orlando shooting victims

A Queer Latinx Mourning After The Orlando Shooting

I was back in my homeland of Puerto Rico—the first time in two years—for a professional conference when I heard the news about the Orlando shooting.

I sat around a table, ordering pancakes as big as my face, surrounded by fellow members of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. We ate, talked shop, and decompressed after some difficult events that weekend. There was a TV on next to us—flashing lights and “ORLANDO SHOOTING” in big letters displayed on the bottom of the screen.

It’s too early for this. We’re already so weary.

Not until later did I actually pay attention to the news. I was in work mode, though, and nothing sunk in. Later that night, I hopped a plane back to Boston and came home to an empty bed. I craved human contact, craved my queer partners, craved community as I read the names of the dead late into the night, crying and unable to sleep. I wanted to light candles, whisper Spanish into the sky and honor the dead, but I could only witness the little information available and sob in the dark, thankful I only had a few clients to see the next day.

On Monday, I watched a mother recount the last words she exchanged with her son as they texted during the shooting. On Monday, I watched the last Snapchat videos various victims filmed that night, including one with gunshots in the background. On Monday, I couldn’t feel rage because my nerves were too tangled in sadness and exhaustion. On Monday, I told one of my partners that I was randomly crying throughout the day.

“It’s not random if you’re grieving, boo. They killed your *family*”

Their words settled in my chest. They killed my family. 

I’ve never been one to grieve over strangers, but this felt personal. They were fellow queers, fellow people of color, fellow Latinx, fellow people of complicated genders, out to have a good time. 

23 out of 49 victims were Puerto Ricans like me.

So I could try to speak of the rage at how many White queers have put themselves at the center of this grief like they were the center of the universe. I could try to speak of the disgust at how many have spun this into Islamophobic propaganda, speak of the frustration at how this has been turned into a detached debate about gun control.

I could try to speak to how I see this as part of a web of violence, threads connecting the ALMOST WEEKLY murders of trans people and especially the violence against trans women and femmes; the slaughter and erasure of Natives; African enslavement; police brutality targeting Black and brown bodies; harsh immigration policies; lynchings and gay-bashings; harmful legislation about where we can go to the bathroom, how we can dress, and how we can reproduce (or not); and the present-day colonization of Puerto Rico. 

And I could try to speak about the hope for the future and the ways we are strong and resilient, of how I see love as the long-term fuel we need for our movements.

But all I can speak to right now is holding sorrow in the same hands I try to hold hope, and how sometimes my hands don’t feel big enough.

All I can speak to right now is my fear that one day it will be me and my familia… and realizing that it already is.

All I can speak to right now is how intensely I want to protect my communities and how I want to care for my QT/POC lovers with such ferocity that the world trembles.

All I can speak to right now is the grief at those misgendered after death, those outed to families who would reject them, those whose undocumented status prevents families from reaching their bodies, those who survived and are wracked with guilt…all the ripples of pain spreading throughout Orlando and mi isla and the entire continent. 

The atom of the Latinx universe is the family, not the individual, and so the number of broken hearts balloons much larger than the 49 dead and 53 wounded. This is why community matters. This is why we gather together at places and times like these.

So I hold space for all those who grieve in secret, whose workplaces and families and surroundings don’t acknowledge how this has carved open their chest. I hold space for those who are in helping professions trying to keep their ish together in front of clients as their insides splinter. I hold space for you, for me, for us. For those who are confused about their grief, for those who are numb, for those whose rage rises like bile, for those who have lost so much already and feel this as another drop in the bucket that’s already overflowing. 

By being queer and trans we have inherited legacies of mourning, loss, and persecution. By being Latinx, we have inherited legacies of discrimination, colonization, and diaspora. And we must remember that we have also been passed down resistance, power, healing, life. 

Como dice el refrán: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds”

To all those who were taken too soon: descansen en poder, and may you never thirst. 


