We are nearing the end of Pride 2023. It started with a glorious and sparkly bang, and I felt optimistic and joyful as I saw several rainbow flags line the two-lane street through my small town. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm has waned over the month as I hear of assaults against LGTBQIA+ people and the pride dared to be expressed.
Carnation, Washington lies only a short drive from the metropolis of Seattle (I can zip downtown in 20 minutes if traffic is flowing!) but these two locales could not be more different. Seattle has come to be a progressive haven for people around the world. There is culture galore, support for those in need, and a feeling of tolerance and acceptance for all social classes. Carnation, despite its physical proximity, is a rural community with roots steeped in farming and agriculture. The current population of Seattle is estimated to be 755K+ and growing steadily as people flock to the welcoming city. Our tiny hamlet of Carnation is topping the charts at a whopping 2,300 (that is an over-estimate) and lies about 303rd on the list of most populated towns in Washington. We are so close, yet a world away...
Writing from my office in bucolic Carnation, less than 30 miles drive from that luscious green gem that is Seattle, I cannot fathom why anyone would want to live in a loud, bustling city. It feels too crowded to me; no room to move! The traffic is heinous, things are costly, and crime is always higher in denser populated areas. Give me the quiet. Give me the friendly neighbors greeting HELLO as we pass on the sidewalk. Give me fresh picked strawberries lovingly grown up the road. A safer place to watch my child grow, where I feel lulled by the slower pace and access to nature.
But no place is perfect. The natural beauty and charm of Carnation is changing quickly. Some folks eagerly anticipate the added revenue brought by businesses establishing roots in order to support the expanding population. Many citizens are hopeful and gracious as they watch the town grow. Others grumble with resistance and frustration at each new development that springs to life in our once quiet village, focusing on added traffic and lack of infrastructure. Despite differing viewpoints, it is apparent that the fine people of Carnation genuinely love their community and will fight for what they feel is right, each person voicing their opinions with the intention of doing what is best for their community, their families, and themselves.
With little room left in Seattle and surrounding cities, urban sprawl has met its match in Carnation. As if watching ivy slowly creep up the side of a chimney, we witness the spread of housing developments and new roads being carved up and over the valley walls that once protected this lush and verdant valley from the impacts of growth. With every new change to this little town, people experience waves of sadness, nostalgia, and fear. This is to be expected. Humans are notoriously bad at change!
But change is inevitable.
Previously named Tolthue or Toltxw by the Natives who came first, “Tolt” found its way onto Washington maps in 1857*. By 1865 non-natives had settled in and done what they do best – changed it. Can you imagine what it was like back then?! Untouched, natural, and wild? A remarkable sight, I am sure. Tolt became incorporated in 1912 but by 1917 the name was changed to Carnation (the history there is interesting, but not the focus of my story).
I like to dream of what rustic Carnation was like one hundred years ago. Hell, I wonder what it was like 10 years ago. Love the growth or hate it, I am a part of it. You see, I’m new here too. And that forces change. I own a home in the unincorporated outskirts of town. I benefit from all the aspects of agrarian life AND I utilize all the rewards municipality offers. My business, though small and extremely private, is mostly unrecognized but it still changes the face of our community. I recognize the privileges my station in life offers as I watch from a safe distance while my fellow townsfolk debate change and I see how that can insight upset and emotionally fueled outbursts.
Currently, one hot topic of change is centered around Pride Month. The one month of the year where we openly show support of the many LGBTQIA+ members of our community. Like July, where patriots dedicate energy to showing their support for America and demonstrate pride in the country we share. Or February when we turn our focus to the historical and continued impacts Black History has on our nation. June has been nominated as the month to do the same for another oppressed group of individuals that also still face backlash for simply being. October aims to bring awareness to breast cancer and December has typically been dedicated to religious celebrations around the world. We do not shy away from displays of endorsement at other times of year and even eagerly anticipate the changing of seasons and the opportunity to celebrate. I, for one, cannot wait for pumpkin spice in the fall (yep, I’m basic), I treasure snowy days snuggled next to my loved ones in winter, and I revel in the explosion of glitter and vibrant color when rainbows and flowers and sparkly unicorns inundate my faculties in June.
