The men who died at Pulse in Orlando early Sunday morning were all mothers’ sons.
So was the man who murdered them because his father was upset by seeing two men kiss.
Was his mother upset?
We don’t know. We will probably never know.
Now the mothers are weeping—all of them. Death unites across the boundaries of hatred. Loss is loss. And the first question, in the minds of most women who are heart-broken by tragedy, is: “Could it have been prevented?”
Could the mother, in this case, have insisted that there is nothing wrong with two men kissing? Whether she was heard or not, whether it made a difference or not—could she have insisted?
We know so many stories about young men “coming out” to their parents, fewer about the same experience for young women. We know men who have been closeted all their lives; we know other men whose revelation of their sexual identity has caused them to be rejected on many levels. But often it seems that women are more accepting, more forgiving—not always, but often.
Still, what we don’t hear, often, is the voice of the mothers, forceful voices, objecting to the iron rule of the fathers and their cruel expectations.
We have a great deal to say, in these situations, because women tend to develop empathy for suffering. I am not claiming any greater sensitivity for women, but the facts of our lives, the difficulties we face from girlhood on, do sometimes promote a feeling for human suffering that our more fortunate men do not need. And women, sometimes, are better able to appreciate and accept the differences their sons exhibit, including differences in sexual orientation. Sometimes, we are less invested in the myths of masculinity, the power-over obsession as it plays out in sports, brawling, and dominance. Sometimes, our feeling of our own vulnerability makes it a little more possible for us to accept and even empathize with the vulnerability of our gay sons.
But we do no speak.
Where is the voice of the Stanford swimmer’s mother? We are left with his father’s outrageous definition of his son’s crime as “twenty minutes of action.”
We have worked long and hard, in the modern women’s movement, to increase our faith in our right to speak—in what we often call, “finding our voice.”
Yet we are still not hearing that voice, or not hearing it often, or loudly, enough.
It is noticeable that the recurring criticism of Hillary Clinton often focuses on her voice: it is too loud, too shrill, etc. The real complaint is that she speaks at all, and does so forcibly, publicly.
Where are the voices of the mothers of these murdered sons?
Where is the voice of the shooter’s mother?
Our silence is the silence that as Gloria Steinem points out in her new TV series is at the root of all the problems of modern culture.
Our silence about gun control and our apparent acceptance of individual and social violence.
Our silence about the molestation of our daughters—about the rapes that sometimes occur in our own houses, that are perpetrated by our fathers, husbands, and brothers.
Our silence about the sexual exploitation that is beginning to be revealed at so-called “prestigious” boarding schools, to which we consign our sons even when we knew they are going to be exposed to situations, and men, they will not be able to control.
Even in the case of boys molested by Roman Catholic priests, it is the victims, themselves, that have begun to speak out, not the mothers.
And yet, we often knew. We often know. Part of our deep emotional and spiritual connection to the babies we bore means that we sense, wordlessly, their injury and violation.
But still we don’t speak.
And the horror goes on.
[Thumbnail from photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack/ Associated Press.
If you’re interested in reading Brock’s mother’s voice, a reader very generously sent me a link to Carleen Turner’s appear for mercy.]