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  • When I Think of Pulse, I Think of Shakti
  • Michael Hames-García (bio)

In memoriam: Elie Wiesel (1928–2016) and Jean Charles da Silva e de Menezes (1978–2005)

“Where were you in ’92?”

—M.I.A., “XR2,” Kala (2007)

London. In 1992, I was twenty years old and studying abroad. Coming from a provincial background and being still under the U.S. legal drinking age, I eagerly dove into London’s overlapping rave and gay club scenes. My first night out alone, I met a group of Londoners—hailing from England, Iran, Italy, and Spain—who invited me to join them at a club the following night. The club was Shakti, located in the basement of a community center, and the only London club specifically for queer South Asians. That night, the guys who invited me were late, leaving my socially awkward self to wander about looking—as I was later told—like a confused, just out, half-Pakistani boy in over his head. This fortunate situation led me to fall in with the young men who would round out my London “crew”: a Tanzania-born, lower-caste Indian (who took pity on me and struck up a conversation), a Sikh, a British Indian, a white Englishman, and a Dane. This cohort of mostly brown and immigrant men taught me so much about how to be gay. For example, that it was okay to make out with a man at the club and not go home with him because leaving with my friends was safer, more considerate, and usually more fun. But also that being queer and brown was beautiful and that even though I wasn’t exactly “brown” in the same way, there would always be people who would claim me as one of their own. And [End Page 111] despite its institutional venue, Shakti was the best club I had never imagined. The music was mostly Bhangra and completely new to me. What I loved most, though, was the sheer glee of Shakti’s patrons: a giddy combination of freedom and belonging that I would later find at black and brown queer spaces in the United States: Escuelita, Two Potato, Esta Noche, Bench and Bar, Escándalo, Chico, and others. Shakti: the divine energy of life.

The connection and permeability of Shakti lay far from the proclamations of difference and separation that undergird nationalism, patriotism, and nativism. After Orlando, hearing others’ responses, I have wondered if I might be wired wrong. The first substantive piece I read about the event was by John Paul Brammer in Slate. And here’s what I can’t identify with, what I can’t find in my own response: “Us. They killed us.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t understand the greater tendency toward empathy and identification that comes from seeing others as more like oneself. I understand it, but don’t share it. And when others expect me to share their preference for “people like us,” I pause. Perhaps this is why I haven’t participated in any of the collective acts of mourning for the Orlando victims. I sense that others expect me to be affected by this incident more deeply than by news that on February 15, 2016 missiles leveled a Doctors without Borders hospital in Idlib, Syria, killing 25 staff members, patients, and caregivers.

Both events move me beyond words. If one moves you more, perhaps that’s normal. But I hope you will consider, as Ramón Rivera-Servera argued in an interview with the Atlantic, that Orlando was a tragedy not just for queer Latinx communities. It was also a tragedy for Muslim-American communities, queer and straight. “Our” pain will subside with time, helped along by private and public rituals of mourning. “Their” pain will increase with the ascendency of Trump and nationalist and Islamophobic responses to subsequent terror attacks in France, Germany, and Turkey. Omar Mateen took “our” lives, but he might demarcate “their” sense of freedom and delimit the possibilities for “their” belonging for years to come. Among my post-9/11 memories is this: a good friend asking if he could bring his daughter to my...


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pp. 111-113
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