Who doesn’t like a rainbow?! I genuinely believe that humans, by nature, love rainbows! A small child, before being taught to hate or judge, will look to the sky after a rainstorm and marvel at the stripes of vivid colors arcing above. Hues of primary colors streaking across an azure backdrop cause every single person I have ever met to stop and gaze respectfully toward the heavens.
Prior to a deeper understanding of nature and science, man would explain the sight of a rainbow as a miracle. A gift from God. A symbol that the storm had passed, and brighter days lie ahead. This is why the rainbow is such a powerful symbol for marginalized people. Personally, I look to a rainbow flag flying with pride outside a home or business as another little miracle. A visual representation of the love and support we can offer our fellow man. A cue that tells me that the people inside this home or car (or in this parade) are open to love and tolerance and acceptance of their fellow community members.
Rainbow flags are not just an indication of someone's sexuality (Some flags do indicate a specific sexual orientation or gender identity and I encourage you to broaden your knowledge; however, the controversy in Carnation centers around RAINBOW flags). The rainbow flag is a symbol of awareness, support, and inclusivity. It is a welcome sign. It is a recognition that an entire group of people in our community have been pushed aside and stigmatized for too long and many people want to change that narrative. Homes and businesses hang a rainbow flag to offer safe harbor in a storm.
I do not hang a rainbow flag to tell you who is in my bed or what is between my legs - that does not concern you. I hang a rainbow flag to indicate that I am a safe person. I hang my rainbow flag with PRIDE to show everyone that you can be yourself with me. That rainbow is my nod to others that I will accept you. To me, that includes not just sexuality or gender identity, but all the traits we express as humans. My rainbow flag tells you that I will be open to you and all that you are. Does that mean I have to agree with you? Nope. Does it mean I have to like you? Nah. It simply means that I will not pre-judge or make assumptions about you.
My beliefs about what the pride flag represents are mine alone. They may not be exactly what someone else believes and I am sure some people may even be upset (triggered) by what I share here. But you are free to have opinions! You are free to think I am wrong or dumb or misguided or privileged (you could be right!). You are even free to hate what I say. You can think and believe anything you want – it is your right. You can hate people and you can hate rainbows. But it becomes a serious problem when your hate infringes on my rights. When your judgment or disdain allows you the freedom to destroy property or harm another person.
So, can we talk about the tearing down of flags along main street in Carnation? I mean, get to the point already! Jeeze.
There really is no argument here. We can fall back on basic Kindergarten decorum – do not touch things that do not belong to you. Is that rainbow flag on your property? No? Then don’t touch it.
There are many people who are offended by things that they see, and they go about their daily life without splashing their upset onto others. For example, I recently fell in line behind a car with a large sticker on the bumper that boldly advertised the F-word. Now, whether you agree with the sentiment, do I have the right to go peel it off their p.o.s. Honda? Nope. That is vandalism (and vandalism is a crime). I must avert my eyes and process my feelings about it (Hint: I use a therapist!). When my elementary age child, who is perfecting her reading skills utters that dreaded F-word aloud for the first time (because they are practicing and learning and words are cool), do I get to follow the driver home and harass them about my viewpoint on public profanity? Nope, I do not get to do that either. Here is what I am allowed to do: handle my reactions.
Does anyone know what it is called when you have an intense emotional response to something you see or hear? I’ve already given you hints...Anyone? Maybe you in the back? ...Bueller....Bueller....
This is called a TRIGGER.
Now, I know some of you might even be triggered by the word trigger at this point. I mean, aren’t we all just tiptoeing around trying not to offend anyone? Ugh, it is so hard to navigate the overly sensitive snowflakes and all their emotional whining and pleading for equality. Gross! Being forced to look at a rainbow flag just makes me so sick I can’t stand it and I must express my frustration, disgust, and anger by tearing it down!
