The is the fifth in a series where we interview Pride flag creators. This interview was conducted 11 July, 2019. Marilyn is one of the few creators who has written a lot about themselves. I encourage you to read their bio on GenderqueerID and marilynroxie.com. Additional questions provided by Erin Bradshaw (@TukRoll).
MM: Are these details correct? Feel free to expand on anything.
Name: Marilyn Roxie
From: San Francisco
Marilyn: All correct – I have been going between San Francisco and Manchester, England at this point since I just did my Master’s in Filmmaking at Manchester Metropolitan University and I visit England frequently anyway, but that is a small note.
MM: Your bio says you’re genderqueer and your sexuality is gay/queer male (AFAB). Are there other facets of your identity you’d like to share?
Marilyn: It’s pretty much the same in that regard, though — despite being ‘known’ as the GQ flag creator — I’m more likely to use just the word non-binary specifically these days because more people immediately can understand what it means. I’m also in an open relationship and have been in various configurations since 2013 or so.
MM: What led you to create the genderqueer flag? Did your work in queer community centers or your degree in LGBT Studies play a role? How much of a role did online communities like girlfags play?
Marilyn: I created the flag around the same time I started college (fall 2010) and there actually wasn’t an LGBT Studies degree formalized at City College of San Francisco yet, though that was soon to follow, and I was very excited about it. I got involved with the Center for Sex in summer 2011. For some reason, there are some other sites online that say it was not created until 2011, but 2011 is simply when the design was finalized; the first version was created in September 2010.
I noticed that there wasn’t a genderqueer flag, and started with lavender as a springboard, due to lavender being a mix of blue and pink (present in the transgender flag) and the color’s significance in queer culture. I played around with a few variations, even one that included the color black instead of white, until coming upon the lavender / white / green (as the inverse of lavender) combo. I didn’t feel ‘excluded’ by the transgender flag per se, and am aware that the white stripe in the transgender flag can represent GQ and non-binary people, but I’m not a big fan of the blue and pink associations with gender personally and figured a lot of genderqueer people probably wouldn’t be either.
It was primarily online interaction that shaped the creation of the flag. Girlfags as an online community on LiveJournal and elsewhere was useful at first, since I never imagined that I would relate to so many stories or thoughts about oneself and it was surreal to read and begin to connect with others, but it was ultimately a stepping stone based on a very misguided sort of initial query on the way to finding out more about myself. I got there based on searching “gay man trapped in a woman’s body”, knowing almost nothing about other trans people at all at that time, or the problems that come with the “wrong body” narrative.
It makes sense now that many people who initially landed there ultimately identified later as gay trans men or non-binary people (who may partially identify as women, or not at all) with attractions and identity centered around gay men’s culture. Nowadays, I very rarely see anyone using that term. Part of the issue there is with the overlap in the community of people who identify more like how I just described, and straight women who at best are curious about gay and bi men sexually, and at worst fetishize and stereotype gay men and culture. It can be useful at times for disparate groups to mingle and work out these very complex identity and attraction questions out, but it also creates a lot of confusion and even harm.
The reception to the flag really encouraged me and I started being able to talk to other queer people at college. I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to double-major in library tech and LGBT studies and dive deep into all of this history that was new to me, and that I wanted everyone else to know about it. Wanting to make information accessible that might otherwise be buried in academic texts and organizing links became a big passion, but this all really followed after the flag rather than before it.
MM: If you’re comfortable disclosing, how old were you when you created the flag?
MM: What other flags inspired you?
Marilyn: I think I probably had only seen a few by that time, like the rainbow flag, transgender flag, and bisexual flag, so I was thinking horizontal stripes would be the way forward, although I also experimented with the letters ‘GQ’ on it and vertical stripes.
MM: How do you feel about the prominence of your flag and the influence it’s had on the community? What did you expect when you created the flag?
Marilyn: When I created the flag, I honestly didn’t expect much of anything apart from maybe some people embedding it on their pages or making little items with the flag on it at best. It felt more like a personal art project — throwing it out there and making it clear that anyone could use it if they wanted to. It was nice to see people putting the image of the flag on their websites or having pins and physical flags made, but I had no idea it would endure for so many years since, and be used in so many ways or be utilized internationally and in parades or on people’s walls.
MM: Before 2010, the only Pride flags with the LGBT Rainbow (1978), Bisexual (1998), Labrys Lesbian (1999), and Transgender (1999) flags, all released at Pride festivals. 2010 saw the introduction of the Asexual, Lipstick Lesbian, and Pansexual flags, all online. 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?
