- PulseThe Matter of Movement
Pulse. In one of its most intimate relations, cofounder Barbara Poma memorialized the vivacious heartbeat of her late brother John with a community center and nightclub on Orange Street in Orlando, Florida. For John—whose own rhythm waned during the height of the AIDS crisis in 1991—here was a place where later generations could feel some release from the grip of exhaustion cultivated by the demands of a white supremacist, sexual and gender normative culture. On Latin Night, hips may have swayed to bachata or salsa between drag queen sets, generating spatial erotics of intoxicating vibration.1 Pulse’s energy was tethered to Orlando but also leaped out to an archipelago of bodies, islands, seascapes; a circuit of movement across oceans to survive the economic ruination of Puerto Rico.2 And during the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, the meaning of this place of queer congregation, carnal worship, and corporeal freedom transformed as reports circulated in tune with ritualistic horror transfixed by the public pulse of social and mass media—yet another mass shooting.
From its emergence within the milieu of the Orlando landscape to the mass shooting carried out by an American citizen named Omar Mateen, the public narrative of #PulseOrlando is a potent reminder that context is a condition of struggle. Context matters because media narratives of catastrophe become powerful anchors of public feeling, their markings of place, bodies, and power as formative and heavy as their erasures. In the wake of the shooting, mass media outlets characterized Pulse as a typical “nightclub,” while regenerating national fear of racialized terrorism on the basis of what little was known about Matteen’s motivations. Clickbait headlines circulated: “Orlando shooting: 49 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance,” “49 killed in shooting at Florida nightclub in [End Page 147] possible act of Islamic terror,” and “Islamic State linked to worst mass shooting in U.S. history.”3 Before the sounds of the names of those lost had left the tongues of mourners, national leaders offered their thoughts, prayers, and condolences—to bodies, lovers, and families extracted from any mention of queerness, brownness, or nationality.4 Still, others retweeted a saccharine chorus, #loveislove; love conquers hate.
In the aftermath of Pulse, the mattering maps of post-9/11 security culture electrified struggles to contextualize the meaning of this place in this time. Lawrence Grossberg describes mattering maps as “a socially determined structure of affect which defines the things that do and can matter to those living within the map.”5 In moments of public mourning, the contours of mattering maps enable and constrain what narrative struggle may take shape. Following, places within the map may delimit possibilities for public hope, imagination, and redress. Take, for example, the immediacy in which Mateen’s motives were rendered legible to media audiences: pundits yoked a 911 call pledging allegiance to ISIS with his familial connection to Afghanistan alongside anecdotes of his disgust for gay men’s public intimacy.
Within a mattering map of contemporary security society, these linkages became intelligible as a sensible threat because of the perceived incommensurability of gay sexualities and interpretations of Islamic faith. As depictions of Mateen evolved in order to clarify tropes of the “backwards homophobic Muslim,” candidates for the U.S. presidency promised safety through punitive action.6 In the days following the shooting, Hillary Clinton implicitly framed Mateen as a practitioner of “radical jihad.”7 Donald Trump would later promise to protect GLBTQ citizens from the threat of ISIS.8 This coherence floundered with the disclosure of Mateen’s employment at G4S, one of the world’s largest private security firms, and his potentially agonizing relationship with his own queer desires.9 Yet, whitewashed queer bodies mattered when weaponized as regenerative instruments of national violence.
The public narrative of Pulse militarized mourning for black, Latinx, and Afrolatinx bodies, whose queerness and transness were initially culturally unintelligible.10 In contrast to these erasures, Veronica Bayetti Flores elucidated how desires to externalize threats to safety missed the mark: #PulseOrlando’s violence was quintessentially American. Reframing Pulse’s meaning as “a continuation of the violence that has been enacted upon LGBTQ communities...