Queer visibility is not the work of a moment. It’s the work of a lifetime — and every single day counts. Do I have the energy for this?
Everyone’s been asked The Question at one point or another. “If you could either be invisible or be able to fly,” they say, “what would you choose?”
But in reality, it’s not really a choice. Because even though I’ve always flown in my dreams, in real life, I’ve always been invisible. Specifically, an invisible queer person.
Mostly, honestly, this is fine. Not reading as queer makes me feel safe at rest stops and when traveling to new places. And during all of those years when I was in the closet, looking like a straight girl meant one less thing I had to worry about — at least nobody was accusing me of anything as I hid, trying to untangle the threads of my sexuality, desperately clawing towards a place where being queer would feel acceptable, feel a little more normal. At least nobody was calling me out. At least nobody saw me.
But that was a double-edged sword if ever there was one. Because: nobody saw me.
I started to feel a little bit like a crazy person.
“Am I making this up?” I would ask myself. “Do I just not like sex that much? Am I just inventing another thing to keep me from having to grow up and face my future?” Maybe, I thought at my lowest points, I wasn’t queer — I was just really crappy at being straight. I was just deficient. I just couldn’t connect to other people, and I was making up reasons why.
I kept thinking that if I really was gay or bi, someone would see it and tell me. After all, when a male friend in high school had come out, everyone had already known for months and months. He had a community ready and waiting the moment he said the word, because the way he looked and sounded signaled something to the right people, or at least that was how I understood it at the time. Somebody someday would ask me out, or at least take me under their wing. I waited and waited for that moment — for my rescue. I waited for years.
It didn’t come.
I was talking this over with a lesbian woman last summer and she laughed. “Nobody swooped in to rescue you because we’re trying not to be predatory,” she told me. “Nobody wants to be that woman who recruits the straight girl.” I think her perspective was informed by coming of age in the early nineties — these days, I’d be happy to be the person who “recruits” (i.e. gently welcomes) a newbie — but there it was.
These days, I know it’s nobody’s job but my own to out myself — whether it’s to myself, or publicly — and after about ten years, when I finally got so tired of waiting that the scary alternative of doing the work myself was the better option, I did it. I reached out, I started dating, I started to build a community. I stopped feeling as though I had made something up. I benefited immeasurably from the shift. I began connecting to people in ways I hadn’t in so many years.
But: beyond that community? Because of the way I look, because I have a male partner, I’m still pretty invisible.
I now understand what people mean when they say that coming out is a constant, life-long process. In every new situation, I decide whether to out myself or to “pass” as straight. And often — mostly, even — whether it’s out of habit, or because it’s easier, or because it feels so safe — I keep quiet. I stay invisible. And while it no longer makes me feel as crazy as I did before I came out to anyone, I owe it to myself to do it better. I owe it to myself and my community to be visible, in the small everyday ways that change people’s minds about what the queer community looks like (spoiler: it looks like anyone and everyone) and whether they deserve equal rights and protections under the law and even pizza at our weddings if we want it (spoiler: duh, we’re human too)!
Last week I put an equality sticker on my car. It petrified me. It still scares me every time I see it. But in the end, it’s those small steps that will make the difference. I’ll keep trying to make them. Someday, I will be invisible no more, and my comfort zone — and my community — will be everyone I meet. Someday, it will encompass the whole world.