Marilyn: Online communities have been tremendously influential, giving people a virtual space to do research on possibilities and especially to find others who feel similarly. Though I started reading about gender and sexuality right away in my college library the first semester I started there, the online component allowed me to browse through forums and articles and to chat with people who seemed to identify like I did when I was in the process of figuring it all out.
In physical space, people (still) don’t always feel safe or even know how to begin trying to talk to people who might identify like they do. People can get instant feedback and move between spaces more readily, though there are also the same pitfalls of gatekeeping behavior that sometimes pop up that you may find anywhere.
Of course, now Tumblr has become a less welcoming place to explore anything about sexuality in particular, due to the absurd censorship of ‘adult content’ since their purge of anything of that nature, unless it is deemed ‘educational’.
I don’t really see that there is any identical replacement for the kind of communities on LiveJournal and Tumblr that fostered that kind of exploration, but people are absolutely doing it on Twitter and Reddit, too, with so much more information that is easily accessible than even 2009 / 2010 when I was initially exploring. It blows me away when I see posts where people wonder if, say, 18 or 19 is “too late” to just start realizing one’s identity. It’s never too late, and that’s not even late anyhow by any means.
MM: Do you have any advice for new flag creators?
Marilyn: Be careful and check to see whether there is any flag out there that is already too similar to yours! I want to point out that, despite comparisons to the British suffragette flag, I had not to my knowledge ever seen it before creating the genderqueer flag (the earliest genderqueer flag design looks especially dissimilar). Some people have asked questions about this out of curiosity, and some with anger or bewilderment.
Of course, when I later moved to England for a while for grad school, I saw it all over place, such as at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. The history is important to know about, and I may have designed the flag differently if I had seen it at 20, but it is what it is. I know I would have used lavender as the jumping-off point, still, at any rate.
Also flag creators should know that some people will view their creation as intrinsically offensive to other flags out there, even though gender / sexuality flag creators don’t really seem to have any beef with one another whatsoever that I know of. I once received a very angry, sad email from someone who said that my genderqueer flag ‘diluted’ the meaning of the rainbow flag. I don’t see how that is any more true than the notion that state flags ‘dilute’ the meaning of a country flag; they don’t. Pride flags are signposts to promote visibility, curiosity, and connection.
Also, terminology that is favored may change gradually or almost overnight, which will impact what signs people want to use or create. ‘Genderqueer’ was the word I encountered in 2009/2010, and I’m not sure I even remember reading non-binary much or at all. Then, ‘non-binary’ as a term gained greater and greater currency.
MM: One of the hardest parts about this blog is how often primary sources disappear from the web. As someone trained in archiving, do you have any advice for anyone trying to preserve this history or safeguard the legacy of their own work?
Marilyn: Keep multiple copies of everything, and in different locations or formats; use Internet Archive or Webrecorder to make regular captures of your site/s, and/or OneNote Web Clipper or Evernote to make snippets of web pages, and tag them in a way that makes sense to you and is systematic. For your files, have a couple of external hard drives and back-up your files regularly to them and consider having mirrors on a cloud service. Get new external hard drives before their average life expectancy is up.
You may want to even print out some of your most important interviews or articles, and get your photos printed – I’m not kidding! This also applies to work that other people may do in collaboration with you, or about you.
Really, the more copies or back-ups you have of everything, the better, just make sure you keep to a consistent system that makes chronology and relevant tags as clear as possible and that you can put on your calendar to take care of when it is convenient to you, whether it is weekly or monthly.
Finally, if you have material of wider relevance to the queer community, don’t hesitate to contact a library or archive specializing in the material you have to find out if they’d be interested in it, too.
MM: How is your academic journey going in queer studies?
Marilyn: I finished in spring 2017 at San Francisco State University. My major was in studio art, in which I focused on photography and digital video, and my minor was human sexuality. I was studying queer art history there and connected with classmates who I felt like I was on the same wavelength of, and that was very cool, including Oberon Strong, who was doing his Master’s there at the time.
In fall 2017, I started at Manchester Metropolitan University doing a Master of Arts in Filmmaking. My main project was Hair-Pulling, in which I interspersed video of one of my (now ex-)boyfriend’s getting his hair pulled by me as messages we exchanged over the years flashed across the screen. An ongoing theme in my photography and video has been the manifestation of submission or androgyny in men, especially my partners or pertaining to my fantasies. My ex-partner is still one of my best friends, and being with him was important to both of us in us getting closer to figuring out what we want romantically, too.
