Saturday, June 18, 2016

Orlando: Deeper Than Terrorism

Source: ABC News

Orlando: Deeper Than Terrorism

The recent shootings in Orlando are, without a doubt, a terrorist attack. However, it is not the terrorism that so much of the mainstream media is playing into, with their focus being on shooter Omar Mateen’s alleged pledge of allegiance to ISIS. Rather it is terrorism on the LGBT community, especially Latino LGBT people and due to the backlash from the far right and politicians who want to focus on Mateen’s religion, Muslim LGBT people. We need to understand and realize that this shooting goes much deeper than just terrorism and touches on a number of aspects of American culture itself.

Rather, it is terrorism against the LGBT community, especially Latinx LGBT people, and, due to the backlash from the far right and politicians who want to focus on Mateen's religion, Muslim LGBT people. We need to understand and realize that this shooting goes much deeper than just terrorism and touches on a number of aspects of American culture itself.

Despite the victory of same sex marriage, there is still a large amount of bigotry against the LGBT community.  One only need to look at the large number of states which have passed laws that protect “state officials, faith leaders, and religious organizations who act on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is only acceptable between husband and wife, and that gender is established at birth.”[1] This is done under the guise of ‘religious liberty,’ in which it is argued that someone is just practicing their faith when discriminating against LGBT people, yet actually inverts the entire situation by promoting the idea that “Christians who object to homosexuality on biblical grounds [are] victims of religious persecution.”[2] Add to this the recent ongoing hysteria involving transgender people using the bathrooms of their gender identity.

The situation which hadn’t been a problem before, suddenly exploded into the mainstream when the North Carolina legislature passed a bill which “[struck] down all existing LGBT nondiscrimination statutes across the state, on top of banning transgender people from using some public restrooms.”[3] The arguments became so controversial that the White House stepped in and made clear that, with regards to public schools, transgender children can use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.[4] In response, states have sued the Obama administration[5] and/or have voted to ignore the directive.[6] Unfortunately, these bathroom laws have had a very real effect on transgender people, with calls to the transgender suicide hotline Trans Lifeline doubling after the passing of the North Carolina bill.[7] Thus, we see that there is a general atmosphere across that nation that is hostile to people in the LGBT community.

It should be noted that Mateen attacked Pulse during its Latin Night[8] and it has been reported that “a co-worker recalled him as a virulent racist.”[9] It is quite obvious that there is an atmosphere against Latinos in the US, with everything from presidential candidate Donald Trump saying that he was going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out[10] and that Mexicans were all rapists and criminals[11] to the old and tired argument that immigrants (specifically Mexicans) were stealing jobs from people, the anti-Latino sentiment in the US is alive and intensifying, and has been for quite some time. Mateen's racism isn't random, but rather a possible byproduct of the anti-Latina/o bigotry that has been being expressed more and more openly over the years.

It has also been noted that he was abusive toward his wife.[12] This is rather important to note as there is a connection between gun violence and domestic abuse[13]; in addition to the undercurrent of misogyny in many shooting incidents, from George Zimmerman who was arrested for domestic violence[14] to Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley who shot his ex-girlfriend before going on to kill two NYPD officers[15] to the UCLA shooter who killed his estranged wife in Minnesota before driving to UCLA to shoot a professor.[16] Violence against women and gun violence are often linked together.

On a personal level, Mateen may have lived in a homophobic household as his father released a video the day after the shooting, where he said that “God will punish those involved in homosexuality.”[17] There is also the possibility that Mateen himself was gay or at least attracted to men. According to the Palm Beach Post, “One former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class told The Palm Beach Post that he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once tried to pick him up at a bar.”[18] Mateen frequented Pulse as well,[19] yet, due to both the homophobia at home and in society more generally, he may have not wanted to come out and may have internalized that shame, finally acting on it in the shooting.

The point of this isn’t to play armchair psychologist, but rather to acknowledge Omar Mateen’s views didn’t develop in a vacuum, they were caused by deeper cultural problems involving bigotry against the LGBT community, women, Latinos, and immigrants that are reflective of the larger American society.

