Coats of arms date back to the twelfth century when they were worn over armor in battle and in tournaments so that opponents could be readily identified. Eventually, coats of arms evolved to represent family descent, among other things, and became widely adopted by kings, princes, knights and other sources of power in Europe. Traditionally, to have a legal right to a coat of arms, a person must have had it granted to them by a ruling monarch, or they must be descended in the male line from a person to whom it was awarded.
I created a coat of arms for this project because so many people both within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community define “family” in ways that challenge the traditional definition of the word. For some of us, family is something that is self-defined or self-created as the result of discrimination or rejection by parents, siblings, or relatives. Coming out, whether it’s at the age of five or eighty-five, is a unifying experience, and I wanted to honor that with a heraldry to confer honor upon a different kind of family, one that transcends individual ownership.
Coats of arms are devised according to a system of symbols often centered around a shield. Each of the elements is intended to have its own alluring meaning. The Gayface Coat of Arms imprinted on the back cover of this book consists of the following symbols.
The bear is a symbol for strength and confidence. Always ready to stand against adversity, it takes action and leadership to protect its clan. The spirit of the bear provides a strong grounding force. Like the bear, our community will stand strong against adversity so long as it is needed.
In 1974, Boston activists reimagined the purple rhinoceros as a symbol for the gay rights movement. Often a misunderstood animal, the rhino is docile and intelligent despite its ferocious abilities. Like the rhino, our community is not always what it seems.
A labrys, or doubled-bladed battle axe, was used to symbolize the matriarchal tendencies of the ancient Minoan Crete civilization, representing feminist strength and self-sufficiency. For lesbians in the 1970s, the labrys was adopted as a symbol of women’s empowerment, and since this time, it has often functioned as a more covert identifier of female homosexuality than the double Venus.
A sword is symbolic of the penetrating power of the mind, encouraging the wielding of intellect to bring about results. It is an emblem of both bravery and defense, slashing ignorance to reach the truth. Calamus Acorus calamus is a tall flowering wetland plant. It is also the name of a cluster of poems, written by iconic American poet Walt Whitman, celebrating romantic relationships between men.
In ancient Rome, green indicated homosexual affiliations. In nineteenth-century England, the green carnation became a Victorian symbol of the gay community when men began pinning a green carnation on their lapel after it was popularized by Irish author and playwright, Oscar Wilde.
The pointed Mars symbol represents a male organism or man. In the 1970s, gay men began using two interlocking Mars symbols to symbolize male homosexuality. The two, of course, had to be slightly off-center to avoid the arrow of one intersecting the circle of the other.
The Venus symbol represents a female organism or woman. Some lesbians started using two interlocking female symbols, also during the 1970s, to symbolize female homosexuality.
Popular symbols used to identify transvestites, transsexuals, and other transgender people frequently consist of modified gender symbols combining elements from the male, female and genderqueer symbols.
In addition to the more recognizable symbols of the LGBTQ+ community, other symbols, such as a triangle inside a circle, have been used to represent unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another both inside the community as well as with straight allies.