Finally — A Rainbow That Feels Like Home

Feature image photos by Jane Martin (a.k.a a rainbow lover), 2022

I was in California for a conference when I heard about the Club Q shooting. I rolled over in my hotel bed, opened my eyes, checked my phone, and processed the headline in chunks of trauma, grief, and fear:

Colorado
Springs
LGBTQ+
Killed
Club
Shooter
Again

I did not cry. Instead, I scrolled for details. I texted my friends who live in Denver. I know Denver is not Colorado Springs but when fear comes, the world shrinks. Colorado became one neighborhood block, and my heart thought it possible that every queer Coloradan I knew was at Club Q. My friends were safe, but they all knew someone who knew someone who had been to Club Q once and loved it, who knew the folks who died, who were a part of this story. And at that moment, my fear cared little about these degrees of separation.

The conference had been a joyful reunion — the first in-person one since the pandemic came. Our Group Chat booked a family room designed for Disneyland families on a budget — equipped with bunkbeds, no daily housekeeping, weird hallway smells, and a free breakfast we never ate. My friend and I presented about the online LGBTQ+ youth book club we’d facilitated throughout the pandemic. I received a big award for my dedication to activism for marginalized youth through young adult literature. We saw the fireworks from an upscale restaurant in Downtown Disney. But even before the Club Q news, small cracks formed in my joy. My friend and I eventually confessed to each other that we’d both been stress-dreaming about possible transphobic violence at our session. My acceptance speech for that award was not just gratitude for the honor; it was a plea of exhaustion and the need for allyship in the fight against anti-LGBTQ+ efforts in schools. The fireworks we watched were mediocre, and I’d confessed to the waiter that I hated the chicken dish he recommended for me. He brought me my full bill moments later, and I paid $45 for three bites and a good story.

Back home, my life was shifting fast in my absence. My wife was coordinating a cross-town move by herself. “We’ve already done the hard work. It’s just the movers’ time to shine now,” she assured me. She was mostly right, but I know moving is stressful, and I love the feeling of the first walk-through of a new place. I think I might be the only person in the world who’s suffered from moving day FOMO.

I checked in with her about the shooting. “Have you checked on [friend X], [friend Y], [friend Z]?” she asked. She knows they live in Denver, but her fear cares little about degrees of separation, too. “Of course — they’re okay” I responded gently.

Okay is always relative when you are queer and fighting to survive in a world that refuses to love you back.

The next evening, I said goodbye to The Group Chat, my colleagues, and California and boarded a plane back to Ohio, a red state with efforts waging to limit trans youth’s access to care, diverse curriculum inclusion in schools, and rights for folks with uteruses. For the first time, I walked into my new apartment with my wife and determined to leave as little as possible for the foreseeable future. When trauma, fear, and grief come knocking, I don’t answer the door. I stay home. I lose myself in bad romantic comedies. I invest in making my home a place that will be beautiful and cozy while the world crumbles around me.

Returning home to an apartment of boxes, new spaces, and potential during the week of Thanksgiving break created the perfect conditions for a week of grieving the loss of life, safety, and sanctuary through nesting. As a writer and book lover, I never feel at home until the books are unpacked.

“Why don’t you tackle the books? That’ll free up a lot of room” my wife said the day after I got in.

Barely 24 hours back home and she was already lovingly throwing shade at my overwhelming (and growing) library. I looked at the stacks of boxes sitting in front of the bookcases my parents built before I was born and sighed when I remembered the compromise I’d made with my wife. Unlike all of our previous moves, our books were not in boxes labeled with letters designed to help me alphabetize upon arrival. This time, I had packed them by color.

Red/Orange
White
Purple and some brown?
Blue
Black
Black
Green/Yellow

I surveyed the colorful chaos and sat my ass back down on our sectional.

Time for some confessions:

  1. I am a queer who mostly despises [human-made] rainbows. I love finding a random rainbow in the sky after a storm, but I mostly steer clear of all the corporate rainbow gear sold during June, and I definitely don’t understand why anyone would think all of these colors go together at the same time!
  2. I am a Taurus book snob who is incredibly stubborn, set in my ways, and thinks books should always be alphabetized on shelves. I know Dewey had some different ideas about organizing books, but my brain remembers books by the authors’ last names!
  3. I have spent years ridiculing my friends who dare organize their books by color for aesthetics because it makes no sense (See #2).

