This may look like an ordinary water bottle (I don’t know anything about the bike shop so don’t ask) and you would be correct. However, at one time it’s symbolism extended far beyond its function.
I acquired this sports bottle semi- unintentionally. I had entered a mountain bike race at Kickapoo State Park in Illinois which was put on by a wonderful local group called the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club. As is part and parcel of mountain bike races (at least in Illinois) the organizers were handing out grab bags for racers part of which was a clear or pink bottle. As you can well imagine, being a guy, I was handed a clear bottle. I took it and began to walk away from the registration table.
Then I stopped and began to think better of my decision. You see, ever since I watched the Giro d’Italia, which is a nearly month long bike race around Italy, I fell in love with pink as a color for cycling. In the Giro the leader’s jersey is called the Maglia Rosa and as the name might suggest to you the color is a brilliant rose pink. The pinkish hue is everywhere; on the cars, billboards, podium, bikes built especially for the occasion and on the confetti that falls precipitously at the finish. Yes, by the end of that twenty-some-odd day race I could never see pink again without seeing it for it’s flashy, race worthy badassery that is on display during that event.
The truth of the matter was I became hooked on the pink bottle as soon as I saw them, but until this very moment I had accepted the clear bottle as a matter of social conditioning even though I didn’t want one. I was about to remedy this. I turned around and asked, “Actually, could I get a pink one instead?”
That’s about all I remember. I don’t really remember the event itself. I think there was a little blood, a shitload of sweat from that good ol Midwest humidity and a mid pack finish for me.
At this point in my life, I had firmly accepted that I was pansexual but it seemed a rather academic point rather than a pragmatic one. I was married so exploring this newly realized identity was not exactly a viable option. I was comfortable with this. Plus, I didn’t solely like guys so being married to a woman didn’t undermine my identity.
If I can offer an aside, It’s important to note that I was also living in a conservative part of the country where being different isn’t exactly accepted. People aren’t wrong when they say the Midwesterners are nice. You can have a conversation with almost anyone on a whim. Just make sure to keep things on a superficial level or you may not like the topic once it shifts from the weather.
I always tell people that the Midwest (at least the rural portion) consists of a thin veneer of nicety concealing a seething cauldron of hatred beneath. At least every other day I had to back someone down from making some kind of horrible statement. Whether it was demonstrating xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, transphobia or what have you. It was tiring to say the least.
In fact, right around this time I remember a coworker/neighbor of mine taking a line of joking, that she started, the wrong way. Through the drags of her cigarette and with a good amount of hatred and disgust she called me a faggot as I parted her company. All of this before anyone aside from my wife at the time even knew that my sexual interest deviated from women.
I should say at this point that there are also some quality people in the Midwest and they deserve their credit. It must be admitted though that the small town mind pervades this geographical area more so than other parts of the country, save for the south perhaps.
I’ve lived in my new home state for almost two years now and I’ve been 100 percent out the entire time and have never had to back anyone down from anything racist, homophobic or the like. It feels like an emotional vacation, but I digress.
So now I had this pink water bottle which I loved, but did I dare use it in rural America? At first I began using it just as a way to haul extra water in my cooler on ride days. So when riding laps at my local trail I could stop by and refill my Camelback. I had to take a few friendly jabs about it but it was easy to say it was my Giro pink bottle even though the color didn’t match the Maglia Rosa. Then I started taking it to work daily as my go to bottle for the day. When anyone said something about it I quickly stated my fondness for it, “Are you kidding? I love pink, that’s my favorite bottle!” All of it was true.
What went unspoken was that in a weird way this became a means for me to push a boundary, admittedly a small one, on gender norms. This was literally the only pink thing I owned because as a man I wasn’t supposed to. If this sounds like bullshit, it is, but I swear to you this dynamic exists and is alive and well. Carrying this bottle was a way for me to signify that I was different.
Yes, I loved the color and I would have used it regardless of my sexual orientation. Even though the color pink has nothing definitive to do with being queer, it became a secret symbol of my queerness. It was a way for me to take that part of me out into public even if no one else knew what was going on. This gender-bending symbolism slowly gave me confidence.
Before I left the Midwest I came out to a few people close to me. It was the next step in my evolution and as weird as it may sound that pink bottle played a role.
Recently, I noticed this bottle was missing from my collection. I had long chalked it up as lost and had forgotten about it until my ex-wife walked into my place with it the other night. I had left it in her car and so it had remained for months.
As I washed it and placed it in the dish rack I realized that I still loved the color. A pink bike or team kit? Yes please. However, the bottle itself had lost it’s hold on me. I still like it but it’s no longer my favorite. It’s a bottle now, nothing more than a utilitarian object with a symbolic past.
I’m out! I’m queer, bisexual, and/or pansexual. I’m a faggot, whatever you want to call it I don’t really care. I paint my fingernails and toenails, I cross dress for myself and for my partners. You see, I don’t have to deal in hidden symbolism anymore. I am my own living symbol and that feels better than carrying around that pink bottle ever did.