainbow. I know how racist and homophobic Florida can be. I wanted to lash out. I wanted to scream at my family members who are homophobic, who spread this kind of hatred. I wanted to call my mother and sister and tell them to go inside and to not come out until things cleared or when Trump loses the election. I wanted to hide.
The marine veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 acted like a hero to usher people inside of that club to safety. The media was quick to proclaim that he was a hero—someone who looked just like me. His name is Imran Yousuf and the newspapers were both confused and proud to indicate that he is a “Hindu.” With a name like Imran Yousuf most people in the United States would assume that his family was Muslim, in fact, and the newspapers questioned whether they got his religious-community identification right. CBS, India West, and Times of Israel, were all very clear about pointing this out.
You would think that I would be proud of him and I am very much happy that there was someone to guide people to safety—far from any kind of gunfire be it from the killer or from the police. I am very proud that this brown man put his training in service to the American imperialist machine to work to save lives of queers. But I can not be proud of a system that erases me. I do not ever want to understand the term “friendly fire.”
What I am ambivalent about is the fact that the media would be sure to draw specific reference to the fact that Yousuf identifies as a Hindu as a way to distinguish him from the shooter, pandering to Islamophobic rhetoric that pervades the media. The differentiation of brown bodies in this space does not actually tell the whole truth. Imran Yousuf is Guyanese with a family with mixed religious identities—his father is Muslim and his mother is Hindu. This kind of complication is true for countless Indo-Caribbeans: we have Muslim and Hindu and Christian and atheist ancestry. With the media calling attention only to the fact of his identification as a Hindu is to perpetrate the most heinous kind of erasure that my community suffers. The media is making our complicated identities and histories illegible.
We are Muslims and Hindus and Christians and atheists all rolled into one. Saying that he is a Hindu and not Muslim is like saying I’m one fourth of the person I am.
You are not Orlando. You are not Colonial/50 and Alafaya, not UC7 is closed now and UCF Knights. You are not Pulse, Southern Nights, Firestone, Parliament House, Gay Days, not Craft Azalea Park not bougainvillea and mosquito bites and Skin So Soft, not Thai House, Semoran Boulevard/436, Big Lots, Little India, Clay Oven, Spices of India. You are not fucking terrorist, hogwash, driving down the property value. You are not the only brown family this side of Pine Hills, Econlockhatchee river colored like cola. You are not alligators walking across your lawn or living in the reservoir, the neck of the Sandhill crane or the crest of the great blue heron that Adam swore was his grandmother’s soul. You are not Aloma/426 to 417 to Sanford. You are not Trayvon Martin. You are not gator bait, not Southern Baptist Church on the hill with the high school in its shadow. You are not in the shadow of the Mouse. You are not called a big hairy Hindu monster, not the first time at a gay night in Firestone, you are not The Science Center, Stardust, not Park Ave CDs. You are not reading these colors don’t run or bomb the rag heads through brown eyes. You are not the night, humid and heavy with stars. You are not the river: the Saint John’s, Kelly Park, walking around Lake Eola learning how to spell pigeon with your friend’s mother—pig + eon. You are not racist jokes about black men told to you because You’re not like them. You are not if white people crap black, do black people crap white? You are not I can’t be with someone of a different race across the elementary school lunchroom table. You are not misread for Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Latino, Indian, Black. You are not he’s not gay he’s just foreign. You are not racial profiling by the UCF security guards. You are not your second language is keeping your from performing on exams. You are not sweet tea, watermelons, and woods: the whitetail, possums, raccoons, the bones of birds. You are not a Satanic grin or uncomfortable in your skin for not looking like everyone else, not talking like your family. You are not the fear of God about telling anyone you suck dick. You are not South OBT. You are not among the kids in the club that night even if you are queer elsewhere. You are not Orlando. You are not.
Orlando is the university professor and psychologist who upon my telling her that I identify as queer, asks me what it was like “coming out” to my parents in my culture. I tell her that it was okay, that even though my father will never fully come to terms with it, that he understands me for me. she says with the understanding, do-gooder sparkle in her eyes, That’s not good enough. you deserve a family that supports you despite what Allah thinks. You may have to eventually stop talking to them until they can accept you.
You say that your mother’s cool.
She replies, Your mother is very modern, she even wears jeans!
This woman finds it impossible that South Asian—presumably Muslim families will never accept queerness without having first assimilated.
My mother wears jeans, skirts, shalwar kamiz, and bathing suits. She’s even divorced. She often points out to me other South Asian men who may be queer, or that she thinks I would find attractive. We joke about marrying doctors with homes in Hawai‘i.
Before I left home I was afraid to leave and thought about who I will encounter. I’ve painted my nails grey and white and wore a shirt that said “Let me teach you about democracy” with each word written in silhouetted bombs falling from a plane. Were people going to watch me suspiciously? Will I be safe, I wondered.
Is this fear normal?
Today I ran errands and spoke with Ryan on the phone again. He was telling me about how his family is love, but even that proves hole ridden when speakers are speaking different languages and no one is willing to hear his language.
