Content warning: The following poem tells of a survivor's experience of what it is like to exist as a Queer Trans Latinx human being, as well connecting their experiences to the lives of those lost in the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.
"I Know the Red in the Rainbow," by Califa Torres
Yesterday, my family sent me a photo of them at a Pulse Orlando Vigil.
I am Queer. I am Trans. I am Latinx. And seeing this picture, I was overwhelmed.
As my mother was holding a homemade sign that read “We Are Orlando; Somos Orlando”
I was 1,457 miles away from them, alone and crying.
I’m trying to process my emotions, and I’m reminded of my pain from coming out.
My mind flashes back to laying on the cold wooden floor in my room, still but the salty tears running across my face—
With a rainbow belt in arms reach.
I laid there for 40 minutes, until my mother found me and carried me onto my bed.
The last time she came into my room, she firmly told me that my “lesbian lover” was not welcome in our house anymore.
And that’s when I broke down, both my body and my spirit.
My rainbow belt was my symbol of pride.
And at that dark time, I desired to use it to end my pride—to end my pain.
My belt laid there still, like me,
And I stared at the red in the rainbow.
Staring at the red in the rainbow, I saw my blood.
It was the blood that was to come from my neck, and it was the blood that I shared with my mother. It was the blood my mother lost birthing me. And it was the blood that soon boiled in my mother, causing me to become homeless.
The red in the rainbow was my heart, beating in my chest as I lay seeming lifeless, although I could not feel it pounding inside me during my numbness.
It was the heart made within my mother’s womb.
The heart she nurtured for 19 years up until that moment.
The red in the rainbow was the heart she helped grow inside of me, showing me how to love, unconditionally, or so I had thought until that night, existing in my tears.
I saw the red in the rainbow, and I saw my pain. I saw my anger, that I had been so proud to be me, spending most of my time advocating for my LGBTQ community, recognizing my privilege that I had a family and home unlike many of my Queer and Trans siblings, only to realize at that moment, that I actually did not. I became a number in the LGBT homeless youth statistic.
I know the red in the rainbow.
I saw the red a year and a half later, at rainbow graduation, where I had the largest and loudest family present, among them my mother.
I remembered the red again five years later, at my wedding, reciting my vows to my “lesbian lover” in front of my mother.
I know the red in the rainbow, and I saw it again, 6 years later, on the sign my mother made and brought to a vigil honoring 49 slain and beautiful souls who looked like me.
I was overwhelmed, feeling that my family’s presence at this vigil was them showing their support for me. Seeing me.
I was overwhelmed, thinking these kind of mourning moments are exactly why my mother was so hurt when I came out; the life she had expected for me did not involve facing discrimination, hate, and murder. And for that she mourned, as the world mourned for
Stanley Almodovar III
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Antonio Davon Brown
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Luis Daniel Conde
Cory James Connell
Tevin Eugene Crosby
Deonka Deidra Drayton
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez
Leroy Valentin Fernandez
Mercedez Marisol Flores
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Juan Ramon Guerrero
Paul Terrell Henry
Miguel Angel Honorato
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Akyra Monet Murray
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera
Joel Rayon Paniagua
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Enrique L. Rios, Jr.
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan,
Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Shane Evan Tomlinson
Martin Benitez Torres,
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega,
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez
Luis S. Vielma
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
Jerald Arthur Wright
I know the red in the rainbow, and I will never forget it.
About the art:
In discussing this piece with Califa Torres (a pseudonym), they made it clear that there was one specific inspiration to their overall existence in the world and that is Queen Califia.
They gave me the following quote to demonstrate the influence of the Queen on their life:
"Know that on the right hand from the Indies exists an island called California very close to a side of the Earthly Paradise; and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there, because they lived in the way of the Amazons. They had beautiful and robust bodies, and were brave and very strong. Their island was the strongest of the World, with its cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they were accustomed to taming so that they could be ridden, because there was no other metal in the island than gold." -García Ordóñez de Montalvo in Las Sergas de Esplandián
So I wrote ALL of those words in the background of this painting. Next, I wanted to live up to the rainbow imagery and references in this story, so I splattered rainbow colors all over the canvas and let it all dry.
Califa let also told me that they love Disney, and that Disney films, imagery, etc, are one of the things that will always make them smile. So I created a silhouette of Mickey Mouse over the splatter and the words. And what is cool about this approach is that the white paint allows for some of the words to seep through the Mickey Mouse silhouette, which makes for a dynamic image.
I'm so thankful for Califa sharing this piece as an homage to their community, their experience, and to those who lost their lives in the Orlando shootings two weeks ago.
We will never forget.