"The naming of cats is a difficult matter; it isn't just one of your holiday
-- T.S. Eliot
I'm an English-type person, academically. Specifically, a rhetorician. Words, meanings of words, communication, understanding - these are what I do for a living. I tend to think about symbols a lot -- what they're saying, who they're saying it to, how the message gets received, and so on. These days, "who gets to name" is a hot topic in the Academy, though the issue isn't news to the LGBT population. It's also an issue with new meaning for me, as I start to come out.
What follows isn't in any way a critique of others' use of symbols; it's a purely subjective ramble, way down at the personal level. If it gets you to re-examine your symbology, be more aware of the symbols you do choose to use - great. Then this page has some reason for being here. Otherwise, to be perfectly blunt, it's just me blowing wind.
|Let's start with the pink triangle. As a symbol, it's pretty
respectable. It has a meaningful history behind it, and is pretty
well-recognized by now. But when you wear a symbol, you both identify
with a group and lay claim to a portion of that group's heritage. I'm
not comfortable with that second part, personally - I haven't suffered
persecution (yet), haven't had to deal with the issues that the majority
of gay men have had to deal with. I'd feel like a minor-league ballplayer
wearing the major-league team's warm-up jacket.
Also, the mono-color triangle is pretty emphatic and boundary-setting - you're a gay male, or you're not. No room for negotiation, here. I can respect that, but it's not where I'm at, personally. I don't like hard-and-fast binaries, as a rule.
|So, what about the rainbow traingle? Better, certainly - more inclusive, for one thing. But it still seems to me to be a pretty static symbol. Maybe it's those sharp angles, I don't know. (Maybe I just don't like triangles. Papa Freud? Any comment?)|
|The Pride Flag, then? I can work with this one... symbolically,
it has a lot of good stuff going for it. It has connotations of a nation
of diversity, all banded together... unity, all that good stuff. In
a sneaky way, it subconsciously appropriates patriotic good-feeling. The
one problem is, believe it or not, some folks still don't know what the rainbow
stripes mean. My landlady, for example, told me that she nearly put
one on her car, thinking the rainbow was rather spiffy - until her boyfriend
explained what it meant.
Symbols don't always mean what we think they do; not everyone gets it. The Pride Flag is becoming more and more recognized for what we want it to - but to some people, a rainbow is just a rainbow. Beyond the Pride Flag, the more esoteric you get, the fewer people that will get the message.
One final comment - trivial, of course, but what the hey : 6 primary colors in one symbol? Unless you wear black, white, grey or beige, the rainbow is guaranteed to clash with something you're wearing. You'd think this issue would have been addressed by now...
|This one I like... though I've so far only seen it one place: the Bi the Way site (see below). Inclusive, simple, aesthetically balanced, very easily understandable by just about everyone.|
|We've got such a bewildering array of symbols in this community, it's easy to forget sometimes that it's a giant code, and a pretty incomprehensible code at times, especially to newcomers. Early on, while I was still working on admitting to myself that maybe I was bi, after all, I tentatively asked a friend of mine about the set of rainbow-colored rings she was wearing as a necklace. I got a sub-zero stare as a response, and the cold shoulder from her and her friends the rest of the evening. I got the impression that I ought to already know what those rings were - and if I didn't, then I was obviously The Enemy, a closed-minded Republican. I felt kind of hurt, since I sort of knew what the rings might mean; I just didn't know exactly. I still don't know what a lot of the symbols I run across might mean; I usually try to pick it up from context, rather than ask. When symbology turns opaque, becomes some sort of secret code, I think we're missing something. Symbols are meant to communicate, not exclude.|
|So here's what I came up with - a rainbow yin-yang. I'm not saying this symbol works for everyone, but it works for me, and expresses what I want to express about where I am with my sexuality right now. It recognizes that everything is in constant motion; there is no static state. (I started realizing I was attracted to men at age 27; that alone makes me leery of making permanent statements.) It also is somewhat inclusive - the old yin-yang statement of "there's some yin in every yang, and vice-versa". It's not perfect, but it'll do for now.|
LGBT Graphics Resources on the Web:
Bi the Way : A very nice site, mainly about bisexual issues, but with a very inclusive graphics library. Most of the graphics on this page come from their site; definitely worth a look.
Pride Gifs : A collection of animated GIFs, ranging from waving pride flags to strobing lines; some of the animations are pretty smooth, so the usual annoyance of gratutious animation is kept low.
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. This page last updated August 20th, 1999