In terms of the response to the shooting, there has been focus on terrorism and ISIS, gun control, and some arguing that the tragedy affected everyone, not just LGBT people.

Not soon after the tragedy, both presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton responded. Trump “[lambasted] the president and Clinton for not using the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ seemed to advocate looser concealed carry laws, and repeated his call for a ‘temporary’ policy to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.” whereas Clinton said that she “supports the U.S. efforts to contain ISIS” and wants “tighter gun safety laws.”[20]

Where both Trump and Clinton agreed was that the US needed to bomb ISIS more, which The Intercept writer Zaid Jilani noted was a bit of a problem as “no operational links between ISIS and the alleged Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, have been discovered” and “neither explained how escalating bombardments in Iraq and Syria would do anything to stop self-radicalized and/or unhinged attackers in the United States.”[21] Yet, the pro-military argument plays into the terrorism narrative that has been going on non-stop since 9/11 and possibly plays into the larger regional game the US has as it could be argued that ISIS needs to be stopped permanently and the only way to do that would be to send in ground forces, something that would let the US stay directly involved in both Iraq and Syria for quite some time.

There has also been much talk about gun control and how citizens shouldn’t be able to access assault weapons, with President Obama saying "Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense."[22]  Even Republicans, it seems, may be open to changing the nation’s gun laws.[23]

Recently on the show, Sky News Press Preview, host Mark Longhurst debated journalist Owen Jones (who is gay) on the causes of the attack, saying that “it was an attack on the ‘freedom of people trying to enjoy themselves’ on a night out” and co-guest Julia Hartley-Brewer told Jones “I don’t think you have ownership of the horror (sic), of this crime, because you’re gay.”[24] On the other side of the pond, former Senator Scott Brown stated that “It’s so tragic that you have people, and a lot of them were gay and lesbian and transgender, and that’s deeply unfortunate, but I think it’s more than that. They were Americans first.”[25] There was even an article in The Advocate entitled “There Were Straight Victims in Orlando Too.”[26] While it is important to acknowledge that there were straight victims, by focusing the spotlight on those victims, it ignores the fact that Mateen targeted Pulse specifically because it had LGBT people there. His thoughts weren’t about the straight people that, to him, just happened to be there, they were on harming and killing LGBT folk. Saying “there were straight people too” only serves to erase the nature of the crime and relegate LGBT people to the back rows.

What both the discussion of ISIS/terrorism as well as gun control laws does is shift the narrative of the shooting, turning it away from homophobia. This should be fought as rather than focusing on the tragedy of what happened and how to combat bigotry, the situation risks becoming another game of political football for politicians to use, using the dead bodies of LGBT people as their platform.

The purposeful ignoring of the shooting as a hate crime, either explicitly or implicitly, and acting as if was a crime against all people only serves to ignore the fact that Mateen targeted Pulse specifically because it had LGBT people there. His thoughts weren’t about the straight people that, to him, just happened to be there, they were on harming and killing LGBT folk. Saying “there were straight people too” or that “they were Americans first” only serves to erase the nature of the crime and relegate LGBT people to the back rows, despite their blatant and deadly victimization.

When confronting tragedy, there needs to be an examination of what exactly caused the situation, not only from a criminal perspective, but also a social and cultural perspective. These mass shootings occur in a modern context where race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors intersect. To refuse to examine these intersections is a refusal to attempt to attain a fuller understanding of what occurred and why. It is a shame that people are obfuscating or ignoring the larger picture as it is extremely important.

It may save us from the next massacre.


