It’s a cliche, but I have to start with a taxi anecdote. On May 10, I was curled up in a backseat of a taxi, when the driver pointed at a women’s shop window and said that they’d put those umbrellas in there too. When I asked him to specify, he replied that he meant LGBT umbrellas. I looked and saw umbrellas in rainbow colors. I thought of two things simultaneously: firstly, that it was a marketing move on the shop’s part to put those umbrellas up, and secondly, that I wished the driver didn’t start badmouthing the LGBT community, because then I would have no choice but to conform or to confront. Life isn’t supposed to be this binary, it’s meant to be a lot more colorful, like the rainbow.
Here, I made myself laugh and told the driver, that maybe it wasn’t a rainbow but the off-signal on old TV sets. Life is a lot more colorful indeed – while we try to learn the term LGBT, the abbreviation gains more and more letters at the end (like Q and I). I’m not sure how sexy or romantic is it to name every sexual identity in the book, but, like everything else in this world, this too was a romantic story once. The once subcultural flag was made possible via a struggle, and now it’s just as much of a part of the pop-culture as Chinese trinkets with marijuana leaves, Che Guevara t-shirts or Bob Marley lighters.
This is no surprise. The flag is 40 years old and in that way, it is way more traditional than the national flag of Georgia. We owe its creation to Harvey Milk (as popularized by Sean Penn): he offered Gilbert Baker, an openly gay artist, to come up with a symbol for the gay movement. This is how the rainbow flag was first flown on June 25 1978, during San-Francisco gay pride.
Legend has it, that Baker was inspired by one of the first gay culture icons, Judy Garland’s song Somewhere over the rainbow, or, more likely, the horizontal, five-stripe flag used by hippies in colleges in the 60ies to signify world peace. At first, Baker’s flag had 8 colors, with each color carrying a meaning (pink was for sex, red was for life); it was down to 7 when Baker couldn’t find a suitable pink fabric, and eventually it was down to 6. Nowadays, this color combination is so popular, that even cab drivers in Tbilisi traffic jams can’t miss them from their windows.
Like many other symbols that migrated from the underground to the mainstream, the flag has since washed out as the LGBT movement lost its charm, like the hippies turning into the bourgeoisie. Especially, in a gluten-free, politically correct free world that we live in, expecting every next James Bond to be gay and every next president of America to be a woman (and the next one – gay), the order of things disrupted by Trump becoming president, or Madonna, a self-proclaimed feminist, promising America oral sex if Hillary Clinton wins. In this world, journalism has turned into a bunch of bleak euphemisms and the moral police forces you to conform – if you don’t agree with Brexit being end of the civilized world you’re a dirty nationalist, if you’re not all for gay marriage you’re a raging homophobe, and if you don’t change your profile picture for Baghdad (and do for Paris) you’re a two-faced snob. But the world is so much more vibrant than that…
In our small, limited world, where we’re just about to finally learn what LGBT means while our national flag is 14 years old, a whole new, confused version of the moral police has emerged. A good, light example would be, that our self-appointed knight is a blatant homophobe, while in 1998, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, knighted one of the most successful musicians and the most famous gay parents, Elton John.
Not sure if it’s an accident or not, but on May 17 of 2013, I was in the UK, the country that manages to uniquely combine the new with the traditional.
I mean the May 17, when the day of fighting against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia became the day of fighting against the gays, the trans and the bi. Drunk on the sweetness of the first world, I distanced myself from home with mixed emotions as I watched my friend running from the famous chair-wielding priest while sat at Starbucks, discussing the beauties of capitalism with a black right-winger over a second Americano.
However, it wasn’t as easy to distance myself from this homophobic nightmare after all, since I was in the UK to participate in a science forum organized by one of the university’s research faculties – the Research Center of Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, the very research centre interested in Post-Soviet and Post-Socialist countries, new democracies and countries in transition – in short, all the horrors that make Georgia attractive to modern social sciences (and where the money is made, I guess).
In the duration of the forum, many awe-inspiring halls and conference rooms of university buildings were filled with people of many colors and creeds, united by Post-Socialist traumas and sadnesses, as well as the curious, trauma-free people interested in Central and Eastern Europe, the ever-suffering region of our planet.
Studies conducted in all Post-Soviet countries have one thing in common. I have felt this in and outside of Georgia, during presentations about Georgian population’s public opinion. Usually, these studies reveal something drastic in terms of democracy – that more Georgians identify themselves as true Orthodox Christians than Georgian citizens, or that most of them would prefer their neighbours to be criminal than gay. While presenting these results, the presenters, as well as their audiences, turn obliviously vain (as they, of course, are exceptions to the majority); things get even more absurd if foreigners are involved – they hear explanations about how far behind we are as a country, yet how forward and progressive we are personally.
It would make sense for me to choose to devote my part of the presentation (about Georgian students and religion) to the events of May 17 that happened 2 days prior, but I took mercy on my own intellectual resources, as well as my audience’s. Instead, I showed them a picture of Bidzina Ivanishvili standing in front of a Christmas tree decorated with religious icons, and slides that said no respondents of a country-wide survey saw The Patriarch’s actions as negative, and that the absolute majority was all for joining Nato and the European Union at the same time. Unfortunately, this was enough for the abovementioned vanity to kick in. Once I realized this, I became embarrassed and tried to depreciate myself. When I was asked when had Georgia become a Christian country, I said B.C., and killed myself laughing. Although, when I retold the joke to my father, he said it was an old one about Armenians.
When I returned home, I remember Lado Burduli’s comment about the events of May 17. He wanted to know how many well-known gay people went out on that day. We couldn’t think of any, and he said that everyone should have to fight their own battles. I think he mentioned Harvey Milk as well, and I couldn’t disagree completely.
But some things do change for better, for tolerance. For example, my cab driver didn’t start badmouthing the LGBT community, he even seemed kind-hearted.
Life is indeed vibrant, and so is sex. According to Freud, only sexlessness is a deviance, everything else is a matter of personal preference. I don’t know much about the letters in the abbreviation, but like Woody Allen said, bisexuality only doubles your chances on a Saturday night.
I hope that when our national flag achieves its late teenage years, the right to vibrancy granted by the law is gonna be just as practicable as it is natural.