I identify as queer.
For some people it’s a problematic word. For a lot of us who are older, it was a word we took on as our own. An act of defiance. While rainbow flag came into being in the late 70s, it wasn’t widely adopted until later. or at least anywhere I was because things like that spread slowly. At the time the one symbol that we did have — a symbol with its ties to the generation about the boomers — still a bit of a fuck you to everyone who push us down and that was the pink triangle.
It was something I could have as a patch on my jean jacket and other people got it tattooed to their skin, usually hidden under clothes because you couldn’t show a hint of being out if you weren’t living certain communities. And those communities were few and far between.
Being anything but heterosexual was dangerous, often deadly. And when I entered high school, the AIDS epidemic hit. I think it’s funny they call it an epidemic because it really wasn’t anything short of a horror show. The beginnings of open non-hetero exploration and outwardly celebrating the queerness connecting us was shattered. Countless men were given a death sentence by hateful people who justified the mounting fatalities as what “they deserved” for being gay. We heard a lot of “God hates fags” and “this is the gays’ plague”.
There were small pockets of community where we could gather and kind of party to forget what was outside of those walls. We all had our havens. Even in Hawai’i. Back then Hula’s was a makeshift bar/dance club next to Hamburger Mary’s. It really didn’t have walls but mostly was a chain-link fence with bamboo panels to keep out prying eyes and a canopy of trees strung with fairy lights. I remember going there periodically with a bunch of my underaged friends (well, so was I) because drinking age was 18 back then and let’s face it, nobody was checking IDs. It was where we could go and laugh and be open for a little while. But some of the faces grew gaunt and disappeared. I think in a lot of ways it was our Holocaust. Probably not too appropriate that word but I don’t know another phrase I could use. It was like losing people to a game of Russian roulette. I suppose actually maybe a better phrasing would be our Squid Game? I don’t know.
What I do know is the disease was weaponized in so many ways and an already disenfranchised, estranged part of society was now left condemned further and being torn apart from within. We were abandoned by the government — the president at that time was Reagan — and Christian facism was the mainstream ideology.
We had no rights. Longtime partners were denied their place next to their dying loved ones and many of the dead were stripped of their personality and souls to be buried by the people who hated them the most — their families.
Many of us were bound together by the trauma of being cast out by people who were supposed to protect us. So many of us were children. And so many of us died. The late boomers and Gen Xers lost so many of our most fiercest and brightest souls.
I think it hurt so much because it felt like we were losing our family again. And no matter how hard we cried, how desperate we were for someone to help us, not only did no one care but they celebrated our deaths.
So we kept fighting — what else were we going to do? So things changed. Some quickly. Some not. Men and women who spoke up were beaten and oppressed and killed. And we were still learning our language.
An umbrella word that covered all of us — even those of us without another word to say but we knew we were not a mainstream sexuality. We didn’t have an identity but we knew we were queer. It’s not everyone’s word. Not now. We have so many now. But back then… it was all some of us had.
It was our word.
Here we are — again in the trenches — fighting off false Christians but with a lot more voices behind us. A lot more rights arming us. Quite a few of us still bear battle wounds and many of us still looks to a pink triangle as a symbol of who we are… Something that defined us when we had no words to do so… But the word queer fit. For me.
I think it’s a discussion that we all should have — what words we hang our souls on — and what they mean to us and why. I don’t begrudge anyone the words they found to use. Or the pronouns. I will use them to describe others. I probably use a few to describe myself.
I guess if I had to say I was one thing — it would be that I am a pink triangle queer. Because that was the first step of my journey and my first identity in this community. I do welcome the discussion of this and are probably revisited as I think more on how I feel about certain things.
But we can’t go back to the days where people tell us to hide who we are or to not use the words we say speak for us — speak about us — because I have already fought those battles and we’re back to fighting them again. But we will win this oppressive war. We are the only side with casualties. We are the only side that have been beaten to bruised and broken and death. And that will continue as long as assholes use us as the boogie man to fearmonger and control the small minded.
So no matter what symbol or word you use, use them. Fight with them. Use them for change. Use them for understanding. And remember we might all have different words we use for ourselves but we are all in this together.