064: I Know the Red in the Rainbow

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
Amanda Alvear
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala
Antonio Davon Brown
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Juan Chevez-Martinez
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
Frank Hernandez
Miguel Angel Honorato
Javier Jorge-Reyes
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Kimberly Morris
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.

- Craig Bidiman.

060: Black & Queer

Content Warning: This post contains information about a survivor's experience as a black queer man, so those with similar experiences may find some of this content triggering.

“Black & Queer,” Ronnie Benion

Moving through the world as a Black Queer man is complicated. It is being pulled in too separate directions. It is often navigating spaces when you are either Black or Queer, but rarely ever both at the same time. It is struggling with your male identity because your Queer identity completely undermines the concept of Black masculinity. It is struggling to find self-love because you are constantly being told that you are unlovable. 

Coming out was a terrible and traumatic experience for me. I grew up in a Black Southern Baptist household. However, I believed that my relationship with my mother was so strong that it wouldn’t matter to her that at the time I was dating a guy. It killed me inside to keep it from her. I was still trying to figure things out so I came out to her via a letter. She flipped out. She yelled. She screamed. She called me all kinds of names. My heart shattered that night. I felt alone, less than human and like I didn’t belong anywhere. I never suspected the person I was closest to to make feel that way.

While my mother has come around, I still battle the fear of opening myself up in that way again. I am constantly negotiating what I can and cannot say about my Queer identity. I have to negotiate how I dress and how I act when I am around them. I question if my outfit is too gay or if my words are too flamboyant and stereotypical. In Queer spaces, I am constantly trying to figure out how much of my Black identity I can share. Whether it is my taste in music, or the slang I use. It’s one thing to be the Black guy twerking in the club, but it is another thing to be at a party and request something that isn’t Beyoncé or Rihanna. It is struggling with my so called friends calling hip-hop night at a local club “ghetto night” and refusing to go because “they don’t know how to dance to that type of music.” 

My existence in the world is resistance. I am a Black man. I am Queer. The media rarely every shows those identities in conjunction with each other. Black men are often showed in negative ways and Queer men are often White. Being a Queer person of color, finding representation is hard. If a Queer person of color is portrayed in a television show, it is typically as a caricature or they have a tragic story.

Shows like Queer as Folk have reached critical acclaim but most people have never even heard of Noah’s Arc, a show featuring a predominantly Black Queer cast. RuPaul’s Drag Race often has plenty of QPOC representation, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is shown in a positive light. This past season, contestant and eventual winner Bob the Drag Queen was told that she does “ratchet drag” when everything thing she had shown before was glamour and beauty.

The stories of QPOC communities need to be told and it should not be all of the tragic ones. The acknowledgement of intersections of race and sexual orientation can change the dominant narrative of what it means to be a Queer person of color. Queerness will no longer be a White thing. Person of color identity will no longer be a straight. Maybe we can fight racism in the Queer community and heterosexism in person of color communities. 

I have learned to embrace my Black Queer identity. While I am still working on me, I have discovered that sometimes you have to “Be Your Own Anchor.” I define who I am and who I choose to be. Being a Black Queer man ain’t easy, but I am happy with me. Those who can’t accept that can keep it moving.


About the art:

Since the massacre in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub has been in everyone's consciousness, this piece had particular power and meaning for me to capture Ronnie's perspective as a queer person of color. When I received his story, I was still processing what had happened and working through the impact on my home community of Orlando. I drove through the area on Sunday night, and the eerie feeling has stayed with me since. I watched the video of Anderson Cooper telling the stories of the victims, and it was extremely emotional and motivating. So I began to plan Ronnie's art.

As Ronnie said, in his own words, "The anchor for me represents staying grounded. It is inspired by the quote "Be Your Own Anchor" which reminds me that I have to keep myself grounded and can't always rely on others to do so. It is very similar to my pride at the moment. In life, my identities as a Black Gay man are often disregarded and detested. I can't rely on others to make me feel proud of myself. I have to love myself and embrace my identities. QPOC identity cannot be erased and despite its challenges, I love being QPOC. I love all that I am and I am Proud to say it. That is what the rainbow represents for me."

This quote was so powerful and inspirational, and I think it speaks to all communities affected by this tragedy. The LGBT community, the LatinX community, and my home community of Orlando...all have survived an assault on their very characters, and yet they still survive. We exist because we resist the world's insistence that we don't. We survive because we have to. 

I'm honored to be a part of this process with Ronnie, and I hope he continues to find a place to be in this world and a community of support to share in his story.

- Beth Paris