Life Beyond The Rainbow
I’m writing this blog in memory of Gilbert Baker (above) who died aged 65 over the weekend. The artist based in San Francisco in 1978 created the rainbow flag as a symbol for the gay community.
Gilbert Baker’s original flag had eight colours, each representing a different aspect of humanity, to convey the idea of diversity and inclusion:
- Pink – sexuality
- Red – life
- Orange – healing
- Yellow – sunlight
- Green – nature
- Turquoise – art
- Indigo – harmony
- Violet – human spirit
The first hand sewn flag version flew on 25th June Gay Freedom Day in San Francisco and now flown at every Pride around the world. Now reflecting on the original eight colours I wonder where our gay community is today? One of my specialisms for the last eighteen years has been working around the themes of Gender, Sexuality & Sexual Expression. I wonder whether Gilbert Baker was preparing the LGBTQAI community for what brought us together. The fight or fighting for equal rights. The height of the AIDS epidemic that harnessed every aspect of the rainbow and brought us together. As the world, out there certainly did not support us, when our friends, our partners and our lovers were dying.
Thankfully that rainbow does bring us together for celebration of every kind of love at events across the world such as Pride. That rainbow and all its colours, means a lot to people that come to my therapy room who are still developing their understanding of gender, sexuality or sexual expression. But where is our community’s support for those now ageing and ageing with HIV? Where is our community’s support for the Trans community, after all these are the people that brought us our freedoms? Or the Black African Minority Ethnic community? As the orange colour also makes the statement for healing to happen, and unifies the activist agendas of the LGBT community with those of Black Lives Matter and justice for Black people.
The term “the other” comes from phenomenology. The term embodies “the other human being”, in their subjective differences from “the self” (me or you), in terms of our collective differences, in terms of how they see themselves in the world and how the world acknowledges them and all their facets.
A recent experience as a therapist in an organisation outside of the LGBT community, made me realise that we haven’t got equality yet and organisations still need support when dealing with issues of diversity. I reported some ignorant and homophobic comments I had been witness to, to the organisation, and they just thought giving the colleague a good telling off was enough to resolve the issue. I discussed this with my external supervisor, my wise owl that I discuss client work with, and they told me that my experience of being “othered” made me hyper vigilant when seeing the interaction in front of my eyes. I knew I needed to separate my stuff from the organisation, but this did not make the organisation feel any safer for me and posed me with a big question, that if I don’t feel safe how am I meant to make clients feel safe? Shortly afterwards I left. Sadly, the organisation did not allow me to provide the clients a therapeutic ending.
Homophobia still does happen, I hear about it all the time from clients that sit in the therapy chair. I also hear about how we treat “the other” within the LGBT community, be it Racism, Sexism, Islamophobia or Anti-Semitism. I saw Susie Orbach (British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and social critic), speak recently and she managed to remind me why I still do the jobs in and out of the therapy room that I do, that my responsibility is to be an agent for change. In my work, I try to harness every aspect of the rainbow to do just that!
The LGBT and wider community and how we treat “the other” still startles me. We only need to read the headlines or watch the television to know how the mass media treats “the other”. I worry that we are becoming a society of positive discrimination and whilst I try to keep my politics outside of the therapy room, the client comes to us in therapy to meet with another human being and unconsciously asks us where we sit all the time.
When a client (or supervisee) comes into my therapy room they bring themselves, their experience of their family or carer, culture, community and the world at large. More and more the clients that I see in the therapy room are coming as part of their journey of wanting to bring all their “other” parts together to become a whole thinking and feeling integrated person. And wherever they place themselves on that rainbow and even if they don’t, I hope they meet every aspect and colour of humanity, and of that rainbow in my therapy room.
RIP Gilbert Baker and thank-you for the rainbow!