Who here has ever read The Rainbow Fish? I had fond memories of it as a kid. I loved how sparkly it was and the texture of the book. I read back on it recently and realised that it is one of the saddest stories I have ever read! The Rainbow Fish is expected to give away the parts of himself that make him special, so that he will be able to fit in with everybody else. The fish around him are resentful of what makes him different, so instead of learning how to love themselves and appreciate difference, they take those things away from him instead.
I have recently come to learn that rainbow fish actually uses they/them pronouns. Which people / fish don’t really understand. I also discovered that of course this story was written without the consent of Rainbow Fish and was grossly exaggerated and misrepresented. So I thought I would read you the story they wrote instead.
A long way out in the deep blue sea there lived a fish. Not just an ordinary fish, but a rainbow fish. Their scales were every shade of blue and green and purple, with sparkling silver scales among them. The other fish, were confused by Rainbow Fish’s beauty.
“Why do you get to have all of the colours of the rainbow? When the rest of us only get one each?” they asked.
“Because I am a Queen.” Rainbow Fish replied, gliding past with shimmery scales.
The other fish didn’t understand them, but Rainbow Fish knew that they were beautiful.
“I don’t like that rainbow fish”, Blue Fish said to Pink. “He acts like he’s better than us!”
“Yeah! She’s no better than we are just because she has more colours.”
“Seems like it’s just greedy!” said Blue
The Fish decided to exclude Rainbow Fish from their fishy activities. They no longer invited them to their pool parties, or to explore the edge of the reef. Rainbow Fish ended up spending a lot of time on their own, trying to remind themself that they are still beautiful.
One day, Blue Fish followed after Rainbow Fish.
“Oy Rainbow Fish,” he called.
Rainbow Fish sped up, feeling a little bit nervous.
“Wait for me! Please give me one of your shiny scales. You’ve got
so many, surely you can spare just one.”
“You want me to give you one of my special scales? Who do you think you are?” cried the Rainbow Fish. “Get away from me!”
The little blue fish was angry. He was not used to not getting what he wanted. He told all his friends what had happened. From then on, no one would have anything to do with the Rainbow Fish. They called them a freak, an ‘it’ and a monster.
Rainbow Fish felt alone and afraid. They had never realised they were so different. They were just busy being themselves. But now they were the loneliest fish in the entire ocean.
They heard from a starfish about a wise octopus that lived in a deep, dark cave beyond the coral reef. So Rainbow Fish went out to seek her help.
The Rainbow Fish saw a shimmering rainbow in the ocean and followed it until they found the cave. It was very dark inside and they couldn’t see anything.
Suddenly a big pair of eyes stared back at Rainbow Fish from the darkness.
“I have been waiting for you,” said the octopus in a deep voice. “The waves have told me your story and now it is time to tell you mine. I have lived in these waters for many years. Longer than some of the coral growing on that reef.” She extended a long tentacle and pointed to the ancient seaweeds swaying in the current.
“All my life I was surrounded by octopi that were able to camouflage. My family, my friends, could change colour whenever they wanted and blend into their surroundings, but I never could. I was laughed at, taunted, bullied. I tried everything to make them like me. But I just couldn’t blend in. So I came up to this cave. In the darkness, I can disappear. It’s not quite camouflage, but it’s all I’ve got.”
“So you think I should give away my scales? Blend in and be like everyone else because I can?”
“Not all of us have the option to blend in. I spent a long time trying and never could. Which is why I live here, in this dark cave. If giving away your scales means you will be like everyone else and treated the same – then you should do it. Throw away your pride.”
The octopus disappeared into a dark cloud of ink.
Rainbow Fish returned to the reef where the single-colour fish swam. Blue Fish appeared and said,
“Oh, you’ve returned? Ready to give me one of your scales?”
Rainbow Fish thought on it for a moment. They pondered all of the words of the wise Octopus and did not want to end up on their own.
“Okay, but just one.”
“Yeah! Just one!” Blue Fish said.
Rainbow Fish carefully removed their smallest rainbow scale and handed it over. With a grin, Blue Fish tucked the shiny scale in amongst his blue ones.
“At least I won’t be alone.” Thought Rainbow Fish.
The next day, all the single-colour fish came crowding around Rainbow Fish. They felt excited and loved. They knew they had done the right thing.
“Can we have a scale too?” They chorused.
“What? All of you? But then I won’t have any for myself! No. I’m sorry. I will not be doing that. My scales are my power and my beauty, you will not take them away from me.”
“Sounds gay!” Blue Fish laughed spitefully.
“Correct.” Rainbow Fish sashayed away. They sauntered with such might that their tail caused a current. The current lifted the sparkling scale that had been tucked on the Blue Fish and swept it across to Rainbow Fish. “I’ll take that back, thanks.”
They sought out deep-sea creatures who looked, spoke and sounded a bit different. They taught them all that they were loved, beautiful and not alone. They dreamed of starting their own reef that embraced difference and celebrated sparkle.
They found fish that had extra fins, fish with fashion, fish with short-term memory loss, fish who didn’t care what others thought, fish who loved many other kinds of fish. Jellyfish and squid whose parents didn’t want them, sea turtles who chose to have babies on their own. Rainbow Fish collected them all and brought them to the dark cave where the octopus lived.
“Just one stop before we make our new home.”
Everyone looked around at each other, the cave looked dark and ominous. Rainbow Fish went inside and pulled out the great, wise octopus – to discover that she was covered in rainbow ink!
“You don’t have to be alone anymore, Rainbow Octopus, and you certainly don’t have to blend in, because we all look different and that’s what makes us special!”
Rainbow Octopus burst a fountain of rainbow ink on top of everyone and they all danced underneath it. The day became marked as the very first coral reef pride parade and single-colour fish, camouflage octopi and every other kind of sea creature turned up to celebrate and love the Rainbow Family as they became known as.
The Rainbow Fish was the most beautiful fish in the entire ocean, for he had shimmering, colorful scales. All the fish admired him, but the Rainbow Fish rarely played with them.
One day, a little blue fish asked the Rainbow Fish if he might have one of his shiny scales. The Rainbow Fish became annoyed and yelled at the little blue fish. Word of the incident spread through the sea, and soon no one would pay any attention to the Rainbow Fish.
With no one to admire him, the Rainbow Fish felt sad, so he sought the counsel of a wise octopus. The octopus advised the Rainbow Fish to share his scales with the other fish. She warned that he would no longer be the most beautiful fish in the ocean, but that he would be happy. Naturally, the Rainbow Fish doubted this advice.
But when the little blue fish returned and asked again for a scale, the Rainbow Fish hesitantly removed one of his smallest scales and gave it to the little fish. A new and peculiar feeling came over him. Soon, other fish appeared, and, one by one, the Rainbow Fish gave away his shiny scales, until he was surrounded by the shimmering from all the fish with whom he had shared.
Finally the Rainbow Fish had only one shining scale left. His most prized possessions had been given away, yet he was very happy.
“Come on Rainbow Fish,” they called. “Come and play with us!” “Here I come,” said Rainbow Fish and, happy as a splash, he swam off to join his friends.