TW: holocaust mention, homophobia, transphobia, q slur, swearing
Will Popplewell puts forward the argument in his article inspired by my status (see above) that we shouldn’t “alienate people… declaring rainbow profile pictures as something belonging to LGBT people” as this sets up an unnecessary division.
I necessarily disagree.
Rainbows and other LGBT symbols have represented gay people for years because of a division in society set up by straight people! I agree that it’s unnecessary. However, we have had to create our own underground culture, our own identifiers, our own secret societies because of discrimination. And it is not fair for the dictating class – straight people in this case – to decide they’ve DEIGNED to give us our rights (because rights are things we vote on and decide whether or not you can have, right?) so now they’re going to go around wearing rainbows. It’s appropriating a symbol that represents a struggle that you HAVE SIMPLY NOT BEEN THROUGH. You have NO NEED for this symbol. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
“Surely if we’re asking for equality, that’s [setting up a division] a pretty counterproductive move.. We can’t say that ‘gay marriage’ is just ‘marriage’ but still retain whatever arbitrary symbols we think are cool.”
– Will Popplewell on the rainbow flag.
Woah. Woah. Woah. The rainbow flag is not an arbitrary symbol and its use is not simply because we think it’s cool. Woah. The pink and black triangles are not worn because it’s hip.
Throughout history symbols become representative of a movement, of a belief system and of a culture. They become steeped in history, in tradition. There’s a reason that it’s illegal in many countries to wear or display a swastika. It’s because symbols have power. They aren’t arbitrary. They mean something.
And before I’m shouted down using Godwin’s Law – this is relevant. Popplewell jokes about gays being hunted down and locked up. The rainbow flag is a direct descendant of the pink and black triangles, the symbols gay men and women were forced to wear as they prepared to be slaughtered during the Holocaust.
They say a picture paints a thousand words – a symbol? How many?
Popplewell argues that straight allies rainbowing up is ‘a symbol of inclusion, not appropriation’ – but no. Straight allies aren’t magically included in LGBT just by wearing rainbow colours. That’s literally what appropriation means.
Appropriation (verb): The action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission
And this really gets to the crux of the matter. Saying that straight allies are appropriating this symbol doesn’t necessarily mean saying “Hey you, you can’t ever wear a rainbow!” It’s calling a spade a spade. Wearing a rainbow in this instance is something you are doing FOR YOURSELF. A straight person changing their profile picture has been touted as an act of support. I disagree. I see it as an act of self congratulation, self-promotion – an ad campaign for the self. The rainbow pictures alone don’t benefit gay people, – if anything I found them confusing and alienating. Just after Pride, I saw my News Feed bursting with rainbows, a symbol of my comrades, my fellow queers fighting to show their identities in a world that so often forces us to hide them. I was ecstatic. “‘Wow, I had no idea that *name* was queer!’ ‘Wow, and *name*?! I’m so happy for them!’ ‘Wait – I know *name* isn’t queer… In fact, they’re often downright homophobic. What? What is going on?!’”
My status was not only an expression of frustration and possessiveness of a queer symbol, but an expression of the expectation that this ‘support’ from many straight people is only going to be temporary and in the specific, useless format that these people chose to adopt to engage with the LGBT movement. Many of the people changing their pictures are simply following a trend, and do not do enough in their own lives to warrant claiming allyship.
There will be a time, not too far from now, when the rainbow profile pictures will cease, when straight people will go back to their straight lives and as long as queer people ‘stay normal – as long as they get married and have a picket fence like us and aren’t DIFFERENT’, we will once again be allowed to exist. Tolerated. Heaven forbid we be trans, non-binary, polyamorous, black, bisexual, disabled, childless, women, fat, kinky, angry, butch, femme or unmarried.
We didn’t get our rights from ‘being ourselves’ or showing people we were “normal humans” or would “care for […] children”. Stonewall. The Compton’s Cafeteria. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The struggle is real and the struggle is ongoing. It took people, fighting tooth and nail – people who wore these symbols, our symbols with both power and Pride.
This symbol has power, yes. It’s a power that us queers have used for decades, and this new movement weakens and destablises it. Closeted queers with homophobic families and friends, watching helplessly as their straight counterparts flaunt their profile pictures in a way they can only ever dream of. Baby gays, terrified to have a tiny rainbow pin, a tiny symbol that They Might Not Be Straight – I’ve still not been brave enough to attend a Pride parade, 6 years after coming out to myself, and 5 months after coming out publicly – it gets lost, drowned out by this screaming, caterwauling of the straight ally happily covered head to toe in colours they have fought no battle to be wearing.
To be territorial means something. The OED defines it as ‘defending an area against intruders esp. of the same species’. It means standing up for something that belongs to you. The gay struggle belongs to gay people. Gay identity belongs to gay people. GAY ISSUES belong to GAY PEOPLE. I have no idea why Popplewell felt the need to put ‘gay issues’ in quote marks, like they don’t really belong to us any more. This is exactly what makes me so furious about this situation. Because it’s almost like they don’t.
Straight allies never had that personal struggle for recognition that we have – just because they were straight. The white cis ones always had their rights to marriage, no vote required. They got their relationships recognised in law and socially – they had examples of the kind of relationships they wanted to grow up and have shown and taught to them from birth. They have the world designed for their relationships. There are not countries they can’t live in or travel to for fear of getting imprisoned or killed for who they are and who they love. They get all this, and I’m happy for them.
But goddamnit, we get the rainbows.
http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/ – NB. This article explains cultural appropriation with regards to race; while many of the points raised about appropriation are relevant and comparable to the gay struggle and queer appropriation, others are unique to the experiences and struggles of BME people.
http://community.pflag.org/document.doc?id=139 – How to be an ally – PFLAG resource
Jennifer Green is a queer, Jewish, disabled, neurodivergent, white, British, English-speaking, working/lower middle class activist living in Cambridge with their partner. They are both graciously permitted to share a living space with the Cat, Dexter.