Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Frida's in the Rainbow Honor Walk, and I am not happy

It has been a while since I have written a critique about LGBT raceless’ness. Which is not to say I have stopped noticing it, rolling my eyes or holding my breath at every corner. Instead, I have simply opted for taking deep breaths, chuckling, shrugging my shoulders and walking away.

In what might be a combination of exhaustion, apathy, self-preservation and pacifism, I have spent a lot of time walking the streets of San Francisco trying to find the positive aspects about queer life in the Rainbow City. And there are. There are many beautiful benefits to living in a city of most things-queer.

However, I recently came across an article on the Bay Area Reporter, which reported on plans for a Rainbow Honor Walk in the Castro. The BAR reported that 20 names had been chosen out of nearly 150 nominees (Note: Names are of people who have transitioned into spirit). I confess I cringed more at the thought of who would not be included (Audre Lorde, anyone?) than those who were.

I wont report on the names, as you can find them in the BAR article linked above. And, really, I do not take much issue with the list. Sure, there are only 6 women. Sure, I do not see an over-representation of people of color. Sure, I believe that with all the scars the LGBT community carries over overt and subconscious racism and misogyny, at least 11 of the 20 should be some combination of women, trans folk and people of color. But, I am not on the steering committee.

All that said I was very happy to see most of the names on the list, except for one: Frida Kahlo.

Now, I am a brown boy with strong, unrepentant and in-your-face roots. So this has nothing to do with Frida herself. Frida’s work has had a significant influence on my writing since I was teenager. Hell, I saw her exhibit seven times when it was at the SF MOMA. So, for the record, this isn’t an anti-Frida post.

And now that the disclaimer has been placed, below are four main reasons I am bothered by her name appearing in this list:

1. I am uncomfortable with people labeling or identifying others as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, based only on how and who they loved. I do not question the fact that Frida loved women. But to identify her as LGBT stamps the identities that some of us have grown to embrace onto her, without regard to the fact that these notions of identities are both generational and potentially limiting to how Frida experienced and manifested her own desire for others.

However important our efforts to identify ancestors who reflect our experiences, I find it problematic to do so without the nuance, care and respect our ancestors deserve.

2. I find this mainstream LGBT community embrace of Frida disingenuous. 

Could we honestly say that Madonna, Salma Hayek or those plastic bags found in the Mission had nothing to do with her name landing on this list? Seriously. Before Frida was inhaled by the hungry claws of capitalist consumption (and how much of this are Chicanas and Chicanos responsible for?), how many in the LGBT community knew who she was? 

Hell, how many know what a Chicana is?!

3. We are in Aztlán. Where is Gloria Anzaldúa?!

4. I am concerned that Frida might be “our” Latina/o representative. While she certainly resonates with my own experience, I am struggling to find the reason for the steering committee selecting Frida over, say, Sylvia Rivera. Rivera, a transgender mujer who is at the center of queer movement history, was not only among the trans women who fought back at Stonewall, she went on to be a trailblazer in transgender rights. 

So, really, Frida?

(Yes, Lorca is on the list too, but, well, that’s a whole other blog post if he is said to represent “us”)

And with this, I bring my rant to a close. Again, I am a huge fan of Frida and am one of those brown people who have her in every room of our home. But in the case of the Rainbow Honor Walk, I find the placement of her name among the first 20 misguided, consumption-based and fad-driven; all of which, if you know her work, is essentially what she was against.

All this said, I am sure the steering committee worked hard and are already receiving numerous complaints about the names excluded (such as Harvey Milk). While I believe we must keep each other accountable and support through our feedback, I also recognize how difficult it is to organize a project with vast community emotional ties.

[Note: Of course, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Rivera and Gloria Anzaldúa are but three examples of who I was saddened not to see on the list. There are countless other women of color who must be included. I look forward to seeing the names added in the future.]


  1. Frida "looms over" many female artists, in positive and negative ways. Although, it’s all based on pop culture lately, like you said, she is undeniably one of the most powerful symbols of free spirits and strong women of color in the US. It's a name which most POC will recognize. When approached by community organizations, you would not believe how many times I have been asked, "Can you do Frida?" Meaning, can you paint in her style? The pressure to stay "brown" or I guess in my case to stay "yellow," for some reason in the community, often means for your work to have a visible resemblance to Frida's work? I don't get why it always have to be that way. Anyway, so my point is… I understand how you feel.

    Where have you been hiding lately?