Love is a Battlefield: Public Intimacy and Queer Latinx Belonging under the Shadow of the Orlando Massacre

On June 11, 2016, I turned on my phone as I walked off a plane and discovered that a dancefloor had become a site of slaughter.[1] As a queer Latino who grew up dancing at clubs and raves, I felt an immediate and dizzying affinity with the victims of the Orlando shootings, and Pulse nightclub could have been any number of places where I’ve gathered with fellow outcasts to heal the bruises of everyday life.

When I got home, I was sucked into a feedback loop of horror, sadness, and anger: force-feeding my outrage with every news update, posting frustrated status updates, commiserating with other queer and brown friends through public comment threads as well as private messengers, and so on. I got into bed late in the morning, had trouble getting to sleep, and for the rest of the week I struggled to return to any semblance of productive work. I felt more than just absentminded. As the days and weeks went on, however, I found myself more closely connected to a network of queers, people of color, and allies than I had been before. People reached out to “check in,” to express support, to spill out their own mess of feelings, to remap past traumas to the present, to share web-links to commentary that was either uplifting or further infuriating, or just to confirm that they were not the only ones still aching.

A renewed sense of intimacy and connectedness within queer club culture seems to have emerged under the shadow of the Orlando massacre, one grounded in a similarly-renewed sense of shared risk and struggle. In the days immediately following the shooting, the Internet was awash with the testimonies of queer and Latinx clubgoers, attesting to the importance of musical refuges such as Pulse. Some of the online responses to the Orlando massacre were remarkable in the intimacy of their tone and content, especially those addressed to an imagined community of queers and Latinxs. Out of this discursive landscape, an “intimate public” (Berlant 2008) took shape: a sphere of affective belonging based on the assumption that personal experiences of (sexual, racial) oppression are similar enough in their affective contour to provide a basis for solidarity across other differences. This mode of queer intimacy existed well before the Orlando massacre, but this most recent and very public tragedy provided a new instance of common affective experience, that is, the irruption of homophobic violence into a queer dancefloor.

Many responses to the attack described queer nightclubs as “sanctuaries,” alluding to the desecration of a sacred, sacrosanct space in order to express the gravity of the violation. Queer nightclubs like Pulse are spaces of cultural and corporeal survival for queer people of color (Amico 2006, Bailey 2013, Buckland 2002, Muñoz 2009, Rivera-Servera 2004), and so the resurgence of queer public intimacy in the wake of the Orlando massacre had its basis in a renewed awareness that we are not even safe in our own spaces, on the dancefloors of our own making. On the day that the shooting happened, just before I tried (and failed) to finally go to sleep, I posted a tweet that encapsulated this realization neatly: “What us queers are reminded of with #Orlando is: 1) There are no truly safe spaces; 2) Safe spaces are a vital need.” Queers, women, people of color, and transfolk repeatedly find themselves caught in between these apparently irreconcilable conditions, and the friction they create permeates our nightlives with a persistent hum of precarity. As much as we might go out to escape our troubles, they have a way of following us into the club.

Although touted as sanctuaries of acceptance and fellowship, queer nightclubs can still be sites of alienation for queers of color, for “fats” and “femmes,” for the disabled, for the aged, for those who fall outside of prevailing norms of attractiveness. But this alienation does not necessarily sever their attachment to the utopian promises of musical fellowship, fluid intimacy, and erotic conviviality that these venues embody; if anything, it only renders this attachment more complex, dissonant, and difficult to manage. A few days after the Orlando massacre, for example, an acquaintance of mine—gay, male, white, able-bodied, slim, comfortably middle-class and privileged—posted on his Facebook timeline a rebuke of those queers who were writing encomiums to queer nightclubs as sanctuaries and safe spaces, arguing that many of these same politically-minded queers had previously complained about the social exclusion and body-shaming that takes place at these venues. Smug in his certainty that he was calling out hypocrisy among his sexual cohort, he failed to imagine the possibility that, for underprivileged queers, nightclubs could be both uplifting and alienating at the same time. Indeed, this combination of help and hurt makes nightlife all the more toxic for them. There is a certain “cruel optimism” (Berlant 2011) in maintaining an attachment to a nightlife world that hurts you, obstructs you, and diminishes you in certain ways—but still provides essential support for surviving the much more malignant world outside its doors. Our ability to absorb this sort of dissonance seems boundless when it is key to our survival under worse conditions.



Amico, Stephen. 2006. "Su Casa Es Mi Casa: Latin House, Sexuality, Place." In Queering the Popular Pitch, edited by Sheila Whiteley and Jennifer Rycenga, 131–51. New York: Routledge.

Bailey, Marlon M. 2013. Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture in Detroit. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Berlant, Lauren. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

_______. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Buckland, Fiona. 2002. Impossible Dance: Club Culture and Queer World-Making. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.

Rivera-Servera, Ramón H. 2004. "Choreographies of Resistance: Latina/o Queer Dance and the Utopian Performative."  Modern Drama 47(2):269-289.



[1] Portions of this piece have been excerpted from the epilogue of a forthcoming monograph, Together, Somehow: Music, Affect, and Intimacy on the Dancefloor.




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