Queering the spirit: Is the rainbow enough? (Part 2)

Indigo Child

Realizing there was more to my queerness, beyond sexuality, was a lot like learning there are more colors in the rainbow than the ones that are visible, and not every color in the rainbow exists. Our beloved rainbow is made of three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) and three secondary colors (green, orange, and violet). These are the six fundamental colors that the human eye is able to identify. But there is a seventh color in the rainbow that isn’t a fundamental color and isn’t perceptible to the human eye. That color is indigo.

In grade school, I remember being taught there were seven colors in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. But if indigo wasn’t a fundamental color, and it wasn’t actually there, how did it end up in the rainbow? Sir Isaac Newton’s experiments with prisms and light led to the categories we now know as primary and secondary colors. Newton was 23 and quarantined in his room to avoid the contagion of a pandemic in England. Holding a prism to the white light of the sun beaming through the window, he noticed that the white light diffracted into six identifiable colors: red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, and blue. 

Another white guy by the name of Thoman Young developed these fundamental colors, and in collaboration with some other white dudes, were able to establish that the human retina is made up of cones, which are color receptors, and rods, which are responsible for low-light and night vision. But before all the scientific advancement, there was Newton, like many of us now, experiencing the world from the confines of his home. And although indigo was not present in the diffraction of sunlight, he wrote it down anyway. Not for physics, surprisingly, but for occultic reasons. Seven, in many cultures, is linked to the spiritual realm. And white in many cultures is linked to purity, perfection, and higher wisdom. Newton believed that there must be seven colors that make up the white light of the sun, so he created indigo; a color that is likely real for living beings that have more rods and cones, but is not perceptive to the human eye. He made it up because he wanted his findings to be aligned with the divine. We won’t get into why that’s problematic, but scientists have posthumously removed indigo from color theory. 

Color is perception. It’s a mutual agreement, but just barely. Remember the dress illusion? An argument for the ages. And the colors that humans see aren’t the only colors that exist. Acknowledging that is important because human supremacy has not worked out well for my people. When I look at who has historically been able to claim the status of “human”, I become concerned that a bunch of white dudes can decide which colors we can see, and which colors we can’t. It reminds me that color is part of the social conditioning that trains us to see the world the same way. Perhaps I saw more colors as a child. Perhaps in learning how to label the world, there were colors that I was trained to unsee. Can you see how this easily transcends color and bleeds into other aspects of life? As the old Zen saying goes, “name the color, blind the eye.”

The Descent Into Ultraviolet

Coming out to the queer community first as a lesbian, then as a transgender non-binary person was like being kicked out of the rainbow. Whether it was due to internalized transphobia in the LGB community or a collective lack of gender analysis, I was treated like a color that no longer existed. I found that the monochromatic tinge mentioned in Part 1 coated even the eyes of queer people who knew what it was like to come out to a violent world. This internalized oppression is evident in how Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) folks are still being treated by the LBG community. The fact that folks are still arguing about whether trans people belong in the queer community is a lot like making up a color that doesn’t exist for a false sense of purity. We’ve been here. We threw the brick. We marched. We died. We live. Additionally, when did the gender of my romantic partners become more important than my own? The self-embodied experience of gender absolutely belongs in a flag that purportedly represents gender visibility in romantic partnerships. As a trans person, I am in an active romantic partnership with my damn self, and my worthiness is not merely an extension of the relationships I choose to cultivate with others.

It’s important that the queer community not replicate the monoculture that exiled us in the first place. As my elder says, “identity is the performative denial of our entanglement, a performative stillness.” Identity is how we pay rent, but it’s not actually who we are. It’s important that we don’t overidentify with labels that do nothing but let the system know our place and the amount of pressure to apply. I do not seek recognition in any oppressive paradigm, even one’s with flags that have enticing colors. The way we respond to our trauma around sexuality and gender doesn’t need to proliferate it. If you’re just passing the pain on, it is bound to make it’s way back to you. It’s important to remember that the queer community has always been consecrated soil for the holy colors not recognized by heteronormative society. The moment we try to name what colors do and don’t belong is the very moment we stop being a cornucopia of love. 

When I witness the spectrum of color in nature, I am reminded of what is possible. The murmuration of black starlings dancing against a yawning horizon sun; scales of yellow, orange, red, and pink. Car oil on concrete that suddenly bursts into blue, pink, and purple as it begins to rain. Autumn leaves crying chlorophyll tears, leaving streaks of neon yellow, green, and orange. The tributary where two different watercolors bleed into a paper ravine. The myth in-between color turns these mundane noticings into places where new emotions are born. They show me places can exist where I am not asked to erase anything. Every day I learn a little bit more by sitting with and the ambiguity of life outside the rainbow. I love it here because I’m not expected to replicate the conditions that hurt me. The rainbow’s underbelly is the perfect place to pitch a tent. I’ve made a beautiful life here in the ultraviolet.