[1] Molly Jackson, “How Southern States Are Now Challenging Gay Marriage,” Christian Science Monitor, February 20, 2016 (

[2] Southern Poverty Law Center, ‘Religious Liberty’ and the Anti-LGBT Right, (February 11, 2016)

[3] Hannah Levintova, “North Carolina’s GOP Just Fast-Tracked The Broadest Anti-LGBT Bill In The Country,” Mother Jones, March 23, 2016 (

[4] Emanuella Grinberg, “Feds Issue Guidance On Transgender Access To School Bathrooms,” CNN, May 14, 2016 (

[5] Theodore Schleifer, “Officials In 12 States To Sue Obama Administration Over Transgender Bathroom Directive,” CNN, May 27, 2016 (

[6] Emma Brown, “Kansas State Board of Education Votes to Ignore Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive,” Stars and Stripes, June 16, 2016 (

[7] Samantha Allen, “After North Carolina’s Law, Trans Suicide Hotline Calls Double,” The Daily Beast, April 20, 2016 (

[8] Yara Simón, “Worst Mass Shooting In Modern US History Takes Place at Orlando Gay Club on Latin-Themed Night,” Remezcla, June 12, 2016 (

[9] Jenny Jarvie, Harriet Ryan, Del Quentin Wilber, ”Orlando Nightclub Gunman Remembered as Abusive, Homophobic, and Racist,” Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2016 (

[10] Anna Brand, “Donald Trump: I Would Force Mexico to Build Border Wall,” MSNBC, June 28, 2015 (

[11] USA Today, Donald Trump: Mexico is Bringing Drugs, Crime, and Rapists to the US, (June 25, 2015)

[12] Claire Z. Cardona, “Orlando Shooter was ‘Mentally Unstable,’ Abusive, Ex-wife Says,” The Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2016 (

[13] Emily Crockett, “Why We Can’t Ignore the Connection between Gun Violence and Domestic Violence,” Vox, June 14, 2016 (

[14] Ren Stutzman, “Girlfriend to Deputies: George Zimmerman Pointed A Shotgun at Me,” Orlando Sentinel, November 18, 2013 (

[15] Justin Fenton, “Police Say Killer of 2 NYPD Officers First Shot Ex-Girlfriend in Owings Mills,” The Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2014 (

[16] Julia Jacobo, “UCLA Shooter Killed Estranged Wife Before Campus Incident: Police,” ABC News, June 3, 2016 (

[17] James Barrett, “5 Things You Need to Know About The Father of Orlando Jihadist Omar Mateen,” Daily Wire, June 13, 2016 (

[18] Lawrence Mower, “Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen was gay, Former Classmate Says,” Palm Beach Post, June 14, 2016 (

[19] Paul Brinkmann, Gal Tziperman Lotan, Rene Stutzman, “Witness: Omar Mateen Had Been at Orlando nightclub Many Times,” Orlando Sentinel, June 13, 2016 (

[20] Rebecca Shabad, “Orlando Attack Reactions from Clinton, Trump Are Starkly Different,” CBS News, June 14, 2016 (

[21] Zaid Jilani, “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Call for Bombing ISIS After Orlando Shooting That ISIS Didn’t Direct,” The Intercept, June 13, 2016 (

[22] Robin Gradison, Alexander Mallin, “President Obama Rips Gun Control Opponents After Meeting with Orlando Victims’ Families,” ABC News, June 16, 2016 (

[23] Ed O’Keefe, Karoun Demirjian, “In wake of Orlando shooting, gun control getting fresh look from GOP,” Washington Post, June 15, 2016 (

[24] Danny Boyle, “Owen Jones storms off Sky News paper review after presenter refuses to describe Orlando massacre as attack on gay people,” The Telegraph, June 13, 2016 (

[25] Emily Atkin, “Scott Brown Says Orlando Shooting Did Not Primarily Target Gay People,” Think Progress, June 14, 2016 (

[26] Jacob Ogles, “There Were Straight Victims in Orlando Too,” The Advocate, June 13, 2016 (

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pain and Expression

Source: Open Eyes Open Mind

Pain and Expression: An Interview with Panic Volkuskha

Below is the transcript of an email interview with artist Panic Volkuskha, where we discuss art and how it can relate to reality, specifically focusing on a rather recent piece entitled Couples Therapy.

1.       What made you interested in art? Why are you so passionate about art?

I enjoyed drawing from a very early age. Comic books, specifically Japanese manga, is actually what got me into art in the first place.  

