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After being told that her rainbow gloves are "just gloves", Alyena Mohummadally reflects on symbols, their significance and dismissal from heteronormative society.
By
Alyena Mohummadally

3 Oct 2016 - 11:09 AM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2016 - 11:09 AM

I don’t think of myself as truly political anymore. I used to be a vocal advocate for queer equality. Then, my first son was born and sleep won over protest rallies. Worrying about his meals took precedence over volunteering time to the movement. But when you have a past that includes speaking at Federation Square at a same-sex marriage rally in front of hundreds of people, when you have had media attention regarding the causes you link yourself to – and then it stops, as you prioritise time spent with a small child instead, you feel like you’re not truly political anymore. But my core values have never changed.

Recently, I wore rainbow gloves to a professional development day. I call them ‘my super gay gloves’. Super gay because they represent the queer rainbow movement. They are also super gay as my Pakistani Muslim parents went specifically to the Castro district in San Francisco when they were visiting to buy them for me as a sign of support.

This sparked conversation with some teachers, with “wow, you have amazing parents” being the main response. One teacher asked if I was wearing the gloves “to make a statement”. I didn’t quite know how to respond. ‘Statement’ sounds militant to me, and as I said, I do not think of myself as truly political anymore. But then I had a conversation with two other teachers, prompting this article.

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The exchange was at the women’s toilets. The first teacher commented that my gloves were "nice" and I, of course, broke into my spiel about my ‘super gay gloves.’ But the response was different this time. I was told: "no, they’re just rainbow gloves, nothing gay about them". Buoyed by the positive conversations prior, I insisted that they were, explaining what makes them my 'super gay gloves' and insisting that the rainbow, to me, represents gay pride.

"You’re making a big deal out of nothing, they are just colourful gloves," came the response. Half smiling, half not, I insisted that this was important to me, feeling challenged and yes, threatened. I felt silenced, dismissed and confused that I was not being heard. 

Teacher two’s reaction to my gloves was almost identical, telling me I was "making a mountain out of a mole hill," that they weren't "gay gloves", and that I was just "carrying on". No amount of my insistence that they are super gay gloves to me and that the LGBT+ community has used rainbow as the pride flag since the 1970s made any difference to Teacher two.

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At this point I stopped speaking, not wanting to show how upset I was. Reflecting on the conversations, I tried to understand what had happened, pondering whether I was being oversensitive.

Replaying the two conversations against the supportive ones I'd had earlier, two things stood out:

    1. I stressed that my Pakistani Muslim parents did this for me on their own volition, and that for me this is worthy of celebration and;
    2. I said that the rainbow colours represent gay pride and assume people know of this significance, but if not, I have explained such, so why am I being told no?  

Later that evening, I spoke to my mother about symbols and their significance. I asked my mother if the two teachers who dismissed my insistence that my rainbow gloves had significance would say the same to someone wearing a blue and white ribbon. Would they say that "it's just a ribbon, it doesn’t represent Victorian police killed in the line of duty".

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This got me thinking about symbols and their significance. And heterosexism. And the fact that just because I don’t look ‘oppressed’, I must not be. There is an implicit assumption that what I was saying was wrong because ‘it is just a rainbow’ according to the two teachers who silenced me with their insistence. I could have tried to speak up but why should I have to? Is it not enough to state if a symbol matters? Do they believe that we have progressed to the point where my community no longer wants or needs a signifier?

I didn’t pursue it with the two teachers, but I did talk to those who I felt would understand. Some did, some didn’t.  I don’t set out to change anyone’s opinion. However, it is a valid argument that by writing this I am still political. The personal is political. Perhaps I am still truly political. And I am happy with that.