Gratitude for Gilbert Baker, Maker of the Rainbow Flag Yesterday morning – sandwiched between Flag Day and the 4th of July, and in the midst of LGBT Pride Month – I was sipping coffee in my aerie-in-the-clouds and savoring a daily serving of Brain Pickings only to be captured by a writing on the rapturous read more..
Yesterday morning – sandwiched between Flag Day and the 4th of July, and in the midst of LGBT Pride Month – I was sipping coffee in my aerie-in-the-clouds and savoring a daily serving of Brain Pickings only to be captured by a writing on the rapturous Gilbert Baker (aka “the gay Betsy Ross”) which includes a recording of an interview on how he tapped into the flow of the international queer community to unearth the foremost symbol of the sky-high “big, long rainbow” – that ever-present, very varied gay essence, so often just under the surface, that is as within us as it was before us and may remain after our earth-bound time as people has passed.
I got (and encourage you to get) lost in a series of discoveries about the evolution of LGBT Pride and Mr. Baker’s personal resolution to proud, communal revolution.
It was as an impoverished, high-heel-wearing seamstress in 1970s San Francisco that this harmonious homo followed his internal compass and took to designing her own clothing for drag performances. Gilbert would be called upon to employ his glittery sensibility and propensity for magic-manufacturing with fabric to stitch and stain banners to protest wartime losses and appeal to gay rights gains. A testament to life being but a bubbling of synchronous abundance, this countercultural force came into the gay liberation movement sidewise and guided the global current to wisen us to a widening of our vision to an all-inclusive progression beyond the bounds of processions and parades.
Straddling a new millennium, bedraggled and addled by a forested, fundamentalist upbringing, and enrolled as a freshman at Western Michigan University in an epic epoch of spectacle and splendor in Kalamazoo, this country boy came out in what we inexperienced queers would all come to call “the little city that thinks it’s big.” In that fagged era when the pain of the past contrasted with as much as it pointed to the prospect of the present, I learned of the rainbow flag. A streak of stickers, gleefully streaked sideways, collaborating in tandem while uplifting upside down pink triangles on doors at random, I stumbled upon one closet-of-an-office that happened to be the campus’ LGBT Student Services Center. A gold-pot-of-a-find transmogrified into a covenant betwixt my all-too-human desperation and the divinity of all I could be, and be a part of, when I announced that I was “homosexual” to the straight ally and student advisor and properly parted with a past of shame and constriction and shamelessly set upon a path of expansion.
Consumed by WMU’s LGBTAQ (…) community over the four undergraduate years to follow, I served as the vice-president of OUTspoken, was a lasciviously lackadaisical lover to the middle-aged men I’d bring back to my dorm room, and counted myself as a committed questioner of anyone who felt threatened by my and my tribe’s colorful “otherness.”
The rainbow was simply present. An unquestioned symbol of celebratory solidarity. Of comfort, and newfound kinfolk. And I let my freak flag fly, all faggy and freewheeling in a free-for-all fall into the great gay unknown!
In this newly advantaged setting, I had no need of inquiring where those colors I stood by, and took for granted, originated from as I constructed my own outlandish context in a self-centered, outward-reaching search for purpose.
A decade-and-a-half after having abandoned that vigilantly – Evangelically! – closed closet in the Midwest to be accepted by an array of iridescence, today I’m in the “Center of the Universe” reading up and listening in on how that same intensely hued flag was “torn from the soul of the people” when born on America’s West Coast in free-loving response to the Stonewall Riots that had erupted seven years prior right here in New York City. This dyed and distributed display of eight, seven, then six shades of wakefulness has come to wave from sea to shining sea to slowly, slowly awaken the world at large – and, now, has reawakened me to vibrant aliveness!
And, all stirred and caffeinated, I sit here pondering how appropriate it is that the queer community’s most identifiable symbol was spurred by this quirky Kansan – this friend and neighbor of Dorothy – who, in poverty and gender play, expressed his sense of justice and accessed his sensational inclusivity during our nation’s bicentennial when his comrade, Harvey Milk, requested he fashion “something beautiful, something from us.” In Gilbert’s impassioned words, “The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in the sense of our race, our gender, all of those things, our ages… Plus, it’s a natural flag — it’s from the sky…” This resplendent lover of life consecrates his craft as activism (an example, as someone from a seemingly contradistinct generation, that speaks to me as a neophyte writer).
As a sort of sister drifter, how cheering it was when this champion of the disenfranchised and challenger of the status quo chimed in, “What the rainbow has given (queer people) is a thing that kind of connects us. I (travel) and I see a rainbow flag and I think… that’s a kindred spirit or it’s a safe place to go… It’s sort of a language onto itself… The beauty of it is the way that’s connected us, and that’s the wonder of it.”
Indeed, in viewing interviews online of a man so humbled by his own humanness that he cannot help but enlarge a heart that extends a kind of humanity that comprises all of humankind, it is encouraging to observe how someone has employed the privilege of his position and continues to embrace the anecdotal tumults of altogether different times to surpass oppression in conceiving a wordless, worldwide language via a high-flying figure for the world at large.
To identify the familiar in the foreign, and the extraordinary in the commonplace in the wondrous ways only us idiosyncratic gays can effect… I’m affected beyond measure.
And I’m emboldened to not contract in fear or in a separatist pride of self-loathing. I’m led to wonder if that other kind of pride – that love-fueled queer variety that envelopes the globe’s varying “others” – holds this potential to magnify an already kaleidoscopic definition of our multi-colored, many-sided selves in an expanding multiverse. That maybe in balancing our many talents we can play our unique part in the healing of the whole in a collective act of connective self-worth in allowing for uncertainty and arriving at ourselves.
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