Visibility

Apr. 3rd, 2014 12:37 pm
liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
[personal profile] liv
This is a theme I keep coming back to, I think, and it's not unrelated to the ongoing discussion about representation. I don't really have a conclusion or anything, so this is mostly a buncha links.

[personal profile] sonia, and then everybody else, linked to this brilliant post by [personal profile] thefourthvine: You're always coming out. And this has sparked some discussion about the differences between always-coming-out because you're in a primary relationship with a same-sex partner, and always-coming-out because you're bi or otherwise non-straight, but your visible relationship is perceived as het. So having to keep telling everybody you meet that you're in fact not straight, even if it's going to make things awkward or even dangerous for you, versus having the choice to let homophobes and well-meaning heteronormative people assume you're straight, but at the cost of feeling invisible. I don't think either one is worse than the other in all circumstances at all times, but they are both issues. I was also reminded of this prose poem by [tumblr.com profile] gyzym: six variations on the theme of coming out to people you’re already fucking.

This connects to a very good critical essay at Autostraddle by Lindsay King-Miller on Willow's character arc in Buffy. I really like the contrast of the Doylist perspective on Willow, that Whedon unfairly erased bisexual identities by scripting Willow as "straight" during the early seasons when she was dating Oz and crushing on Xander, and "lesbian" during the later seasons when she was dating Tara and Kennedy. Versus the Watsonian perspective, that Willow in fact identified as straight during her teens and as a lesbian in her 20s. King-Miller favours this latter view, because she points out very cogently that people whose orientation identity is fluid or changes over time also need representation.

I should say that I personally have never faced biphobia as such, even though I've seen both quantitative surveys and personal anecdotes that in some ways being bi can be worse than being monosexually gay or lesbian. I have sometimes avoided homophobia whether intentionally or just because I happened to get away with it by passing as straight. (That's due to a mixture of gender presentation and visible relationships with men.) Whereas, I have sometimes felt invisible-ized when people incorrectly assume I'm straight. So for me personally invisibility and erasure are bigger problems than prejudice, but I don't want to draw any over-general conclusions from that. I feel somewhat at risk of turning into the kind of person I swore I never would become when I first started to understand myself as bi, the person who keeps dropping "by the way, I'm bi" into every possible conversation. My relationships with women are important to me, but most of the time not relevant to the subject at hand, whereas claiming "bi" as an identity is not very important to me. But if I don't actively claim that, I assumed to be straight and that does in fact bother me.

It was also Trans Day of Visibility a couple of days back. I've been mostly observing the discussions around that, since it's not my issue. I think there is probably some analogy, albeit partial, between TDoV and things like about National Coming Out Day and Bi Visibility Day, which do apply to me and which I feel ambivalent about. Like, visibility and coming out are good things, absolutely, they're really valuable politically as well as personally in terms of letting people know they're not alone in their non-normative identities. I don't entirely like putting pressure on people to be visible, though; maybe they just want to get on with their lives and not be the representative of their identity group. Maybe indeed there are actual serious reasons why they're not out, very much including personal safety.

[twitter.com profile] eassumption posted Instead of Trans Day of Visibility, let's observe Cis Day of Visibility, where cis people acknowledge they are cis and not everyone is.. I mean, ok, if it's genuinely helpful to trans* people I'm happy to state, I was assigned female based on my genitalia when I was born, I have an F on my birth certificate, I was given a female-typical first name which I continue to use, I was brought up as a girl. When I went through puberty I got breasts and broad hips, and that took some adjusting but I'm basically ok in my body, and as an adult I am still perceived as female and I use female pronouns. I have absolutely no doubt at all this has made my life vastly easier; I'm not particularly feminine and I don't identify strongly as female or a woman, but absolutely, I'm cis. This doesn't make me normal or morally wholesome or authentic, it's just a happy accident I take no credit for. I found the quoted statement provocative and uncomfortable, which might be just because I'm unconsciously cissexist / transphobic, but I think my reasons are political as well, I am not convinced that there is actually any real need for cis visibility. Everybody's assumed to be cis anyway, do we really need more of that? I also worry that if there were a cis visibility day, people who are trans* but not out would either have to lie or out themselves, because if everybody in their social circles is showing off their progressive credentials by telling everyone they're cis, well.

Contrast genderqueer / trans activist CN Lester's claim that most people experience gender anxiety. That doesn't seem completely implausible to me, though it's also likely that Lester meets more people for whom gender is problematic than would be found in a typical sample of the population. The view that everybody's muddling along in an oppressive and falsely binary gender system is one that appeals to me, but I am also conscious that this "we all have our struggles" kinda deal may itself be erasing towards people who are actually trans*, genderqueer and non-binary.

There's an article I wanted to include in this roundup but can't now find where the writer complains that some people who are basically cis but mess around with gender performance or don't entirely fit into gender stereotypes are appropriating trans identities. I know that's sparked a lot of discussion, but I can only find rebuttals and not the original at the moment.
ETA [personal profile] nou found this Tumblr discussion on the topic of is genderqueer an appropriation of trans identity and experience? which is definitely part of the same floating discussion, though I still haven't tracked down the opinion piece that I think this is addressing.


Does it improve visibility if lots of people (who deal with fairly minimal transphobic prejudice in day-to-day life) describe themselves as a little bit trans / GQ, or does it harm visibility? I don't have a lot of time for the so-called Radical Feminist stream of thought that there's no such thing as a cis woman because absolutely nobody feels comfortable in the roles and presentations that society forces on female-assigned people. But sometimes you're seeing similar things from people who are at least trying to be supportive of trans* folk, and I'm really on the fence about which is the right thing for me to do. Should I say, as I did in the example statement above, oh, me, I'm totally cis? Or should I say, look, me, the person you think of as normal and mainstream, I have my gender issues too? I've been called out for saying that although my pronouns are female I don't really mind which ones people want to use, because my not caring all that much is in fact a manifestation of cis privilege.

There's also the issue of how much I want to identify as female politically for the sake of women as well as trans* people of any gender. If I say, yup, definitely female here even though I'm not especially feminine, and I have a traditionally-masculine career and a traditionally-masculine style of discourse, that challenges the idea that all women fit into narrow stereotypes. Presumably that's good for trans women as well as cis women. Whereas if I say, I'm not really very gendered, does that lend visible support to people living outside the gender binary, help to spread the meme that you don't actually have to be the gender it says on your birth certificate, and you don't even have to pick M or F? It's actually similar to how much I want to make a point of taking pride in being bi, even though in that case there's no dilemma, I definitely am bi. Like, is it good to raise visibility of bi people by declaring that I'm part of the club, or am I detracting from the people who really struggle with biphobia by claiming that identity when I'm fairly assimilated and have a largely cosy life?

OK, that ended up longer than I intended. Anyway, thoughts welcome, as usual! Especially if someone can find me the rant about appropriative claiming of genderqueer identities.
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