fuck visibility

Okay. So, recently, as in a few weeks ago, I got married. I married a gay guy, and I did it for reasons that are advantageous to both of us, and they have nothing to do with feelings. It is, essentially, an arrangement that gives me health insurance (so I can get an invasive surgery that I need to get) and gives him significant material benefits that I won’t bother to go into here.

Although it’s a good story on its own (I met him on a Tuesday, we married on a Wednesday, we had to do the whole ceremony and we giggled the entire time, we even drew up a pre-nup and had it notarized all within eighteen hours between meeting and marrying), I’m bringing it up because it has made me think about something that had already been percolating but that this “getting married” really made real for me. It’s made me think of a LOT of things, actually, including the absurdity of government having a hand in this kind of ridiculous institution. But what I want to talk about here is queerness, femininity, and “visibility.”

See, when I got married, I had to get a ring. I had to get a ring because I had to go with my husband into his place of work and waltz around as his wife for two days while getting his marriage all legitimized and getting my and his benefits solidified. My ring is a $20 simple sterling silver band that’s slightly too big because the kiosk at the mall didn’t have my size so I had to go a half size up. And I kind of love this ring. I don’t love the RING, itself, as a piece of jewelry, I mean it’s fine and all, totally unoffensive, but it’s not particularly lovable in itself. What I love about it is what happens to me when I wear it. What happens is, when I’m wearing it, I feel like I have this inside joke with myself that no one else gets. Not that anyone really notices it, or thinks about it much if they do notice it, but that’s almost precisely it — in a way, it’s like the ultimate symbol of straightness, of heteronormativity. A wedding band, right? And so when I wear it, I “pass” as a regular ol’ married woman. I’m a wife. I’m a straight, blond (oh yeah, my hair is blond now), young, hazel-eyed wife. But the thing is, the joke’s on them because they don’t even know there’s any joke. On the surface I would appear to be one, totally comprehensible, sensible thing and yet? I’m so *not*.

And I guess what it did for me in a way was release me from this idea of “visibility” as my aim. It’s like, ok, I look fucking straight. So? And, to whom? Why? And does that even matter? And the answer is, no, it doesn’t. I actually don’t give two shits whether I’m comprehensible, and I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility as an aim of queer politics is even particularly desirable. I mean, look, I spent years trying to figure out how to be queer, how to be the “right kind” of queer for the straights, how to be the right “wrong kind” of queer for the other queers, how to (and yes, this is a pattern in my life) liquify myself and take up the shape of whatever space I’m in so as to fit right in. To me this has been partly about attaining a sense of belonging (where since adolescence I’ve tended to acutely feel like I dis-belong). And it’s also been about safety, majorly. Like I’ve got this deeply internalized sense that passing and fitting in are the best way to stay safe. Physically safe, sexually safe, emotionally safe.

So what the hell is my point? My point is, I guess, to repeat what I said before, that I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility really ought to be a desirable aim of queer/femme politics. Like, what does that say about my relationship to the world if the way I organize myself in it is to best appear a certain way to it (or parts of it)? What that says is that my sense of self comes from outside, comes from how others perceive me, or rather comes from how I imagine others perceive me. And that’s bullshit because, honestly, I don’t think there’s any such thing as an “authentic self” or essence of self that can be authentically reflected or portrayed by your outer appearance. I don’t think there’s any way that every part of who we are will ever be visible to/perceived by/comprehensible to “the world” or “people” or whomever we are aiming to be seen/perceived/comprehended by. And like, if you think about it — when we try to be visible or try to be comprehensible, what is it we’re really reaching for? How do we measure what constitutes visibility? What are we reproducing in that effort? When we aim for inclusion, what remains excluded? When we use certain markers or norms or standards as a way to stay safe, what are we committing those who don’t/can’t access those same standards to? How are these standards also silently determined by whiteness, straightness, cisgenderness, upper-classness, ableness? Am I making any sense?

What it’s about, to me, or ought to be about, is just whatever the fuck we want. I just want to feel moderately okay in the world, and I want to measure that feeling according to my own feelings about and perceptions of myself rather than others’ feelings/perceptions of me. Like, I don’t want to seek to look a certain way in order to feel safe or to belong. Instead, I’d like to seek to look a certain way because it makes me feel bold. And by bold I don’t mean daring, flashy, fancy, etc. I just mean, I want to strive for a feeling of taking up space in my body such that my body feels strong, solid, present, and so that I can in turn try to think beyond a politics of comprehensibility and make room, in my own mind, for the immense possibilities that queerness presents to the world in all of its bodies.

