[Next Tuesday, September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia is sponsoring "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at 6:30 pm at Congregation Beth Ahabah, 1111 West Franklin Street, in Richmond. I will be offering some color-themed blog posts over the next few days to help us get ready for this celebration, and the celebration of Virginia Pride on Saturday, September 28, at Kanawha Plaza, in Richmond.]
Turquoise. Why did Gilbert Baker choose turquoise as one the eight colors of the original rainbow flag for the gay rights movement in 1978? There may be some answers in what follows, but after reading short biographies about Baker and more about the flag, I imagine he was just trying to capture the range of people in what we now know as the LGBT community. Baker is quoted in the 2007 book “The American Flag, Two Centuries of Conflict and Concord” saying “Flags are torn from the soul of the people.” I think he got that right in 1978 (with one exception, which I will discuss tomorrow).
Gilbert Baker with the 8-color rainbow flag
I am glad he did include turquoise, because a deeper shade, called teal, is one of my three favorite colors. My first memory of turquoise, teal really, was a dress my sister wore to a fancy party–it was a sort of satin, sleeveless affair, very sexy. I was probably about seven and I can still remember when she took it out of the closet. I was in heaven just seeing it (someone should have told me then that I was gay!). And my former wife loved her birthstone, turquoise. I delighted in buying some pieces for her.
But it is only in the past five years or so that I have begun to claim it as a very favorite color. There is a book which I cherish, “When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple.” My version is, “When I Am an Old Man, I Shall Wear Teal” (I have worn purple a long time). I guess that makes me an old man–even though I intend and hope to live a long time yet.
Jennifer Bourne, a creative person who writes about color (and especially as it is used in advertising and mass communication), says that turquoise is “a blend of the color blue and the color green, has some of the same cool and calming attributes. The color turquoise is associated with meanings of refreshing, feminine, calming, sophisticated, energy, wisdom, serenity, wholeness, creativity, emotional balance, good luck, spiritual grounding, friendship, love, joy, tranquility, patience, intuition, and loyalty.”
The parts about sophistication, feminine, energy, creativity, intuition, and joy sound traditionally, even stereotypically, “gay.”
And many Native American people claim turquoise as spiritually healing, bringing together water and air, promoting a clearer movement of energy and healing.
So why no turquoise in today’s flag? The history of the flag (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_flag_(LGBT_movement) is that after hot pink was dropped and the number of colors became seven, it was more difficult to display the flag fully hanging from poles (the middle stripe was obscured by the pole). The decision was made to use an even number of stripes, so turquoise was dropped. But why turquoise? Why not drop green or yellow or orange, for example?
Palette for “subtractive color mixing”
I knew turquoise was not a primary color, but I became unsure which colors are considered primary. I thought I knew from childhood talk and school art classes–red, yellow, green, and blue, plus orange and purple that are made from combining two primary colors, which are of course the six colors of today’s rainbow flag–but it turns out there are lots of theories involving this and actually the definition of primary colors depends on what media you are using. It did not take long for me to become overwhelmed with information and theory! You can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_color . Maybe your mind works better with all this than mine. I am a simple theologian, pastor, sometime poet, and community organizer,
That does not mean, however, that I am unhappy engaging in this research. Not at all. I love color–am known for wearing colorful socks, for example–and the more time I can spend with color the happier I am. And color clearly is a “gay” thing, and by that I mean largely gay men. That is not to say that lesbian women and transgender folk, and certainly bisexuals, oppose color. And I know non-LGBT people who like color, too. There are many colorful people in each group. But so many gay men choose to wear colors, bright colors, deep colors, strong and vibrant colors.
More straight men seem to want to stick to basic blue, black, and brown–of course blue and brown can be bright, but so often they are subdued shades.
I know I am dealing in gross stereotypes here. For example, my husband, gay as they come, has an underdeveloped sense of color. So I know there are exceptions. As a friend once told me, “Not all lesbians wear Birkenstocks, and not all women who wear Birkenstocks are lesbians.”
So, why turquoise? Because it is a beautiful, vibrant if soothing, color. And is different, not just blue or just green. Maybe that is like LGBT folks. We are not just L or G or B or T, and even within these categories we are a range, a combination of attributes. At various points in my life, I have worn long, dangly earrings–the kind you are more likely to buy in the women’s jewelry department than n some piercing palace for men. That has caused more than one person to ask me about my gender. Some have assumed I identify as transgender.
I am male, a gay male, who likes earrings, big ones, small ones, but especially earrings that dangle from my ears. It is, I think, part of my maleness, which is a range of gender. Indeed, I am not really male, I am Robin. Sure, I have what are considered male body parts, but they are not the only things that shape me. My inner spirit is bigger than that, it is more of a range. Indeed, perhaps, as some gender theorists say, my gender is Robin. Certainly, my gender expression is my own.
And that may be the story with turquoise. It is its own color that is a combination of colors. Besides, it looks nice between green and indigo, its neighbors on the original rainbow flag. It may be as simple as that.
Whatever happened, I miss turquoise. The rainbow is better with turquoise, certainly it is less without it.