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: Yes. My name is Salem Fontanarosa (actually still have my abusers last name but Fontanarosa is my real one) and I’m from Staten Island, lived in almost every borough at some point. I go by they pronouns and was identified as NB very young, and then coerced into a transmasc transition by my abuser who groomed me starting at 15
MM: How would you best describe yourself to our readers? (Especially queer and other marginalized identities if you’re comfortable doing so.)
Salem: A: I’m agender and pansexual
MM: Are there any other facets of your identity you want known?
Salem: A: I’m also Jewish, mixed race Irish/Italian, and I am autistic.
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: A: The dynamic on Tumblr when these were created in 2014 was dealing with a huge influx of identities, pronouns, and other forms of personalizing one’s identity that a lot of people were somewhat overwhelmed with what to acknowledge and what to kind of gloss over as a short-lived tumblr fad (I know a lot of orientation labels and things like nounself pronouns kind of dropped off quickly), and I believe that pride flags add a level of legitimacy to an identity, that makes it possible for others to more easily discover and adopt. I feel like the addition of a visual component made them become more easily recognized as legitimate, lasting terms
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: A: I’m floored by the results of my action in creating this flag, it has been kind of overwhelming seeing it everywhere and not having any recognition for it, I don’t mind that so much as this was my expectation for how this flag would spread, but as an artist it’s hard to let go of your work as it goes around uncredited, even if it is a bunch of stripes. 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. Its definitely a color combination that elicits strong opinions!
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: A: I do believe my flag was influential in their color choices. My definition of the green on the flag was an invert color of the purple usually used to illustrate a combination of male and female. It is the opposite of that combination, it’s a nonbinary identity not definable according to its relationship with male and female
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 (at least in my experience)
MM: Did existing flags influence you?
Salem: The trans flag was the primary influence
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 abuser since I was 16 years old, very far from home, I had just turned 20 that year, and I was being coerced into a very botched top surgery while he was actively cheating on me. It was a source of strength for me to be able to add a visual to the gender I identified with, especially because starting at 15, every element of my life was shaped by my abuser. I had been turning to the echo chamber of Tumblr for validation, I got a bunch of tattoos, I did everything I possibly could to claim my body and my life as my own. This flag was one of the only things that really stuck.
MM: Before 2009, the only Pride flags with the LGBT Rainbow (1978), Bisexual (1998), 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: A: Online communities have increased visibility in ways we can’t begin to imagine, 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 communities, especially for the younger generations of queers.
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: A: I think that Tumblr as it stands is a cesspool and has been pretty awful for a while, and I hope this causes people to abandon ship. As you can imagine based on my experience, I am hyper aware of predators and there is no bigger hub for pedophiles and sexual predators than Tumblr. It is not a safe place for young queer people to communicate, and hasn’t been for a very long time.
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 and cognitive disabilities, we are all in this together. More than anything, I want to see accountability. I want to see more people protecting the vulnerable. There is so much good in our community, but there is also a whole lot of fucked up, dangerous pitfalls for younger queer people. There are too many predatory adults, and not enough people who are willing or able to call it out or capable of physically putting a stop to it. We can’t be afraid to call out abusers and pedophiles within our community
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.