This piece talks about how the colours of the rainbow flag reflect upon crucial junctures in the life of a LGBTQ+ person.
Life is a strange phenomenon, an uncharted journey with several twists and turns. This journey is different for each but each journey is incredible and worthwhile. Since childhood, we are told to embark on this journey according to some standard ‘guidelines’. These guidelines do help us grow and make our lives easier. But often they become so overbearing that they cage our essential being and we are forced to fight for who we are.
LGBTQ+ community has been fighting for their recognition, rights and acceptance since many decades now. From the 1969 Stonewall Uprising to over 100 countries of the world decriminalizing homosexuality, the LGBT social movement has grown stupendously. The LGBT social movements began as a response to years of persecution at the hands of the church, state and medical authorities. The condemnation of homosexuality or deviance from established gender roles/dress was communicated through public trials, exile, and medical warnings. These paths of persecution not only entrenched homophobia for centuries—but also, in a way alerted the populace to the existence of ‘difference’. By the 20th century, the movement started taking shape and since then it has never looked back. From pride parades and organized activism to representation in positions of power, the movement has grown and has developed its own community, literature, signs and symbols, etc.
One of the most interesting symbols of the LGBTQ+ movement is the rainbow flag. Proudly waved at pride parades and displayed to show solidarity to the movement, each colour of the rainbow flag has a meaning. But if you look closely into the lives of LGBTQ+ folks, the flag symbolizes various stages from their lives as well. Here’s decoding their journey through the colours of the rainbow –
Lilac and blue of fathoming Identity
This phase is not fun at all. Clouds of confusion, anxiety, denial and emotional distress gather around as one tries to come to terms with one’s ‘lilac of spirit’. A spirit or identity that does not behave as heterosexual, but still tries to force into its place in the closet. So, many seek out information online or through reading or friends and slowly, manifest their true selves. But self – discovery is not enough as what must follow is identity acceptance. By being one with the self, a serene wind blows away those distressing clouds and one gets enjoy the clear blue sky of what their true identity is.
Harvansh, a student, shares his experiences of this stage in the following words, “Right from when I was very little, I always felt different from the boys of my age group. At that age I couldn’t say what the “different” thing in me was. I always ignored it and focused on my studies and music.
I was popular in my school for my music and other cultural activities, so everybody knew me. Though it felt good being known and praised by others, it also brought a lot of bad encounters. Some of my seniors would taunt me for my hand gestures, the way I walked and stuff. It bothered me a little but I never cared. All I could think, to make a sense out it, was that I was a good boy and they were the bullies. After high school, I joined a coaching centre to prepare for the college entrance exams. There were few guys whom I found very attractive; at this point of time I was still unaware of my sexuality. I thought that I was impressed by their personalities or their dressing sense, so I ignored it again. I joined an engineering college and it was far away from my home. As I got some alone time, I wasn’t afraid of being seen or heard by anyone. So after many years of thinking and ignoring; I started googling, youtubing and it took me a while to find out I’m not alone. This has happened to many others and this is normal – this is my sexuality. I had finally understood that ‘different’ thing in me.
And then I realized why it took me so long to figure this out – the fear, the homophobic experiences, the “how a boy should act” attitude of the society had led me to suppress my sexual attraction towards boys. It wasn’t easy at all to accept my sexuality; I had to go through months of sadness, silence, fear, anxiety, anger and what not. But finally I got comfortable with it, happily. I met a lot of people talked to them about their experiences and coming out. I started coming out to my friends, and they accepted me with all the love. I came out to my sisters, and now we are much closer. But the most difficult one was when I came out to myself; when I said the words ‘ I am GAY AF’.”
