There’s an assumption that gay men are more emotional than their heterosexual counterparts, that we feel our emotions more strongly than straight men. Inversely, there’s an assumption that gay women are often butch, and that they feel emotions in a similar, closed-off fashion to straight men. Any assumptions along these lines – for straight, gay, bisexual, or any given sexual orientation – are ridiculous. The only real differences in how any person experiences strong emotions like grief come down to their personal genetic make up, the way they were raised, and perhaps the communities they live in. That doesn’t mean that the average LGBT person doesn’t have more to grieve over than the average straight person does.
The AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s sticks with the LGBT community, and though the majority of the country thinks the disease is a thing of the past, over 1.5 million US citizens currently have HIV or AIDS. By the end of the 1990’s, nearly 430,00 US citizens had died from AIDS, and the majority of those victims were gay men. We lost a lot of people within our cultural group, and that kind of loss sticks with us – even those of us who weren’t alive to experience the epidemic first hand.
There was a mass hysteria over the epidemic, a stigma that was aimed at our community and painted us as sexually promiscuous and unsafe. Not only were we grieving the loss of our loved ones, our partners, but we were being attacked by society while going through the ordeal. People like Princess Diana and Magic Johnson have done wonders to destigmatize the disease, and thus destigmatize gay men as a whole, but the negativity lingers to this day.
It’s not just the memory of AIDS that the LGBT community has to grieve over. There are still hate crimes happening against our community left and right. The Pulse night club shooting ended with 49 deaths, most of which were gay men. Suicide among LGBT people is disproportionately high compared to straight people. The murder of LGBT people over their sexuality and gender happen constantly. These are modern losses that directly affect us. And we grieve, just as we grieve when anyone we know dies. We grieve like black communities grieved the loss of Trayvon Martin. We grieve like other humans grieve, but we’re especially affected when we personally identify with the victims.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the rainbow is the de facto gay symbol. Rainbows are a sign of a calm after a storm. The LGBT community has survived tremendous pain and discrimination, only to come out on the other side as a beautiful sight. Rainbows, as a symbol, have turned into simulacra, going through the sign-order process so many times that we no longer think about the original symbol and its metaphorical qualities. It’s a wonderful symbol of unity and hardship. It represents us as a whole – we’re different, but we’re beautiful together. Though even the gay community has often lost sight of exactly why we used the symbol in the first place, it continues to be appropriate for us. Like any good symbol, rainbows aren’t tangible, but they stand for so much more than their visual representations. What it stands for – the LGBT community – is very real, and though we are merely symbolic to some, we’re going to survive regardless of what life throws at us.