Rainbow Turns Gray

K. Barnes (1) 2.jpg

by April Poole '19

Content warnings: homophobia, homophobic language

In October of my freshman year at Middlebury College, I started calling myself bisexual, getting more and more vocal in Queers and Allies meetings, moving from an outsider looking in to someone completely immersed in the queer scene on campus.

That fall, the night of the first Queers and Allies party, I stood in my room with half of my dresser drawers open, my wear-to-every-party-in-case-people-spilled beer-on-them signature red Keds on the floor next to me, my lack of party clothes glaringly obvious as I pulled out shirt after shirt. I ended up with a black polka-dot crop top on—although I don’t know if it counts as a crop top when you wear high-waisted jeans so there’s no gap unless you raise your arms above your head. My hand shook as I put on my customary jet-black liquid liner, and I went through two makeup wipes trying to get it perfect.

I met my best friends on the first floor of my dorm, nervous that someone was going to see us and just know that we were going to the party at the Queer Studies House. It was different being queer in a queer setting and being queer in front of a bunch of straight people, and it was hitting me then. Tatyana looked hot in a black bodycon dress and her holographic silver Doc Martens, her curls perfectly sculpted and her lips shiny with lip gloss, and our male friends had their best sneakers on.

We got to the party early—getting to a party before eleven at Middlebury meant you were guaranteed to arrive to an empty house, but since we couldn’t pregame without our own alcohol (we didn’t know enough upperclassmen to buy for us yet), we wanted to make sure we got rainbow Jello shots—there’s something so undeniably college about Jello shots.

When we walked up to the house, an impossible to miss rainbow flag took up the entirety of one of the front windows. There would be no mistaking which party this was. The president of Q&A and his boyfriend were setting the Jello shots up in a rainbow across the table—sure to be ruined as soon as more people arrived but cute nonetheless—and occasionally stopping to steal a kiss.

I only had two Jello shots—a blue one and a red one—but I was buzzing with the sheer freedom of breaking through the internal barrier that had kept me from realizing my queerness earlier. The rainbow flag, Jello shots, gay couple holding hands as they prepped the house for the party—it all sent an electric current through me.

My friends and I started dancing as soon as Single Ladies came on—there’s nothing like a bunch of gay guys waving their ring fingers in the air. Over time though, as the room filled up and our friends started splitting off to dance with other people, our little circle became just Tatyana and I. She moved closer until one of her hands was against my ribs, and I shivered at the touch; I had never felt this way with my high school boyfriend. We moved closer and closer until our thighs were touching and my hand was running over the back of her neck. I don’t think I’d ever felt so alive.

Rihanna was playing then, so loudly that I wouldn’t have been able to hear a single thing Tatyana said, but I didn’t have to. Her smile, her hand against my side, they said everything we needed in that moment. I didn’t think about what it meant to be dancing with one of my best friends like this, didn’t think about if it would be weird afterward. I just sang along and pulled Tatyana closer, my hands interlinking behind her back as she danced, throwing her hands over her head, ignoring the couple the bumped into her from behind, pushing her even closer to me.

After we got too sweaty to stay inside the party, my crop top sticking to me and Tatyana’s hair starting to fall flat, we went outside into the October chill, sitting on the front steps of the Queer Studies House, our thighs pressed together as we brushed our fingers together in our laps. Behind us was an older queer couple; looking at them made me feel warm because now I truly knew that I wanted that. I was being honest with myself for the first time. My heart raced in the best way, and I couldn’t stop the smile on my face as I looked down at Tatyana’s leg touching mine, feeling her eyes on my face but too nervous to look up at her.

Sitting on the porch steps, we could hear the hockey house party two doors down, their music and partiers louder than ours. We tried to tune out the hockey boys and assorted white-prep-school-jocks as they walked by, talking in the too-loud way of drunk, overconfident, white straight men, and occasionally sneering at us as they passed.

But then it happened.

I had already encountered Drew from the first floor of my dorm, and knew that his gay roommate had applied to move out because of how Drew treated him. I walked the other way when I saw him on campus because something about him made my skin crawl. I felt nauseous when I saw Drew in the halls, even if he didn’t know I was queer.. But that night the impossible-to-miss rainbow flag was hanging behind me when his eyes turned in my direction and I knew we were going to have trouble. And sure enough, as Drew and his friends walked by the house, he dropped back from the group.

He yelled out “faggots!” looking at Tatyana and I and then at the gay couple behind us, who had their hands around each other’s waists. And then he dropped his pants and peed on the front lawn. Some of his friends looked uncomfortable, but some laughed and at least one applauded.

My heart stopped for a minute. Everything froze. The music still pounded inside, the rest of the party oblivious to what was happening. On the porch, we fell silent. I imagined I could hear Drew’s pee hitting the grass on the edge of the lawn over the thumping Nicki Minaj from inside. I was suddenly sure I was going to throw up, and couldn’t tell if I wanted to pull my hand back from Tatyana or grab her hand tighter. Taty gave Drew the finger while Amari behind us yelled “fuck you!” Jeremy and I both stayed quiet and in the corner of my eye I saw Jeremy wrap his arm tighter around Amari’s when it looked like Amari was going to go off the porch toward Drew.

“It’s not worth it,” he said quietly, “they’ll leave.”

And they did.  

The first time I stood tall next to a rainbow flag, the first time I danced with a girl, I was called a faggot.

After that, I was scared. I was scared to walk in the front door of the tiny white house with the rainbow flag in the front window. I was scared to reach across the dining hall table to hold a girl’s hand. I was scared when I saw Drew in the first floor hallway of my dorm, coming from the shower with a towel around his waist when I was leaving for my 8am class.

He turned the rainbow flag gray in my mind that night. A symbol of celebration had been stolen from me. It was a long time before it was technicolor again.