I'm gay and don’t feel represented by the rainbow…

I'm gay and don’t feel represented by the rainbow…

BUT THERE WAS A TIME IT MADE ME FEEL SAFE AND SEEN

 

I tend to shit on the rainbow for its symbolism, which I feel is largely opposite of what it actually is to be gay:

Rainbows = happiness and joy and warmth and contentment and all things positive

Gay = actually, normally, a huge struggle

And I tend to shit on brands for using the rainbow and pride month opportunistically, for using it so thoughtlessly and abundantly, and for seeing it as the only way to do visibility because they and their marketing bodies don’t UNDERSTAND the gay experience.

 

I did, however, feel understood or, in the least, supported, the summer I went to New York City (accidentally) during Pride Month.

 

In the summer of 2017, my family and I went to New York City for the first time. There were many things to notice upon arrival. The largeness of the buildings. The vastness of the traffic. The advertisements and shops everywhere. The inability to see very far and the oddly pleasant sense of claustrophobia.

 

Something that I immediately noticed, as well, was the rainbows. I believe the first rainbow I saw was on our cramped Uber ride into the city. There was a big strip of rainbow painted on the side of a TD Bank’s storefront window. I was in a sort of shock and awe. I remembered, "oh right, it is June! Pride month!" My baby-gay self had learned about this celebratory month, but she wasn't anticipating being welcomed to this city, welcomed on this novel family trip, by rainbows. Rainbows, this symbol I'd only really interacted with online. Pride month, this concept I'd only interacted with from distant Fox News clips of gay pride parades and parental scoffs and my newly consumed LGBT discourse and media. It was real. It was here. The rainbow. It was an extremely pleasant surprise to see. I didn't know what it was like to see—and feel—community wide support of my identity (as opposed to feeling an underlying sense of alienation); it had a more profound effect on me than I could have anticipated.

 

I didn't know what it was like to see—and feel—community wide support of my identity (as opposed to feeling an underlying sense of alienation).

 

It's only by writing this post that I’ve revisited this period of time and have given it a real look at what it meant to me. It surprises me, now, how much seeing these rainbows positively colored ;) my first-time experience of the city. And it’s only through this reflection that I’ve realized how much it meant to me as a newly out queer woman. I want to talk about that in this post—my positive and formative experience of Pride Month the summer after I came out and how special it was to me to see the gay symbol, one that I often shit on.

 

As my aunt led us around the city, I noticed rainbows cropping up on random city streets. They were not EVERYWHERE; in fact, they were sparsely placed throughout the city. But while the rainbow wasn’t everywhere, I quickly gained an awareness of a subtle rainbow background in the city, and it meant a lot, jumped out a lot, and juxtaposingly, had significant prominence TO ME. I felt like I saw them everywhere. And it was a delight to spot them; I’d never seen anything like it. It was special; I felt seen and I distinctly noticed them.

 

In contrast, I don't think my family noticed them as much—but I also don’t think they were LOOKING for it. If anything, it seemed they were trying to ignore the tiny itty-bitty rainbow elephant in the room. I pointed one out at least once and remember feeling like they rather not have heard me mention it.

 

 

I say this because, unlike my family, I was looking for it. I was looking for self to be reflected in the world—looking for signs of things that were “like me.” It was the year of gay visibility to me; I was seeing gay people and gayness in everything that was actually gay for the first time in my previously self-deceiving and self-repressing life. And seeing these rainbows gave me a warm glowy feeling of "safety" and "understanding." This was a beautiful contrast to feel in the wake of feeling rejected and unseen and unattended to and scorned by my family. This was a beautiful contrast to feel at a time when I predominantly felt really shitty about myself and my identity. At a time when I felt like a "failure" — and when my sexuality felt like a huge contributor to that sense of self—to that sense of guilt and shame and alienation and self-shrinking and hiddenness.

 

But that was the thing; this was not hidden. The gayness was on display in the “best city” in the world, New York, New York. I couldn’t have imagined what the city looked like and I couldn’t have imagined the existence of outright support in little ways, everywhere.

 

What’s interesting is that this experience of the city is uniquely mine (and unique to that specific point in time in my life). The splatterings of rainbows throughout the city could’ve been overlooked if you weren't paying attention. And it could’ve been significantly overlooked or taken for granted by a gay person who was already confident with themselves and who had already consumed bunches of self-affirming MEDIA or MESSAGING or COMMUNICATION. But it was new to me, as a baby gay. New to me as a 4 month out to my family baby gay. New and beautiful and awe-inducing. It felt like a warm hug from a mysterious force. It was special to me. This little symbol. This little overused symbol. This little symbol spoke to me, jumped out to me, comforted me, and saw me. It felt a bit like that video with the golden people.  

 

I was in charge of taking pictures of our trip. I believe it was a self-appointed job haha. And, as I was in awe of the novelty of the rainbow sightings, every time I spotted one, I took its picture.

 

 

And I found the rainbow and gay humor in the most tasteful of places.

 

I found it at the bottom of the Hello Dolly pamphlet in gorgeous colors. It was tasteful and it was subtle. It could’ve easily been overlooked, but I noticed it.

 

My favorite spotting, though, of the rainbow was on The High Line. At the beginning of the High Line, there was a sign that showed a birds eye overview of the walk's path. The path was made of a rainbow and the caption read; "not quite straight" because the High Line isn’t exactly a straight line. It was the perfect integration of what the High Line is with gay symbolism and language and I found that to be a delightful display of humor. And, as I like to say, I think good humor is created by UNDERSTANDING. I felt understood by that sign—or whoever made it. They got it; they understood:

“Not quite straight,” you say? Same.

 

I wanted to share this experience and empathize with the importance of the rainbow and how a simple symbol can bring a sense of safety to many, particularly those who are struggling. It’s easy to criticize it. It’s easy to be upset about how thoughtlessly, tackily, and overused it is in gay visibility and gay apparel; but it is a symbol of safety and acceptance that shouldn’t be overlooked, understated, or forgotten.

 

I'm grateful I went to NYC in June 5 years ago during Pride Month, and despite generally distancing what I am creating from it, I am grateful for the comfort the rainbow has brought me.

 

 

Originally posted July 5 2022
Moved from old website

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