At UH Mānoa I climbed the stairs to my office on the fourth floor. In the breezeway the trades brought their scent-message of rain. Perusing the shelf of discarded books for adoption Kim stood and looked at me, inviting me to her Queer Aerobics dance work party. I feel so helpless. I keep thinking that it’s just a matter of time before it’s me that is killed, you know? Like we are lucky now but this is happening so much.
I will not live a small life, she says with tears starting to spill from her waterlines. She wipes her eyes behind her glasses with fingers. I will be my whole fabulous self and keep on dancing. I held her and she wept.
Orlando is when you take your sister and her friend to a party as the designated driver. You are three years older than your sister and her friend who are both in their mid twenties. When you arrive at the house you discover that they party is being thrown by your sister’s friend’s friend and that she is under the legal age to buy alcohol. You stand outside with your sister and you both decide it’s time to leave. As your sister goes inside to get her friend and undercover police officer approaches and demands that everyone leave at once. You wait for your sister and her friend at the bottom of the stairs. An officer in street clothes comes to you and says that you have to move.
I am waiting for my sister and her friend to come out. I’m the dd, you say.
He repeats, I said leave NOW.
Your sister approaches without her friend. As she comes you say to her let’s wait by the car, this rent-a-cop needs to flex his muscles.
As you approach the parking lot the officer says, You in the red shirt come here. What did you call me?
I was talking to my sister.
What is your social security number?
What? I’m not giving you my social security number.
Okay, then give me your license.
It’s in the car. You toss your keys to your sister and say to her, chabiya mere jhole mein rakhi hain. is suwar ko dena.
She approaches with your bag and as she gives it to you the policeman looks at her and says, Drop it. Don’t step any closer to him.
But you asked him for his license it’s in the bag! She says as she places it on the ground.
The officer looks at you again, I am going to ask you one more time, what is your social?
I thought you wanted my license.
At this time you have drawn a crowd of about seven white police officers who start taunting you by saying things like, you can’t just walk around with a beard speaking Arabic and not expect us to question you. you fucking hear what he is saying? Do you speak English? Just give him your social security number you fucking idiot or we will arrest you.
You reply, What are you arresting me for, exactly? Why are you swearing at me when I am speaking rationally to you explaining why what you are saying is contradictory and confusing? It would be miraculous if I just started speaking in Arabic.
Their German shepherds are barking and pulling at their leashes (you have an abnormal fear of large dogs) and the policemen are still trying to provoke you into argument so they can subdue you. They are all white. You give them your driver’s license and they issue a trespassing warrant against you on any UCF properties. You look at the officer who wrote it and note his name in your head. You say as you leave, This isn’t over.
The next morning you call the police department to file a complaint. The person who answers asks what’s the matter. You explain that you have been harassed and were a victim of racism and racist slurs. The officer on the other end laughs at you and says, I assure you none of us are racist here. You ask to speak to his boss, who appears to be conveniently absent that day.
You write a letter to send to the precinct and to a community organization that tried to target institutional racism, but after four days you are driving along the highway with your sister and you hear on the news an officer in plain street clothes was shot and killed by a uniformed officer on a UCF property. He pulled a gun wearing street clothes and a passing uniformed officer saw it as a threat and shot the undercover officer before he had a chance to explain his situation. The dead officer had the same name as the rent-a-cop you encountered before.
inna ilahi inna ilayhi wa raji’un
At night I collapse exhausted. I wrote an essay about whales and poetic craft of writing in form, and how forms can free the wild mind. I opened the jalousies and Jordan crawled into bed. It was hot and I didn’t want to be held. I was tiffing with him, angry about how long it took for him to pick a show to watch before we fell asleep.
From the street someone screamed Thank god I’m me. It started first from the road and then it sounded like it was inside our complex. We live on Kalanianaole Highway right off the highway, makai side.
Jordan said that the AR-15 is designed to mow people down—a gun designed to kill people—many people at once. He got it so easily from the store. Proud to be an American.
I look up out of the jalousies above our bed head. The person could easily kill us if he came into the compound—he would see our floor level jalousies and if he has a gun he can kill us easily where we are.
We could run into the bathroom but the walls are so thin here. He will be able to kill us wherever he is standing. He is able to kill us here. We are not safe. He will kill us. It’s just a matter of time before it’s us that are dead, heaped on the floor.
I don’t think he will come and kill us. Jordan said.
He can kill us.
I don’t think he will kill us. Jordan said.
I snuggled up next to him and closed my eyes. I needed him to hold me despite myself. And he held me and loved me.
Winner of 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (2016), and recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant,Rajiv Mohabir received fellowships from The Home School, Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His second volume of poetryThe Cowherd’s Son won the 2015 Kundiman Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. His poetry and translations are internationally published can be found in Best American Poetry 2015, Quarterly West, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, and Drunken Boat. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor in Chief of the Ozone Park Literary Journal. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i, where he teaches poetry and composition.