Part of this was originally published on Autostraddle’s roundtable of queer Latinxs, and the rest was crafted for a vigil in Boston focusing on Q/T/POC in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Header image via a Buzzfeed article on the Orlando Shooting victims

My Weekend Warrior Profile (Cross-posted)

This entry was originally published on the Sojourner House blog on May 30th (link here). I’m republishing it here so that people can find it with more ease. There will be more writings on my career path for those interested in following it or doing something similar too! Also, it’s important to note that the WW feature was heavily inspired and modified from The CSPH’s “Hump Day Heroes” feature. Credit where credit is due!

Every weekend, we feature different individuals (“Weekend Warriors”) that are working around social justice and making a change in the world so that we can all live free from violence and oppression. The goal of this project is to raise awareness of the work that is currently being done, highlight the amazing people doing it (with a focus on Rhode Island) and show the varied paths people have taken to this kind of social change. At its core, this project is about empowerment and building community!

What kind of work do you do?

I often find myself with my spoons in multiple pots at once. Broadly defined, I do sexuality education, project management, and public speaking. While not something I’m actively pursuing right now, I’ve also done more direct community organizing and digital literacy instruction. That has been really fun, especially when working with the elderly and with immigrant communities.

Where are you based out of (geographically-speaking)? Do you work as an individual, as part of an agency, or…?

Currently based out of Rhode Island, but the Internet is my playground, and I’m moving to Boston in the Fall. Right now various agencies have joint-custody of my time! I also do some individual work on the side. My almost 3-year term at Sojourner House as the Sexual Health Advocate (and seasonal Vagina Queen as a colleague called me) is ending on June 30th, and I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done with the agency—a lot of innovative, wonderful stuff (including this project, so filling this out feels very meta).

The other primary place where I work is The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a sexuality training and education organization devoted to reducing sexual shame, fighting misinformation, and elevating the sexuality field.

Outside of those two main projects, I do sporadic educational work for youth on behalf of Partners in Sex Education and I also deliver community presentations through Good Vibrations’ SHOW program as an offsite sex educator.

What things do you focus on? What are your specialties?

Sex(uality)! But that’s a simplistic answer. For me, sexuality is my focus, but that’s a fairly broad category that encompasses reproductive rights, issues of gender and orientation, healthy relationships, communication skill-building, the mechanics of pleasurable sex, and more. My primary areas of focus right now are LGBTQ issues, domestic violence (as well as sexual assault), sexual health education, and HIV. It’s funny because for a while I didn’t want to work on issues of DV and HIV, and instead wanted to focus more on niche topics that didn’t have a lot of folks working on them, like BDSM/kink and polyamory, but I realized that there was (and is) still a lot to be done in the realms of HIV and domestic violence, especially as far as inclusion for varied identities is concerned. I’ve had the privilege of working on “mainstream issues” while also making space for those more marginalized experiences and communities, and that’s what I hope to continue doing—connecting struggles and knowledge instead of having them sectioned off from each other (though that at times is necessary).

What are your goals and passions in this field?

I love bridging gaps with information and connections, getting people the resources they need when they need them. Also anything related to marginalized identities speaks to me on both a personal and professional level, especially because often too many people speak “on behalf” of communities they’re not a part of instead of standing together in solidarity with those folks and lifting THEIR voices up. I want to get it right. To that end, I hope to keep juggling many projects (both clinical and macro) in service of my communities.

I’m passionate about making conversations about sexuality and health easier to have, fostering diversity through a lens of paying attention to our intersecting identities, and fighting for sexual freedom and wholeness. What do I want to see? I want survivors of violence and abuse to feel empowered. I want clinicians to provide competent care to their “alternative” clients. I want us to use positive messages instead of shame to reduce negative health outcomes, and even redefine what “negative health outcomes are.” I want more representation of multiple bodies, genders, sexualities, races in the media. I want us to recognize the connections between different forms of violence. I want accessible reproductive healthcare for everyone. I want people’s autonomy to be respected. I can keep going… I just want EVERYTHING!

Why did you choose to start working in this field and what has kept you motivated to continue?