Natural Green of disclosing to others
After accepting and integrating identity, there comes the innate desire or even need of disclosing or sharing it with close friends and family. Coming out is a life – long process and not easy. Whether one has come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity, or are still thinking about it, it can be difficult to deal with on your own. There comes a point where one needs to talk about it with someone, to get support or simply get it off one’s chest. Coming out is the most natural stage as the person is able to share with others who they are and what is important to them, rather than having to hide or lie about their identity. Confronting the assumption that everyone is “straight” and also the discrimination, homophobic and transphobic attitudes along the way, allows the person to develop as an individual, allows for greater empowerment, and makes it easier for an individual to develop a positive self-image. Every LGBTQ+ person has their own, unique story of coming out(s), some are good and others are bad. Yet, each story has the natural virtues of courage, self – love and honesty ingrained in it.
Fighting discrimination with the power of yellow and orange
The heterosexual standards have been so deeply imprinted on our minds that anything else seems disturbingly unnatural. Even though there is evidence of homosexual activity and same-sex love, whether accepted or persecuted, in every documented culture, the dualism of modernity which teaches to see everything as yes or no, right or left, man or woman; gets the better of us. As a result, LGBTQ+ people across the world have to go through pervasive discrimination that negatively impacts all aspects of their lives. Due to a range of factors such as discrimination, isolation and homophobia, they are forced to make from subtle to profound changes to their everyday lives in order to minimize the risk of experiencing discrimination, often hiding their authentic selves. Being pushed back to the closet leads to members of the LGBTQ+ community being more likely to experience a range of mental health problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and alcohol and substance misuse.
The gentle yellow rays of the sun shine equally on everyone, without prejudice and without hate. Likewise, one should never let the slurs, the stares, the injustices to prevail over our right to live full, equal, and authentic lives and let the calming orange glow heal the scars and give more power.
Vibrant red of community building and activism
Discrimination and scorn can pull anyone down. But when you know there are others out there who go through the same things and that there is a community of people who are more than welcoming to your identity, there ignites a new kind of life force that is comforting and empowering. In the space that the community creates, one also engages in education and dialogue and from there, emerges in the individual the impetus to engage oneself in activism and fight for the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are very important components of who I am as a person, but they are not all of what defines me and it certainly does not justify any kind of discrimination towards me. Resolving to take up ‘red as life force’, one joins the activism for equal rights, respect and recognition.
Talking about LGBTQ+ community and the future of activism, Pankaj, a law student, says, “’Queerness’ isn’t some acquired trait that is almost always influenced by the social environment around us. But, by not implementing ‘queer education’ in school curriculum, our system is essentially depriving everybody the ability to understand themselves and the social differences and injustices in our society and thereby, increasing the probabilities of young, impressionable LGBTQIA+ youth to engage in unsafe practices which includes misguided activism on social media platforms and mental disorientation. As a part of the community, I personally feel that there is an incumbent need to educate ourselves in the fluidity of gender. Also, I think I would be too shallow to not hold my own community accountable for the problematic things that are preached and practiced. For instance, social media dating apps like ‘Grindr’ and ‘Blued’ normalizing ‘hook-up culture’ to the extent that a whole new lot of younger LGBTQIA+ youth is asked to label their body types and preferences pertaining to their physical appearance, which further spreads body dysmorphia and just plain and unscathed hatred towards one’s own image of self. Ever since the Sept 2018 judgement, there is a lot of misinformation being spread within the community about gay rights for marriage. This is because of the sheer ignorance and neglect to educate ourselves by actually taking out the time to read the judgement and the commentary to fully comprehend the extent of the ratio decidendi of the matter. And this brings me back to my earlier appeal to have programmes in schools and colleges to meet the needs of this unfortunate gap from the “law of the land” written, pronounced, published and promulgated, to its conveyance to the general public especially, LGBTQIA+ community.”
The above stages are not linear, and don’t always unravel in the same order. We can temporarily skip stages or land in the same one twice or even discover very different meanings of the same colours. The most important thing to bear in mind is that everyone’s journey is unique and valid and never be afraid to show and celebrate your true colours.
Image Credits: DU Beat Archives