I'm a transgender man, I spent the first 24 years of my life being viewed and treated as a woman.

So being raised as a little girl in the 90s, I didn't find many American comics and tv shows that interested me. The stuff aimed at girls didn't click for me -- I didn't like the art style, I didn't like the plot lines. Japanese comics and cartoons, like "Sailor Moon," "Cardcaptor Sakura," and "Revolutionary Girl Utena," did click for me. Many of those were created by women, and the main characters were young girls, who got to have magical powers and fight villains. And they got to wear super cool costumes while doing it!

My dad often says that he knew I was serious about art when I was seven. I had gotten in trouble for drawing during class, so I started setting my alarm clock early to draw before I went to school. My dad said nothing would have gotten him out of bed early at that age.
I have my parents to thank, too. Both of them work in the arts, so I grew up going to plays and art museums on a regular basis. For a long time, I didn't realize that was not the norm for most kids. My parents may not always like the content of my art, some of my paintings and comics deal with disturbing subjects, but they have always been supportive.
By middle school, I was really using art as an escape and as a form of therapy. I was bullied at school before there was much public discourse about how damaging bullying is -- it's emotional abuse -- so the school didn't really know how to handle it. The teachers and administrators didn't seem to understand how horrible it was for me. I felt dismissed and unheard. My art was where I could make myself heard.
2. You said in a recent Tumblr post that you live with “depression, anxiety, obsessive skin-picking, and some lingering trauma.” Do you use art as a way of dealing with that?

Oh, absolutely. Since I started studying art therapy, I've begun to see that a lot of the art I was making/continue to make has been an instinctive method of therapy for myself, particularly comics. There's a form of therapy called "narrative therapy," which is based around the idea that everyone tells stories, to themselves and about themselves. These stories influence self-perception, emotions, and behaviors. Narrative therapy also holds that the "true" story doesn't really matter because all stories are subjectively true; you experience it, therefore it is real. This is particularly helpful with PTSD, because trauma can distort and conceal "true" memory.
Before I ever heard of narrative therapy, I was making comics about the stories that I told about myself and the stories others told about me -- what it was like to be seen as an intelligent, high-achieving student when inside I was incredibly anxious and self-loathing. I was sexually abused at a fairly young age, by a kid my own age, and those memories are pretty fragmented. For awhile, I was plagued by the fact that I couldn't fully remember what happened. So I made a comic about what I did remember, how it made me feel, and how I accepted it as a part of myself, but not as what defined me. It really helped to lessen some of the anxiety and intense emotion surrounding the event; even if I didn't have the full "real" memory, I had my true experience of it. 

3. Why is it that you chose drawing/painting as your particular art style? What other artists do you admire or have influenced you?

Drawing is usually the easiest thing to do! There's almost always something to draw with, no matter where you are. I draw when I want to complete something relatively quickly, as my paintings take a longer time and tend to be more detailed.
I like acrylic and oil paints the best. I've worked with them the most, so I have a sense of mastery, I know how to do what I want with them.
My favorite art movement is the German Neue Sachlichkeit or "New Objectivity" movement. It developed after WWI, before WWII, and focused on the social and economic desperation of the times. The general style involves realistic depictions that are distorted and bizarre, a reflection of the climate in Germany at the time. A lot of the Neue Sachlichkeit artists were outspoken about the rise of the Nazi regime and had to flee Germany.
One of my favorite comic book artists is Lynda Barry. She has an incredible ability to tell funny and serious stories through the view point of children; she really captures how it felt to be a kid, to know more than the adults around you think you know, but to still not fully know what's going on.
Another big influence for me is Dave McKean. His work, particularly "Cages," expanded my idea of what can be done with comics. He uses photography, digital manipulation, painting, collage, and he blends it all together so well -- it never feels chaotic, like too much, it's all considered and composed.
To just list some influences -- Otto Dix, Jenny Saville, Odd Nerdrum, Dino Valls, Henry Darger, David B's "Epileptic," Charles Burns' "Black Hole," "7 Miles a Second" by David Wojnarowicz and David Romberger, "Dorohedoro" by Q. Hayashida, Kate Beaton's comics make me laugh myself sick, "Vampire Loves" by Joann Sfar and all of my friends who are artists.

