Sometimes, actually, a lot of the time, I feel like an invisible queer.
I don’t have an undercut, or a septum piercing, I don’t have any tattoos, or any of the outward signifiers of being “alternative” in a way that some people may associate with queer identity.
As a mostly feminine-presenting person and kind of a boring dresser, I get to walk around in the world without any outward indication of being queer, which is mostly fine, because I don’t really need everyone I pass on the street to know I’m a lesbian. Except for this guy at my gym (not going to happen, bro).
I’m not ashamed of being queer, and don’t have any desire to hide who I am, but the assumption that I’m straight makes me feel like no one can see me at all. Being thought of as straight doesn’t offend me, it’s just not who I am. Compulsory heterosexuality, or the assumption of straightness, the same mandatory heteronormativity that always made me feel like the weird kid growing up—like I was confused and terrible at being straight as opposed to a totally normal queer person—is still culturally prevalent, making it difficult to feel seen at all.
When I came out to a close friend, who is also queer, he told me I would have to come out again and again for the rest of my life. There should be some kind of radar or signal that’s only visible to the queer eye to help us identify fellow queers, lest we pass our people on the street and miss the opportunity to stop and give each other the secret queer handshake.
Did you know we have a secret handshake? We don’t, but we should.
Even in queer circles or lesbian bars, the femme anxiety loop in my head keeps playing over and over: Do they know? Or do they think I’m the straight friend? Should I say something? Oh, by the way, I’m gay, just FYI, wasn’t sure if you knew.
As much as I do love to shout it from the figurative rooftops—because I feel that if I don’t all the queer ladies will walk right past me and I’ll never have sex again—coming out over and over gets old. Having to explain myself constantly to family and “friends” who seem to “forget” that I’m gay, or refuse to acknowledge it altogether, can be draining.
I don’t want to sit down with my Cuban great-aunt and have a conversation about Blue Is The Warmest Color. I just want her to stop asking me if I have a boyfriend.
At the risk of engaging in any kind of “Femme vs. Butch” thing, or to diminish the experience of people who do read as queer and may face more overt hostility, aggression and discrimination based on their gender presentation . . . The Hairpin’s queer advice columnist Lindsay King-Miller points out:
“This doesn't[...]necessarily mean that [femmes] feel safer. As an invisible queer, it's easy to wonder whether the person treating me with courtesy would switch to contempt if he or she knew that I'm married to a woman. I'm out to my family and friends and anyone who Googles me, but in day-to-day interactions with casual acquaintances or strangers, I'm always paying attention to the shifting algorithm in my head: Will I get an opening to out myself? Is it inappropriate to mention my partner in this conversation? Have we known each other long enough that it's weird I've never mentioned being married? If I use my partner's (fairly gender-neutral) name, will this person assume I'm talking about a guy? Do I want that to happen?”
The Twitter hashtag #WhatFemmeLooksLike aims to combat femme invisibility by presenting authentic, multi-dimensional images of queer femmes. There has been a recent increase in queer visibility in mainstream media; for example, queer femme characters often tend to all look the same, and we don’t always get to see accurate depictions of the various subsets and gender expressions of LGBTQI people.
#WhatFemmeLooksLike has also branched off into the subsequent hashtags, #WhatButchLooksLike, #WhatBiLooksLike, #WhatABearLooksLike, #WhatTransLooksLike, celebrating the dynamic communities and identities that exist within queer culture, and which deserve to be seen.