The need to destroy someone else’s property because of YOUR intense emotions about what they are doing is the literal definition of a trigger. It is a stimulus that elicits a reaction.
Here is where my powers of psychotherapy come into play. This is quite possibly bound to be the most helpful and insightful advice you will ever receive. Plus, it is free of charge, so I am quite literally giving it away. This is GOLD, folks. Take note. Here it comes....
Go to therapy.
Deal with your issues.
Heal from your traumas.
Unburden yourself and find inner peace.
It is possible.
It ain’t easy, but it is possible.
And it is available to you in myriad ways.
One of the most beneficial methods is mental health therapy. Find a professional listener and work through your problems. Unpack your baggage. I understand that you have spent decades getting it all folded up nice ‘n’ neat and packed up tight in your oversize duffle. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop lugging that behemoth around every day? Hauling that unwieldy sack o’ stress into every interaction you have with people- your family, your friends, your snooty neighbor, or your pretentious boss. And it really impacts strangers! Imagine NOT getting all riled up every time someone assaults your senses in some innocuous manner. In fact, when you get really skilled at recognizing your triggers, you will experience more peace and calm even when faced by truly heinous behaviors. You will simply recognize that other people’s behaviors are not always (ever?) a direct reflection of YOU. There is so much freedom and peace in that wisdom!
Nobody deserves to carry a burden of hate and anger. No one should have to feel such an intense sense of disapproval at the sight of a rainbow that they unleash their rage onto unsuspecting strangers. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. And it can be resolved. Because somewhere, I don’t know when or how yet, but at some point, in your personal timeline, you developed such an intense belief around whatever triggers you (let’s just stick with rainbows and flags for now, shall we?), that you get overwhelmed and act out. That is it. It does not mean you are a bad person. And it was certainly not your fault (this typically develops in childhood or because of trauma).
Every single person I have ever met is triggered by something, usually by lots of different things. But we must learn to recognize those triggers and act accordingly. We reassess our beliefs and recalibrate. We may not be at fault for how we came to believe such things, but we are 100% responsible for what we do with those beliefs.
Remember, touching things that do not belong to you is wrong. Lashing out with cruelty toward strangers is not kind. And don’t we all deserve a little more kindness? Even our community members that tear down rainbow flags, break windows, and toss little racist pamphlets into our neighbor's yards; don’t you want to be treated with kindness too? You can be! But we all must do our part.
My LGTBQIA+ friends can keep loving who they choose and spreading support for others. As a therapist, my continued part will be to assist people in identifying their triggers and processing their traumas. And individuals so intensely triggered by the sight of rainbows can be offered the kindness, tolerance, and support required to process through whatever pain they carry and no longer feel the urge to harm others. Can we agree that we all deserve that?
Change has forever been a part of our community. Carnation has never stopped changing and it will continue to change and grow (in one way or another) long after we are all gone. You do not have to love change (remember, you can even hate it!) but you might want to consider addressing why these changes trigger you. Anger, intolerance, hatred, and bigotry are not the legacy I envision for our quaint city, and I will continue to do what I can to make it a welcoming place for all. I will strive to embrace the changes of Carnation, but I will not be complacent or complicit. I will continue to assess my own triggers as they arise, and I will avail myself to support others that choose to march toward self-acceptance and understanding. It makes Carnation stronger; it makes individuals more compassionate, it fosters peace, and it builds a community we can be proud of.
**Please feel free to comment or question down below. Just remember that reading can be a trigger! So be respectful and kind - but always honest**
*According to the City of Carnation website @ https://www.carnationwa.gov/?SEC=215D018D-DF06-4EDE-BE66-19EBBE278C34#:~:text=The%20first%20record%20of%20Tolt,as%20a%20homestead%20in%201858.