4. Regarding the “Couples Therapy” piece that has gained a lot of attention as of late. I wanted to know, what inspired you to make that piece? What made you chose those specific characters and television shows?

I was taking a class on systems therapy, which refers to a number of theories of therapy that believe, even when working with one person, you have to consider the entire system, the family system the person grew up in, systems of economics, race, gender, and sexuality, and the broader sociocultural system that we all live within. All of these tie into the individual and how they experience the world. For instance, the anxiety and/or depression experienced by a transgender Latina woman is informed by different factors than the anxiety and/or depression experienced by a cisgender white man.
Our class used different families as examples in our class discussions, as case examples, fictional or nonfictional families that were relatively well-known so that everyone had some base knowledge for the discussion. I started thinking about families in pop culture, the ones that I had grown up with, and was suddenly struck by the fact that Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are both abusive fathers. I mean, I kind of knew that, but I had never thought about it very seriously before. Hank Hill sometimes borders on emotionally abusive, but he's the most understanding and adaptive of all three characters.
I started wondering, if I considered the behavior of Homer, Peter, and Hank seriously -- then what would Bart, Chris, and Bobby be like as adults? Looking at the behavior of their fathers, the behavior of the entire family, and how the family is viewed in the context of the show, how would these kids turn out? The idea snowballed from there and I began sketching out the comic.

5. What do you think are some of the long-term effects that shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons have on normalizing violence and abuse, while masking it under comedy?

I don't think the shows themselves are responsible for child abuse, which is what some people seem to think this sort of criticism -- my criticism -- is claiming. I think the shows normalize abuse. All three shows are semi-realistic family sitcoms, with "King of the Hill" being the most grounded in reality. The Simpsons, the Griffins, and the Hills are pretty much all put forward as the "average American family." And the Simpsons and the Griffins are abusive families.
If the shows were consistently cartooinshly violent, like "Coyote and Roadrunner," I wouldn't have so much of a problem. But the shows are relatively grounded in reality and present these families as "average sitcom families."
If the abusive behavior is meant to be satire of actual abusive families, then it is not good satire. It falls into the trap of simply repeating/displaying the thing that it's trying to satirize, with no criticism or deeper message.
Part of this is a cultural shift, I think. The creator of The Simpsons is my parents' age; they grew up in a time when physical punishment of children was the norm. Sure, there was some sort of line that you weren't supposed to cross, or else it would be abuse, but getting hit with a belt or chased around the house with a switch was a part of their childhood. And my parents joke about it with their siblings because it's part of their shared experience, and part of why they chose to never ever physically punish me.
There are so many studies coming out now that show how extreme and long-lasting the effect of physical punishment can be; not just extreme physical punishment, any physical punishment, even spanking. Maybe physical punishment was normal enough when my parents were kids, and even when I was a kid, so that it could be a joke, but not anymore.
Lastly, I've been getting a lot of messages from people about the comic that really drives home that these depictions are a problem. People writing me and saying "It took me a long time to realize my family was abusive because shows like this made it look normal," or "This is the kind of thing that happened to me and it was horrible and I don't understand why I'm expected to laugh at it." Those messages made me want to cry and I think they're very telling.

6. What every day things inspire you?

People! I love portraits and figure drawing. I honestly believe that everyone is beautiful; there is at least one facet of any person that would make a beautiful painting, the unique pattern of crooked teeth, the folds of flesh on a person's stomach, the hollows made by the eye socket.
My classes are really inspiring. As much work as grad school is, it's very exciting to be studying a subject that is so important to me.
7. How can people support your work?

The big one that I urge everyone to do with art online is to properly credit the artist. Always try to find the original source and link to it.
I do have a Society6 ( and an Etsy ( There isn't as much on there as I would like, what with being a full time student and employed, but whenever I have a break from school, I try to add new stuff.