Toxic masculinity was just as much to blame for the Orlando shootings as radical Islam

Since Sandy Hook, there have been an astonishing 998 mass shootings in America. Two of the perpetrators were Muslim, but all were men

Louis Staples
Wednesday 15 June 2016 11:03 BST
People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando
People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando (Reuters)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Today the world continues to mourn the 49 people who had their lives taken from them as they danced to music on a Saturday night.

As we learn more about gunman Omar Mateen, it is clear that this story is far more complex than originally thought. Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s ex-wife, has claimed that the gunman had “gay tendencies” and was accused of being gay by his father on numerous occasions. Perhaps more confusingly, Pulse club-goers have described Mateen as a “regular” who for the last three years used to sit in the corner or drink and “get belligerent”. Another man has come forward claiming that he was chatted up by Mateen for over a year on the gay dating app Jack’d.

Donald Trump has relentlessly tried to blame this tragic event solely on “radical Islamic extremism”. In fairness to The Donald, Isis did indeed claim responsibility hours after the attack, but they would probably take the blame for eating my last slice of Dominos if it got them some media attention. At present, Mateen’s links to extremism aren’t fully clear - we only know that he had twice been investigated by the FBI but was never arrested. Still, could it be that he was motivated by something that homeland security can’t screen for - self-loathing?

Growing up, many gay or trans people will have had their lives made difficult by someone who themselves was secretly gay. It might sound like a storyline from Hollyoaks but I experienced this situation first-hand when I was 16. He was the polar opposite of me: a typically masculine teenage boy. Perhaps watching me seem so confident in myself was too much for him. I remember feeling envious that I couldn’t be “straight-acting” and blend in, but now it’s clear that he was the one trapped by internalised homophobia. He must have hated himself an awful lot to have called me a “faggot”. Then again, he is a victim of the expectations that our society places on young men.

In America, where Mateen lived, the far-right have introduced over 200 anti-gay state level bills in the last six months. This has been widely interpreted as payback for gay marriage becoming a federal law. I personally find it hard to accept the "prayers" for the Orlando victims from Governor Pat McCory of North Carolina when he along with many other Republicans has purposely contributed to a climate of homophobia and transphobia. In Orlando, a gay survivor of Sunday's attack could still walk into work tomorrow and be lawfully fired by their employer simply for being gay - isn’t that crazy? With laws like this reinforcing the idea that LGBT people are sub-human, how can anyone be surprised that this attack happened?

Last year, the final episode of Russell Davies' Cucumber acted as a harrowing reminder that gay people are constantly flirting with danger. None of us really know who could be waiting at the end of a Grindr meet, on our walk home from a night out and even, as Orlando has sadly proved, inside gay clubs. In Brighton a young gay couple were brutally attacked by a group of men while walking home after a night out only last month.

We may never know exactly why Mateen did this or the extent to which “radical Islam” played a role, but the very next day a white Christian male was arrested with explosives in his car driving towards LA Pride. Religion, with its aggressively strict concentration on traditional and conservative values, is a place to which men in crisis can turn.

For thousands of years, faith has been used to keep straight men at the top of the ladder, but religion itself not the actual problem. It is masking the fact that masculinity is failing to adapt to the changing world where women are breadwinners and gay couples can start families. Since Sandy Hook, there have been an astonishing 998 mass shootings in America. Two of the perpetrators were Muslim, but all were men. Surely this suggests that this is a wider problem with masculinity. Until we reassess what it means to be a “real man” then men will continue to beat their wives and murder LBGT people to ease their own self-loathing.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in