The is the second in a series where we interview Pride flag creators. This interview was conducted 3-12 December 2018 over email.
CONTENT WARNING: The following interview mentions abuse. It goes into very little detail. Sensitive answers will be marked [CW]
MM: Your bio gives your name as Salem X, they/them, from NYC. Is that all still correct, and do you want to add anything?
Salem: A: My name is Salem and I’m from Staten Island NY, and have since lived in almost every borough at some point. I go by they/she pronouns. I never felt a commitment to either binary gender. l identified with the term agender as soon as I first heard it.
MM: How would you best describe yourself to our readers? (Especially queer and other marginalized identities if you’re comfortable doing so.)
Salem: I’m agender and I define my sexuality with the word queer, but I could probably describe it more accurately as panromantic demisexual.
MM: Are there any other facets of your identity you want known?
Salem: I’m also autistic (and it’s worth noting that a significant percentage of people on the spectrum are gender non-conforming!), I do freelance art, and am very interested in ethology & zoology. I am in a wonderful long-term relationship with my girlfriend, and we are both converts to Judaism.
MM: What led you to create the agender, demiboy, demigirl (hi, hello, it me) and deminonbinary flags? You mentioned to me it was “an effort to increase visibility.” What was going on at the time that led you to feel new symbols were needed?
Salem: Tumblr in 2014 (when these flags were created) was seeing a huge influx of identities, pronouns, and other means of personalizing one’s identity. A lot of people were overwhelmed with what to acknowledge and what to brush off as a short-lived online fad (I know a lot of things like nounself pronouns dropped off quickly). I figured if there was a time to come up with a flag for genderless people, this was it! I’m glad it ended up sticking.
MM: I saw a lot of Agender flags at Pride this year. How does it feel knowing your design took off? You mentioned to me ” it even appeared in Snapchat’s bitmojis for June!” That’s so cool.
Salem: I’m floored by the reception of my flag, it was at first a little overwhelming seeing something I made suddenly pop up everywhere and not having any recognition for it. I don’t mind that so much anymore, as this was my expectation for how this flag would spread. I’ve seen a lot of reactions to the flag ranging from ‘I wish I was agender, it’s my favorite flag!’ to ‘Why is the agender flag soooo ugly??’ haha. It’s definitely a color combination that elicits strong opinions! I’m not sure I would have chosen the same colors had I come up with the flag today.
MM: Your Agender flag and the Aromantic flag were released the same year using similar colors yours on Feb. 18, 2014 and theirs on Nov. 15, 2014 (they are nonbinary). Do you know if your flag was an influence? Was there queer discourse going on about green at the time?
Salem: My flag may have been influential in their color choices. My explanation for the green on the flag was that it’s an invert of the shade of purple that’s on the nonbinary & genderqueer flags, which both symbolize a mix of traditional male/female colors. I inverted it because genderlessness is not the same experience as those who identify as being between the male/female spectrum.
MM: You said, “The black and white stripes represent an absence of gender, the gray represents semi-genderlessness, and the central green stripe represents nonbinary genders.” Is there anything more about why you chose the colors that you’d like to add?
Salem: A: The monochrome on the flag represents a spectrum of internal identities, from people who experience a strong feeling of gender, to those who experience no gender whatsoever. The green represents where agender falls on the spectrum of male (blue) and female (pink) identities- it doesn’t fall between that spectrum at all, in my experience.
MM: Did existing flags influence you?
Salem: The trans flag was the primary influence, I wanted it to have a similar stripe pattern and symmetry.
MM: Is there anything you’d like to tell the world about the flag?
Salem: I created it at the lowest point in my life. I had been living with my abusive ex since I was 18 years old. He was an adult in college when we met, groomed me into a manipulative relationship starting when I was age 16. He started dating me on my 17th birthday, which is the minimum age of consent where I’m from. I missed my high school graduation because of him, and not long after that I moved in with him & cut contact with my parents. At the time I created the flag, I had just turned 20 years old, and was living very far from home. I was struggling with severe agoraphobia from the isolation of living so far from home. My ex starting coming home less and less, and I had begun turning to the LGBTQ communities on Tumblr for validation. I struggled a lot with my identity. I got a bunch of tattoos and did everything I possibly could to claim my body and my life as my own. I found the term agender around this time and it really struck me. It was a source of strength for me to be able to add a visual to the gender I identified with, especially because since 16, every element of my life had been shaped by my abuser. The agender label was one of the only things that really stuck with me from that time period.
MM: Before 2009, the only Pride flags with the LGBT Rainbow (1978), Bisexual (1998), Labrys Lesbian (1999), and Transgender (1999) flags, all released at Pride festivals. 2009 saw the introduction of the Natalie Phox Intersex flag on Wikimedia Commons. Since then, only the Philadelphia City Hall Pride flag has been released at a Pride celebration, and the rest online (mostly on Tumblr). How do you feel online communities have shaped queer discourse?
Salem: Online communities have increased visibility and unified us in ways we could never have predicted, but have also diluted the movement in a lot of ways. Places like Tumblr become echo chambers, where no real back and forth conversation can be achieved. I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to build better, stronger, safer, more diverse communities, and establishing good framework for future generations of LGBTQ people.
MM: I got hold of you after Tumblr announced the new Community Guidelines that will take effect on Dec. 17, 2018. The new guidelines ban adult content on Tumblr. I mentioned my fear that adult content bots are notorious for having an anti-queer bias. We’re already seeing widespread reports of all queer content being flagged, including the flags themselves. What effect do you think these rules will have on the queer communities of Tumblr?
Salem: I think that Tumblr as it stands has been going downhill for a while, and I hope this change causes people to abandon ship. At its peak there was no better place for hateful discourse and predators to hide in plain sight than Tumblr. It is not a safe place, and hasn’t been for a very long time. Regulations on content doesn’t suffice as protection, and the priorities of the staff don’t seem to be in the best interests of vulnerable groups.
MM: Do you have any hopes for the future of the queer community at large of facets like awareness, visibility, accessibility, etc??
Salem: It would be nice to see some more genuine efforts to make the community more accessible to those of us with physical & mental health concerns. I want to see a large network for LGBTQ discussion that allows for differing viewpoints to be respectfully hashed out. More than anything, I want to see some accountability especially when LGBTQ youth safety is at stake.
MM: Do you have any advice for other activists, especially young activists, who are looking to create new flags?
Salem: If you see a need for it, you are the person to make it! Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward.
MM: Is there anything you’d like to tell the world about yourself?
Salem: My identity as a survivor is inextricably attached to the creation of this flag, and it is a product of an attempt to reclaim myself and my identity. I’m so glad it has been a source of strength and pride for so many people.