Flags are incredible...
After the election in 2016, I read an interesting think-piece. An artist posed the following thought experiment to me: Picture yourself driving. You pull up to a stoplight, behind a pickup truck. The truck is covered in American flag bumper stickers and decals. What's your first response?
I rolled my eyes and internally thought, "Ugh, those people." The writer continued: Did you roll your eyes? Did you shake your head at "those people?" Why? What bothered you about the truck?
Were you annoyed that the flag was flying bright and bold? the author asked. Do you feel that the conservative movement has co-opted the flag for their own purposes?
Well that's not fair.
It takes two to tango here. Sure, conservatives use flag imagery often, but you also shy away from it.
You do. You think the flag is tacky, you think it stands for "those people" but not you. And that's not fair of you, the flag stands for everyone.
Well, so what am I supposed to do?
Embrace the flag. Seriously. Wear it as often as you can. As an artist in America, as a queer person in America, the most subversive and important thing you can do is embrace the flag. Because it really does stand for all of us, but we've let our presence slip. We're all complicit in the myth that our flag only represents "those people."
So I did. And it was great. I wore an American flag lapel pin nearly every day on some item of clothing. And it started some great conversations. Friends and family who knew my political point of view asked things like, "why are you wearing the flag?," and strangers who knew nothing about me assumed I was on their side, whatever that means. Sometimes people would shyly ask me, "did something happen? Is it an important memorial today?" as if they had missed the memo on a catastrophic event.
And every one of those conversations was worthwhile. Each time I spoke about the flag, I had another opportunity to reiterate the way I love this country. Each time I was questioned about my wearing of such stately symbolism, I had a chance to express my gratitude for the flag. I was grateful for the invisibility the flag bestowed upon me. It subsumed my other identities, and there is power in that invisibility, in that uniformity.
Tacked to my lapel, the pin made a Trojan Horse of my body, allowing me to slip into the confidence of self-proclaimed Americans, giving me the opportunity to earn their trust before, during, and after a difficult conversation was had.
But after a year of patriotic invisibilty, I craved for the opposite: American Visibility. I wanted a symbol that was specifically apparent, an image that showed off my Queerness as well as my Americanness. I didn't want to sneak into these conversations anymore, I wanted to wear my two identities side-by-side, no trickery, just pride. The pink triangle has long stood as an emblem of our community (after, of course, being used to shame and segregate us), so that seemed like an obvious choice. But integrating it into the flag was a challenge.
Our American flag has both intrinsic and extrinsic meaning. There is symbolism to be found in the individual numbers of stripes and stars, as well as in the flag as a whole unit. And if I was going to incorporate its color and shape scheme into my design, then the image needed to have similar intrinsic and extrinsic meanings,
Hundreds of iterations brought me here, to this image.
I settled on the pentagon as a bordering shape because it's so often found in nature (okra, flower petals, etc.) and is also understood as a representation of American strength and defense. I chose one stripe for each of the five letters in LGBTQ, and three stars to represent our past, present, and future. The pink triangle stands bold and central, it is not separate from the flag, but rather, wrapped into the imagery.
This is a declaration of interdependence. Show up. Be present. Be visible. Be counted!