My wife is not a big reader, but she asked if we could try organizing the books by color this time.

“Like the rainbow thing on the blogs?” I asked saltily.

“Yes! It’s more visually appealing and not everyone finds books the way that you do, shea.”

My wife always reminds me that there are other ways of seeing and reading the world beyond what makes me comfortable. I am grateful for this.

I needed peer support, so I opened up our Autostraddle Slack channel and interrupted an important discussion on a very serious pie bracket for Thanksgiving:

“After years of saying no, today I am finally succumbing to peer/wife pressure and organizing my bookcases by color. Does anyone else do this? Does anyone else hate this?”

Responses streamed in. Some had and others hadn’t. Mostly, what I learned is that the Autostraddle team has beautiful bookcases and workspaces full of the most interesting knick-knacks and books.

Finally, Himani asked the question I’d been grappling with most: but the real question for all of you who organize your books by color — how do you find anything?

EXACTLY.

After more hours of lamenting, I started to unpack the boxes. I paid more attention to not just the covers of books but also the spines. For some reason, publishers sometimes make the spines of books different colors than the covers. This is very creative and cool in theory, but when I noticed it, I wished these people a lifetime of missing socks.

With two bookcases placed next to each other, I decided to let the book rainbow span across both, starting with red. When I found knick-knacks that typically went in on the shelves, I organized them by color too — if I was going commit to the chaos, I was really going to commit. 

“It looks so nice,” my wife said when she entered the living room. Hunched over, I grunted a response and sorted through green books, trying to sort them by their shades of green. “Do you think this is darker or lighter than this one,” I asked begrudgingly holding up two books. None of this matters, I thought. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever done but it does look nice.

When I reached purple, I asked my wife what came next. “Perhaps brown would look best,” she replied. That made sense to me. “But what about the pink books that I have here?” I asked, suddenly realizing that pink should probably go at the beginning before red. I looked at the shelf, dropped the books on the floor, and sat my ass back on our sectional. Rainbows are terrible.

Thirty minutes later, my need to finish sh*t overpowered my disdain for the rainbow sorting, and I reorganized the entire shelf to make space for the pink books. I added the brown books. I put up the gray books. I sorted the white books by shades of white and added the cute white penguin figurine I’d rescued from the IKEA As-Is section last fall. I threw up the black books haphazardly because I was over it and black is black is black.

Behind me, I found one more box — one from my old office that hadn’t been sorted. It was full of greens, purples, blues, reds, and yes — even a pink one. I yelled, and my wife suggested I take another break. I looked at the books and sat my ass back on our sectional. Rainbows are the worst.

Later that evening, I sat in our flowered gray armchair and picked through the last box, holding each book in my hand, memorizing its cover and spine before I made space for it and placed it on the shelf. These were the books that I read with the queer and trans youth and the books that I held most dearly in my own work with them: Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in A Crown, Akwaeke Emezi’s Bitter, Kacen Callender’s Felix Ever After, Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo. These were the books that comprised my rainbow in the storm of the past few years of grief.

When I was done, I stood back from the shelves and smiled. I would never be able to find anything I wanted but, for some reason, this rainbow was different than others. Hours into unpacking, sorting, and carefully placing books on the shelves my parents built, this chaos felt like home.

I looked around our new apartment. I’d spent a day making it feel warm, safe, and ours amid the fear and rage I felt about the Club Q attack and the theft of another sanctuary for folks like us.

“I’m never leaving this place,” I told my wife.

“We’re never moving again,” she responded.

“Done,” I said, even though I knew that us never moving again was as unlikely as me agreeing to color-code my library.

Miracles, like rainbows after a storm, happen though.


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shea wesley martin

shea martin (they/them/theirs) is a brilliant, queer, gender-expansive writer raised at the intersection of gospel and go-go (shout out to the DMV). With southern roots and Black queer magic, shea writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry that smells like your grandmama’s kitchen and sounds like a deep blues moan. Find them dreaming on Twitter.

shea has written 25 articles for us.

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