Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Visible Invisible? (2017-06-16)
Jim C. Hines is a science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction author, generally for younger readers who has a deserved reputation for challenging pretty much the gamut of "isms" we could all do without. I stumbled over his blog during one of his sci-fi cover pose challenges, where he attempted to mimic in real life without permanently injuring himself the bizarre poses given to female characters. He has a good sense of humour and no patience with crap, which is too rare on the internet these days. As part of his work each year for the past three he has welcomed guest posts on his blog that dig into issues of visibility, or rather lack thereof, for people deemed "non-mainstream" via the previously mentioned gamut of "isms." The results have been impressive, and include a wide range of perspectives, essays, and as I understand it also poetry in the most recent anthology. The importance of visibility is not really appreciated, especially because for many of us the issue is an uncanny hyper-visibility and invisibleness.
Yes, that ugly phrase that sounds like it should be impossible makes my head hurt too. Would that was all it did, instead of being a state many of us have to live in. But since it does sound paradoxical, let me draw out what it means. In my circumstances, I am a dyke, out and proud. There isn't anyway I can be interpreted as anything else, and that has been true for many years. This makes me hyper-visible, because I have no use for femininity or masculinity, and that means there is always somebody ready to try to force me to fall in line, or at least insult me in some way for not doing so. Not being someone who can "pass," I have to be ready and able to cope with harassment not just by obnoxious men, but also by other lesbians who complain that I should stop "flaunting it." They all agree, I am too visible. But in the mainstream media, I am completely invisible. The one exception I have seen was pretty horrible, definitely a case of sneering and punching down. I can well imagine that some readers are skeptical of this invisibility claim, because they can point to Ellen or Melissa Etheridge or whomever is held up as the token lesbian of the hour. Instead of going there, have a look at Catholic Schoolgirl Gone Bad Production's Gender Troubles: The Butches. That's my crowd, and we are invisibilized in the mainstream media. I have been manoeuvred into the least visible parts of the crowd for group pictures all of my life, and have two examples where I was directed to stand on the edge of the crowd which allowed for me to be neatly cropped out.
Visibility is controversial whenever it challenges mainstream prejudices, and it is all too common for an oppressed community to scapegoat it's most visible members for their oppression. That's probably a definition of "horizontal violence" right there, punching at the folks who stand out in your own community, rather than standing together against the actual oppressors. It may be easier to engage in horizontal violence, and it may seem like doing so wins goodies like safety, respect, and acceptability. Except it doesn't. It just tells the folks doing the oppressing that their divide and conquer tactics are in full working order, and therefore successful resistance to an increase in oppression is unlikely.
In a conversation where my hyper-visibility crept in because the person I was speaking to was very threatened by it, I found myself a bit puzzled as to how to keep the conversation at least civil. After all, my visibility is not a stance taken in order to critique the personal choices of those who would fit nicely into the crowd of lesbians represented by Ellen and Melissa Etheridge. It's not a stance taken as a conscious critique of anyone in particular, although it is certainly a protest and critique of misogynisms and racisms, among other issues of concern to me. But I suppose that's the thing about visibility, it doesn't necessarily challenge our personal choices about how we dress or cut our hair or whatever, but it does make those engaged in passive or active support of oppressive practices uncomfortably aware of their complicity.