Right, so the wedding ring. Yeah, it makes me feel like laughing hysterically when I have it on because everything it is supposed to symbolize — undying love and commitment to another person for a lifetime — is just totally irrelevant for me in my life right now. Instead, for me, it symbolizes this juxtaposition of who I was raised to be versus who I am; it symbolizes my own freedom from the ties of certain expectations; it symbolizes my commitment to myself that I am capable of making my own way in the world; and it symbolizes that I don’t give a fuck whether I’m “visible” or whether I’m “comprehensible” because honestly, it’s too much goddamn work and it’s not work that I even support.

There’s a lot more I could (and maybe will) say about this stuff in relation specifically to femme politics and femininity. But I’ll save that for now.

The end! You may now congratulate me on my recent nuptials.

EDIT: Someone just alerted me (god y’all are quick, that was like half an hour) to this post on femmetech.org on “deprivileging in/visibility” which is very much along the lines of what I’m getting at only she does it much better and with way less rambling. I don’t agree with everything she says but I do with a lot of it and I’d like to think about it more… hmm…

9 thoughts on “fuck visibility

  1. I’ve found that once I felt completely comfortable in my skin I no longer cared about visibility, but that took a while. I also needed that sense of security in belonging but now it feels good to just be me. Fuck visibility indeed.

    Oh and congratulations, Mrs. – ramble on! :)

  2. I have to say I’ve never understood the visibility issue. Why should my sexual identity need to be visible, any more than my professional identity, or my relationship status, my religion, my politics, my age, or any other factor personal to me? Actually, I have no respect for anyone who judges people based on outward appearances.

    Also, I have worn a commitment ring for near 23 years now. Not as any kind of symbol to the outside world, but only for it’s very personal meaning to me which has absolutely nothing to do with “undying love and commitment to another person for a lifetime.” Whatever your ring means to you is what it means to you.

    So congrats on your nuptials! You know I am rooting for you, no matter how or what you present to the outside world.

  3. yes, you are totally making sense.

    also, congratulations. because that is effin awesome. i am so on board with highlighting the ridiculousness of the whole concept, while getting real, serious needs met. that’s a total heartfelt congratulations on your marriage – for all the wrong reasons, of course ;)

  4. first. high fives on your very gay marriage, mrs.!

    second. i couldn’t agree with you more on the topic of visibility.

    my observation is that people who are molding themselves to fit some socially constructed standard about what a queer/gay woman looks like, when that is not in tune with who they authentically are, are insecure deep down and caught up in the superficial side of life and love. i try to focus on living my own truths and not giving a damn about what some people i don’t even know are going to think about me along the way. sometimes easier said than done. and if it is any consolation, i would not have perceived you to be straight based on your vibes. but i’m good at reading people!

  5. So congratulations to you for taking action to lead your own life and to figure out how to get what you need (although I really wish nobody would have to marry to access healthcare). I admire your daring boldness in creating your own path. Something we all should do.

  6. I really love this post. After spending a lot of time worrying about femme invisibility I’d decided to fuck it, which worried me too because I felt I was being a bad queer/less radical by not caring about readability. And I think you’re right: the point is that feeling like one must be visible is another kind of policing of femininity, and policing it especially in relation to ability, class, race, cisgenderness. So caring about visibility to me, after all this time, feels like caring about a certain way of being proscribed and dictated to, when actually the most freeing thing about learning about femme as a practice of identification was that it was a way to dress how I wanted to dress without feeling proscribed or limited by straight femininity. The more I think about it, the more “fuck visibility” is becoming central to my definition of femme. So thanks, and congrats!

  7. Thank you for writing this. I used to lurk on your site a lot, and I just remembered you 5 minutes ago and came to see what you are up to… and I really needed to read this. I’m just coming out of a long term relationship, the first one since I came out. I’m sitting here typing and wearing the most ridiculous femmy outfit, and I even looked at it when I put it on and thought hey, no one is ever going to believe I’m a lesbian in this!

    But I don’t care. I’ll meet someone or I won’t. I live in Long Beach, and there are women around. It’s not like I hide who I am when I talk to people. And if I’m rejected for being old enough that I ought to be dressing in sporty attire instead of romantic garb then fuck it.

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