This video interview someone did with me actually sums it up pretty well. Long story short, as a queer Latina, when I arrived at Brown University I knew I wanted to work on issues of LGBTQ rights and racial justice. My life since then has taken some twists and turns, but that’s been at the core of it all. I branched out into sexuality education more specifically, but it’s all rooted in wanting social justice and being able to focus on achieving that through the things about which I’m passionate.

In a nutshell, seeing how far we’ve come but how much we still have yet to do is what keeps me motivated. Also super crucial? Being surrounded by key people who are amazing, valuable human beings also devoted to doing this work, or supporting those who do it. Creating/finding and nurturing a community has been vital for me.

Where did you go for school/training?

Brown University was my undergraduate home, and I emerged with a Bachelor of Arts in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I’m about to head off to graduate school this Fall to pursue my Masters in Social Work at Boston University. Outside of that, I’ve gone to a LOT of professional development events and conferences, probably more than one single person should ever go to! I just love learning a lot and being able to get that knowledge in varied ways, not just from a university. Locally, the Rhode Island Foundation has been a great local resource in learning more about nonprofit management.

Have you published any material (books, articles online, etc)?

No books published yet, but a project is brewing so I’m excited to see where that might go. I’ve also contributed to the last 3 issues of #24MAG (www.24mag.org) and my favorite piece was one I wrote about ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) for Issue 4.

Outside of that, my writing has been on the back-burner while I’ve been busy with other endeavors, but I co-edited “Sexual Health Education and Policy in Medical Schools: The Importance of Incorporating Basic Human Rights into Medical Education and Training” (written by Megan Andelloux) published in the Woodhull State of Sexual Sexual Freedom Report of 2011.

I also self-publish some writing online via my blog (neuronbomb.wordpress.com).

What would you recommend to people who want to work for a more just world, free of violence and oppression? Any tips on how to get into this line or work?

Figure out what unique skills you have (or can develop) and see how THOSE can fit into the larger fight for social justice. Not everyone has to be a public speaker or community organizer. Movements need a variety of talents—we need organizers, yes, but we also need bookkeepers, lawyers, people who can make huge meals, people with coding experience, interpreters, comedians, the list goes on.

Also, know that you can be an amazing contributor to movements without being or making yourself a martyr. Being able to set boundaries, ask for help, and take time to refocus and have some time to oneself = crucial skills that usually need to be honed with practice.

Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way, and soak in as much knowledge as you can.

Finally, make sure you nurture strong networks and give back to the community (there are many ways to do that), not just because those connections may serve you in the future, but because we’re all in this together and we cannot simply fight to get ourselves to the top–we should be working to help our communities, those who are marginalized by our current social systems, and those at the intersections.

What is the most personally challenging aspect of your career?

Not having enough time for all the things I want to do or need to do! Or feeling like I have no more help or resources to give someone, whether it’s because I’ve exhausted every option available to them, or because their issues are over my head and require intervention from someone with more clinical expertise. It can also be really tough to see people face the same problems over and over and feel powerless to do something about it. I’ve had some really terrible interactions with certain government or housing officials that have outright lied about hearings with clients, and confronting the reality of corruption can be really disheartening.

Outside of that, there are the obvious challenges of sometimes being persecuted for tackling taboo subjects or denied access to certain things due to prejudice…but that’s not personal/unique!

If you had to recommend one book and/or one film to our audience, what would you suggest?

“RACE: The Power of an Illusion” was a really fascinating documentary. By the time I saw it, I had already had my mind blown with the idea that race was a social construction, but this film did a great job at explaining a lot of the different ways we’ve understood race throughout U.S. history, and taking into account how race and class intersect with each other. Everyone should watch it!

As far as books go, “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within ActivistCommunities” is crucial for those seeking to learn more about IPV in activism-focused spaces, to see why speaking up is hard, what transformative justice can be, and what are the complications of enduring abuse from a “well-respected” activist.

Please list where we can find you online! (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Website, other Social Media/Online Websites)

Primary Blog: http://aidamanduley.com (or smutandsensibility.com)
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/neuronbomb
Assorted collection of sites: http://neuronbomb.flavors.me