Here I also had an elective module in ‘Digital Futures’, where I chose to learn how to make Twitter bots and Twine games. I made a couple of projects related to my own gender and sexual perspective using these tools, 10,000 Imaginary Boys and HE. 10,000 Imaginary Boys is a Twitter bot that includes sentences that are generated using sentence fragments and phrases that I have written in Tracery. It sends out a unique sentence every hour and within a few minutes if someone@ mentions the bot. The exercise in creating this was to think about what qualities I find attractive in men or in androgyny, whether this is to do with appearance, interests, or behavior. Some of the sentences can be quite funny too. HE is a piece of interactive fiction created in Twine loosely based around some of my past relationships, especially fraught or confusing aspects of them and moments or thought-processes that relate to my own identity.
I’m researching PhD programs now. There are definitely some papers and possibly books I’d like to write.
MM: What is your stance on calling academia revolving around LGBTQIA+ facets “queer studies”?
Marilyn: Queer can be a useful umbrella term for non-normative gender and sexuality, and it also can carry some politically radical and Western connotations along with it, which not everyone wants. It is important to clarify who is being included in that term, and whether they want to be or not, especially if any groups or individuals have loudly proclaimed their disinterest in being viewed as queer. Non-binary and queer don’t escape from referencing a “norm” and a gender binary to be compared with, for better or worse. They are all imperfect. I don’t have a definitive answer on this, but I think it is very important to keep discussing.
MM: Your bio mentioned you’re always questioning what “gender” and “queer” mean to you. How have your experiences helped you continue that line of questioning?
Marilyn: Well, I still have no idea what feeling like a man or a woman feels like, so that notion has remained consistent. My attractions are the same and the way I view my body is basically the same, although I am a lot happier overall about myself than when I was a teenager. Being with fully understanding partners on the same wavelength has been a very key part of this, talking to more people with similar identities in person and not just online, and having surgery a few years ago.
MM: In your bio, you mention understanding oneself is a lifelong journey that doesn’t really end, and that the conclusions you’d come to may change. If you don’t mind discussing it, how is your journey going so far? Have any of your personal conclusions shifted?
Marilyn: One of the most important experiences was having a hysterectomy, which really lifted the miasma of dysphoria almost completely. It really changed my life in an unbelievable way. Not everyone necessarily needs to have surgery or take hormones to move through and beyond dysphoria, of course; I’m just speaking for myself. My 18 or 19-year-old self would never have been able to imagine the future me saying that I had largely overcome dysphoric feelings or that I would have good, loving relationships with people who understood me.
On a similar note, working at Good Vibes previously and learning about various toys and how they could help me change my relationship with my body also helped on this front in unexpected and positive ways.
MM: According to your bio, music has played a big part in your journey of self-discovery and as an artist. Does music still influence you as much as it did in the 00s?
Marilyn: It absolutely does. I still keep a playlist of songs that I relate to my attractions to others that remind me of specific fantasies or people, I am still running a netlabel called Vulpiano Records (now in its 10th year!), and my job has to do with music as well. I’m not sure if I am making any of the same kind of ground-breaking discoveries in terms of my self-conception that I made as a teenager and in my early 20s, but music is just as important to me and how I relate to others and I am endlessly fascinated about how gender and sexuality play out in it, whether it is about old or new music. Reading about the use of gender neutral pronouns in BTS songs, and androgyny in Sheila E.s “The Belle of St. Mark” were a couple of recent topics of interest for me.
MM: What advice would you give to someone who is still continuing their journey and transitioning between two different ‘queer camps’ (eg. Lesbian to bisexual, ??? to genderqueer).
Marilyn: That it is fine and will ultimately help you figure out where you feel most comfortable if you are allowed to explore. People may try to tell you it is not fine, or demand an answer when you’re not really sure yet or still learning. Some people are very fixated on having a tidy answer about people’s gender or sexuality out of fear or ignorance, and don’t like uncertainty, or impose uncertainty where there actually isn’t any (such as people who are consistently bisexual that people may wrongly view as ‘indecisive’). Be prepared to bust myths people may have about exploring gender and sexuality.
MM: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the world about yourself or the flag?
Marilyn: I’m grateful and continuously surprised that people around the world have found the flag to be a useful personal or community banner under which to find connection and understanding.
About myself – at this time in my life, the majority of what I do doesn’t have anything to do with the genderqueer flag, and my gender and sexuality are not the most interesting things about me. I really do value being also asked questions about my interests and activities that I have going on these days, now that so many years since the flag’s creation have passed.
Marilyn Roxie is a video artist and experimental photographer exploring androgyny, male submission, queer subculture, and the relationship of found image and creative authorship. Founder of Creative Commons netlabel Vulpiano Records. They, created genderqueerid.com on Tumblr while attending San Francisco City College. They can be found at marilynroxie.com.
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