for the longest time it struck me as odd, the way that the LGBT community at large upholds “visibility” as some kind of goal or ideal to be fought for. it wasn’t until recent years that i actually stopped and thought about it enough to realize why reference to and usage of “visibility” in this way bothers me so much.
as someone who has always been and will always be hypervisible because of their race, it baffles me when people advocate for visibility as if visibility is what we all want; as if visibility is even a means to getting what we all want.
this upholding of visibility as something important for all of us to fight for seems grossly negligent of the fact that some of us are already more visible than others and that that very visibility is part of what has gotten some of us bullied, turned away from certain circles or spaces, refused jobs, pulled over unjustly by cops, assumed to be something we’re not, assaulted for using a bathroom, asked how many articles of clothing ‘of a particular gender’ we’re wearing, cornered in alleyways and worse. “visibility” is not just an LGBT issue and it is not just a matter of needing more of it– some of us are already visible as something the second we stop out of our home and that visibility, be it in regards to sexuality, gender or something else entirely, is still wholly relevant to matters of LGBT advocacy.
on one hand, i understand the importance of days like Trans Day of Visibility, Bi Visibility Day; of organizations and people dedicated to visibility and for the fight for LGBT visibility in general. to an extent. but i often find that what people use “visibility” to mean would be better said if they replaced that “visibility” with “awareness” or “representation”…? then again, i’m sure that there are also people who really are fighting to “visibly” be their orientation and / or gender– whatever that may mean to them personally– because the flipside of being hypervisible is not being visible at all, ie. invisible, and i know that both can be equally horrible because, believe it or not, the very thing that makes me hypervisible to the world outside of my apartment also renders me invisible in many LGBTQIA spaces. it’s possible to be both hypervisible and invisible at the same time.
however, even acknowledging the fact that advocacy for visibility is often aimed at combating what many feel to be invisibility, it still irritates me that we have entire days and weeks devoted to visibility with seemingly little-to-no acknowledgement of how much of a double-edged sword visibility actually is and how that visibility plays out in different ways for different people.
i mean, every year the irony that is the Trans Day of Visibility’s celebratory focus on trans people through increased visibility contrasted against the Trans Day of Remembrance’s mourning of the loss of those who were often the most [hyper]visible and subsequently most vulnerable among us… yeah, that irony isn’t lost on me at all.
so yeah, uncritical advocacy for increased visibility will always make me weary. indiscriminate usage of “visibility” as being synonymous with “awareness” and / or “representation” will always be cause for pause.
Couldn’t it be a three-part continuum?
Hypervisibility – Visibility – Invisibility
And the goal is to get to that middle part, and be neither hypervisible or invisible?
And maybe we just need to define what that good kind of “visibility” means. Like maybe the goal is the kind of thing you gain from representation, something like “normalisation” or something? So for example in terms of sexual orientation things, if invisibility is people thinking “that’s not a thing” and hypervisibility is “that’s not normal”, then visibility is “that is.”
I’m a visual artist, so I think of things from that angle. And there’s this idea of a “visual diet” and how when we see things a lot and we get used to them and they become normal to us. Whether that is in the media or just around us in real life.
Using the trans example from above, living life as a proud and visibly trans person is one way to influence the visual diet of the people around you (by being hypervisible), but it is obviously also really dangerous to you personally. Media is a safer option of influencing other people’s visual diet. More visibly trans people in tv shows and movies – like regular people in regular shows and movies, not necessarily like stuff about transness – aka representation, would change the visual diet, and push trans people in general from the “hypervisibility” section towards the regular “visibility.”
And obviously other people look at it from different perspectives, it’s not just visual stuff. So like activist orgs doing campaigns or something is a different approach towards the same idea: to make invisible and hypervisible people “just” visible.
(PS to anyone wanting to adjust their own visual diet: Social media is perfect for this. Like go follow positivity blogs that post selfies of a particular demographic of people, follow the hashtags of selfie-posting events, etc etc etc.)
i’m sure that that is how many people think of it– as a linear spectrum or continuum of hypervisibility ⇔ visibility ⇔ invisibility, but in my humble opinion that is an oversimplification and reality does not in fact work that way. furthermore, as i tried to note in the OP, i disagree with / am uncomfortable with the idea that the ‘middle ground’ of ‘visibility’ is or should be a goal of LGBTQIA advocacy to begin with.
i for one am not looking for my queerness to be normalized and i couldn’t give less of a damn about representation for the sake of others knowing that people like me exist. i want who i am to be acknowledged and accepted without having to first be deemed “normal” by society in order to then be granted acknowledgment and acceptance. i want representation for myself and for those like me to know that we exist and that it’s okay– not “normal” because fuck “normal”, i really hate the entire concept of “normal”– to be who we are and that we’re not alone.
and representation can help with that, yes, but that is not synonymous with “visibility” to me.
i mean, really. what does being “visibly trans” even mean…? does it mean not “passing” as one’s gender? does it mean being “clockable” as trans? you do realize that is literally the last thing that many trans people want…? that i have literally never heard of anyone wanting to ‘live life proud and visibly trans’ or for there to be more visibly trans (whatever that even means) people in the media??
in fact, i would go so far as to say that to be “visibly trans” is synonymous with being hypervisible, which is why your usage of trans people as an example here makes no sense whatsoever to me.
this also exemplifies the discrepancy that i feel with this whole “visibility!!!” as a goal rhetoric, because whose goal is it? really? is it really even the common goal that we all share that it’s constantly being passed off to be?
is “visibility” what’s really being fought for or is it representation? awareness? if it’s the latter two things, i’d prefer that be said rather than “visibility”.
but that’s just my two cents. *shrugs*