Reading (Too Much Into The) Rainbow

Why Are Some Of Us So Uncomfortable With Rainbow Flags?

Every once in a while, I encounter people with whom I have a fair amount in common when it comes to our ideological or political vantage points. We may have a similar interest in preserving the US Constitution, as written. We might get a kick out of how much we both hate cancel culture. We could even potentially bond over the same “conspiracy theories” — though I’m not saying which ones. Unfortunately for me, many of these people whose opinions I would otherwise be enthralled to shower with support still have an uncomfortably skewed perspective of gay people. These people are often social-conservatives and to a lesser degree libertarians, which, as I’ve implied, I can relate to in other matters of opinion.

But not, for instance, their knee-jerk response to the rainbow flag — which is considered to be the most widely recognized LGBT symbol in the world. They see the display of the flag, as well as its many reincarnations on T-shirts, jewelry, bumper stickers, you-name-it, as a public declaration of a private matter: the sexual activities preferred by the wearer of this symbol fall outside the expected norm and are likely to involve same-sex relationships.

This open display seems pointless and unnecessary to them. It causes them to wonder, often with genuine confusion, occasionally with added disgust, “Why do I need to know what this person likes in bed?”

The short answer is that they don’t.

Because it’s not intended for them.

Photo by Tim Bieler on Unsplash

According to NIHS Data, approximately 96.6% of Americans identify as straight. That leaves less than 4% for everybody else — a miniscule 1.6% of which identifies as exclusively gay or lesbian. Those numbers come out of data gathered in 2013 from a national survey of 34,557 adults aged 18 and over. Compare those statistics to the 1:10 homosexual to heterosexual ratio claimed by the late biologist Alfred Kinsey, whose controversial research and books on the study of human sexuality during the late 1940s and early 50s pioneered modern-day sexual attitudes. Kinsey got the American public to realize that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals actually existed in greater numbers than previously imagined, although he overshot by a great margin. His now superseded studies were encumbered largely by sample bias.

Even if Kinsey’s work had been accurate and a whole 10% of men were gay, in the general population finding a kindred soul would still be a challenge.

While not every gay person wants or needs to immediately be identified as gay in every situation, there are situations where, in fact, it does help if others know what your sexual orientation is.

For illustrative purposes, let’s picture a single straight man in a room full of beautiful, single women. For whatever reason, all of these women believe this poor chap is gay. Maybe it was a rumor they heard. Maybe it’s his clothes. Maybe he walks with a bit of swish. How frustrating it would be for him unless he was able to convey that he was, in fact, inclined towards women, and would be much obliged to interact. The key to breaking the spell, here, is if the females become aware that the male likes the females.

I’m using such an absurdly hypothetical example intentionally, as I hoped to bring up a collateral point — that yes, situations like the one described above would be profoundly uncommon for straight people!

Some may experience being “insiders” or “outsiders” in other ways, though. One of the most ubiquitous is the expression of the Christian faith. People use crucifixes and other religious imagery to mark their membership to a group. The Bible offers no commandment that anyone wear these symbols but they retain their appeal. It’s almost like a tribal marking, or a coat of arms. A way to identify those people and places most likely to be hospitable towards you, or if push comes to shove, those who would defend you. And so it is with the rainbow flag, in a sense. The rainbow flag can help put one at ease or suggest the possibility of friendship or more. I never wear one because I’m a cynic when it comes to dating anyway, but I never fault the people who do.

It would be an exaggeration to say that being straight is enough to land a date every time. Many straight men and woman are chronically single and attract only losers when they aren’t.

Gays and lesbians endure similar banalities, stacked on top of ridiculously poor odds of meeting someone who is even physically capable of being with them. Even when a gay man goes to the gayest of venues with a rainbow flag on the door and Lady Gaga music playing at call-the-cops volume, does that guarantee him finding a connection? No. Especially if those places freak you out and you leave right away.

When a straight man goes to a not-gay club, that does not guarantee him access to a woman either. What it does offer is the relatively safe bet that the women around him are attracted to men, because the data overwhelmingly supports it. Any bar, lounge, club, entertainment venue, etc. not specifically marked as gay will likely yield a consistent demographic, wherein LGBT are an extreme minority, if present at all. There is no need, whatsoever, for any sort of heterosexual compass to lead straight people to one another. Showing off your ‘straight pride’ is perfectly fine, in theory, but just a mite redundant because you’re probably already doing it. Unless you’re that dude (or chick) who everyone thinks is gay.

So how might a straight person get the idea that by displaying a rainbow flag or other conspicuous indicator, that LGBT people want to “boast” about, or “shove down straight people’s throats” the aberrant nature of their sexual preferences?

Honestly speaking, I don’t doubt that some gays and lesbians probably like it when you think about it. Call it an exhibition fetish if you will. My defense is cliché, but bares repeating: this is neither encompassing of nor unique to the LGBT population. There is a ton of gay pornography, and even more straight pornography. There are lots of gay strip clubs, but yet there are way more ‘regular’ strip clubs. There are lots of crazy, revealing and bizarre costumes for gay men, but yet who can ignore the vastly profitable lingerie industry making sexy and revealing clothes for women, to be admired by men, both in the privacy of their bedrooms and on the runway at fashion shows. Symbols of heterosexuality are embedded everywhere in our daily lives, even if they don’t explicitly make one think of having sex.

In 2020 as I write this, it could be a lot worse for LGBTs. I’m not ungrateful for how much more accepted I feel now than I did growing up as a gay teenager in the 90s and early 2000s, but free speech continues to be a two-way street. When someone nags the LGBT community about their “in your face” rainbow flag and other symbols of pride, the LGBT community has the right to nag them back and remind them that the flag really isn’t there for them anyway. And if a business has a rainbow flag outside and you don’t want a rainbow flag in your face, you then take your face somewhere else — that’s the beauty of the free market.

Most people are thankfully not bona fide, diagnosable pathological narcissists, but I have found that humans are fundamentally prone to narcissistic attitudes from time to time. That is, we have our moments of thinking the world revolves around us, assuming events which have little to do with us are somehow directed towards us. It’s so easy and so human to make that error without even realizing it, until someone points it out with a bit of grace and offers some less egocentric yet plausible explanation.

In conclusion, LGBT use symbols and clues to guide them towards places and people where and with whom they may best fit in, and have the best chances of relationship success. A common thread in virtually all of human existence is the desire to find a place of belonging, to be love and be loved… and for some, a rainbow may just help lead them to it.

Henry is an avid reader, writer, composer, and consumer of documentary films. He supports dialogue about mental health, race relations, and the LGBTQ community.

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