Mourners embrace on June 13 during a vigil in downtown Orlando, Fla., for those killed June 12 in a mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub. (David Goldman / AP)

I am struggling to understand the Orlando massacre. And that struggle is important. It is what can protect us from the knee-jerk characterizations being bandied about. In its race to get the story first, mainstream corporate media has crafted the spin as swiftly as possible and shaped the lens through which we see the news. First it was a terrorist attack, plain and simple, because the killer had a Muslim background and pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Politicians like this lens, and both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump agree on it. Their policy solutions might look different, but they aren’t really: Clinton wants to demonize Muslims abroad so we can justify dropping more bombs on them, while Trump wants to demonize Muslims here at home so he can justify banning their entry into the U.S. But then we heard more details that just didn’t fit with this simplistic narrative. Omar Mateen, the shooter, was an employee of G4S, a global security firm with a reputation for employing racist staff. He was an American born of Afghan immigrants and had been investigated by the FBI twice before and cleared of suspicion. He had some admiration for the New York Police Department as evidenced by selfies he took while wearing NYPD shirts. He was a regular at Pulse, the gay bar where he carried out the horrific massacre. He even had briefly used a gay dating app. But his father said he was a homophobe who was once enraged at the sight of two men kissing. He beat his ex-wife. He was married to another woman at the time of the shooting and had a 3-year-old child with her. His current wife might have been an accomplice to the shooting. He obtained his weapons legally and appeared cool and collected during the massacre. This story is so complex, with so many layers, that it does not fit within our black-and-white media and political narrative. CNN and Clinton would like this to be a straightforward story: a Muslim-American man was radicalized by Islamic State and carried out a terrorist attack. But Mateen does not fit into the reductive profiles we have built of would-be terrorists. So how to explain what happened on Saturday night in Orlando? What we do know is that 49 human beings are dead. Forty-nine people, mostly Puerto Rican, mostly brown and a few black, mostly men and a few women, mostly queer. The victims were dancing the night away in a space that was familiar, where they could be themselves, inured—if momentarily—to the hateful rhetoric and bills sweeping through Republican-dominated state legislatures in recent years under the guise of “religious freedom,” and “bathroom safety.” The typical Orlando victim was also an outsider in relation to mainstream American society, reflected rarely in our pop culture except through harmful stereotypes. Many victims had foreign-sounding names and multiple intersecting identities: Latino or black, queer, pierced or tattooed or both, femme or butch or transgender. I know a tiny bit of what it means to live with multiple intersecting identities. I’ve been an immigrant in the only two countries in which I have ever lived (United Arab Emirates and the USA). It can get confusing. But it is also rich and varied and a source of deep pride. I am a woman and have experienced sexism, sometimes amplified by anti-immigrant racism. My skin is brown and my name hard to pronounce. I’m not gay but if I were, that would be an added layer of complexity to my multiple identities. I’m not single and childless, but if I were, that would be another checkmark for going against the grain of expectations. Our media and our politicians do not like such complexity. It is hard to define; it is ephemeral and does not fit within the neat boxes that sell papers or garner votes. We cannot make sense of the Orlando shooter just yet. Maybe some day we will know his actual motives. But we do know that vilifying and banning whole communities will impact the very people with whom the Orlando victims share common ground, as will expanding our futile “war on terror.”

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