Updated: Mar 8
Guest Writer Zee Monteiro lets us in on how Queer iconography has shaped their journey of self-understanding and acceptance.
by Zee Monteiro
As I worked to unlearn and relearn my identity in light of the cis-gender heteronormative expectations placed upon me, I found that iconography was instrumental in helping me understand my fluidity. Iconography refers to the use of symbols, images, and themes in art to depict movements, beliefs, or ideas. I remember being 23 years old and coming across the term and various symbols for ‘Two-spirited,’ which really resonated with me.
The symbol was a visual representation of the Two-spirit Indigenous identities across Native America. It was a term used to explain how one person could have two spirits, one male and one female. The term as I have understood has now been recognized as an umbrella term to describe the fluidity of an individual, depending on the tribe and personal/spiritual relationship to themselves that sits outside of the understanding of the western and colonial understanding of the gender binary.
There were different types of symbols I came across; one was shown in the form of two arrows pointing in opposite directions, the other the symbol of a double headed figure, with one head representing the female and the other the male spirit. I remember this clearly as it was not only a term that related to how I felt, but it showed that my feelings, my energies existed. I remember continuing my research to find specific West African symbols that represented the similar but no luck. I do not identify with the term ‘two-spirited’ as a way to define myself as it is not my heritage or history, but it became a way for me to unravel more about my gender and opened a door to further curiosity and understanding.
In the following years I became focused on finding more about the history of queer culture and it led me to America. I learned about the internationally famous rainbow flag designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It served as a symbol of resistance against discrimination and a demand for change, as well as the pink triangle, used originally by the Nazi Regime to identify homosexual men but reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community and transformed into a symbol of resistance and pride. Although these symbols impacted me in understanding the strength that ran within the LGBTQ+ community. The identity that I was sitting in, which during 2016, was still that of a Black Masculine presenting woman, I could not find the symbols that represented my intersections of race and gender. In 2018 I set out to create a Black Queer Library, Qingsland became a website focused on Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people and their experiences, with a focus on Masculine presented identities. I came across an amazing archive called Lesbian Herstory, Black Lesbians in the 70’s and before’. It showed the diversity of gender nonconformity within the lesbian community. It became clear that, even though scattered on the internet, the archives still existed and they became a place where I was able to find myself.
Within the recent years I have seen the changes of what I found in these archives becoming mainstream. The international sensation of RuPaul's drag show, and the creativity around Lil Nas X music videos allowed for conversations around self-expression through the context of entertainment. Drag shows on-and-off television showed a form of political activism and resistance surrounding the gender binary. Shortly after, the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, created space for change where conversations and actions about the treatment of not only Black people, but Black and Brown LGBTQ+ and specifically Trans people became mainstream.
The marches in the UK, EU and US were filled with the original pride flag made by Baker, but joined with two adapted flags, one being the flag introducing the Black and Brown stripes, created by Amber Hikes and the other the progressive Pride flag made by Daniel Quasar. It sparked the global LGBTQ+ community to stand up, with unfortunately losses of people within the global LGBTQ+ community. Sarah Hegasi’s powerful photo sparked the hashtag #RaisetheflagforSarah on social media which extended the understanding of LGBTQ+ lives under threat in the Middle East and continued to steer the debate on LGBTQ+ rights and the freedom to live. Social media quickly became the tool to see and understand the conditions of people and how to support the global movement of LGBTQ+ lives.
In hindsight it is surprising that in the midst of all of this, I felt ready to come out as non-binary, I accessed private Trans care and started my journey with Testosterone; or maybe it wasn’t. The push for the freedom and existence of LGBTQIA+ lives around the world, allowed me to push myself out of the fear and step into the existence of my transness. It gave the understanding that I should not wait or be weighed down by the expectations of the gender binary and move with the understanding of my energies and trusted that the people who understood my energy would simply come along. I wonder if without the uproar and fight of the global movement, and the use of social media, there would have been no change for me.
Today we are still seeing the continued fight for liberation for the LGBTQ+ community, with more and more allies in our corner, learning how to use their privilege to engage in the movement and utilize their power, showing various athletes like Chris Eubank, Harry Kane and Hamilton showing their support through armbands and their social media. With the impact of the internet and social media with the use of symbolism and iconography, the understanding of how cultures around the world includes transgender, gender fluid and non-conforming individuals in their history and their present, means that there has always been and will always be a place for us in the future.
Zee Monteiro (they/them)
Zee is a writer, host, facilitator, and consultant with a focus on LGBTQ+ rights, anti-racism, Intersectionality and Neurodiversity. Zee is dedicated to promoting inclusion and equity, and is well-regarded for their ability to engage and educate diverse audiences on important social and cultural topics. You can find more information about Zee's work here.
If you would like to book Zee as a speaker for a workshop or panel event, please get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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