The first time I remember thinking about this:
it was in a middle school science class. The teacher explained that it was a symbol for hermaphroditism – a condition in which people believed they were both male and female. I later learned that this wasn’t remotely accurate, but at the time, I didn’t know that, and anyway I was too busy processing my thrill of recognition to care. The (again, science) teacher went on to say that these people were sexually attracted to both men and women (cue more thrilling) – oh, and that people who used this symbol usually ended up dead of AIDS.
Did I mention that this was not a sex-ed class? That he just brought this up out of nowhere, with the symbol loaded up on the overhead projector?
I remember being angry at the teacher, and deciding that he was wrong, but it’s entirely possible that my brain is retroactively making me stronger than I was. I had always liked him; I was crushed by this weird mini-lecture; memory is tricksy. What I remember is being so exhilarated – feeling like someone else was showing me myself – only to punch the mirror next to my face as I started to smile.
When I saw Prince using his own version of the symbol as a name I remember feeling that same thrill. In my mind it’s woven together with how I felt reading David Bowie interviews, watching The Man Who Fell to Earth, realizing that I had more options than the binary that had always felt like a trap. They gave me that sense of exhilaration back. They demanded that I look in the mirror again. The told me to love what I saw, and fucking dance with my own reflection.