Being Invisibly Queer

It’s a common experience in the queer community to often feel like we are on the outside looking in. In the US, same-sex marriage has only been ‘allowed’ in all states since 2015 when SCOTUS ruled it a constitutional right. Only 21 states currently have protections in place regarding discrimination toward LGBTQ+ people in housing and employment. The outcome for coming out for many people is still, unfortunately, being abandoned by or isolated from their loved ones. Politicians are still having discussions for some reason about trans people supposedly sneaking into restrooms to harass people.

It’s 2020, and this is unacceptable. Many will tout the US as the place where freedom abounds and yet many of them don’t actually want to acknowledge or validate people that look and live differently from themselves. We still have a long way to go in terms of legal protections, representation in both media and government, and general acceptance of even only the L and G parts of our community — but I want to talk today about some of the BTQ+ parts and what it is like to be invisibly queer.

Dr. Sue Gill defines invisibly queer people as those “who may identify as LGBTQ internally, but are not recognized socially as a member of that community.” This applies to so many types of queerness under our beautiful, kaleidoscopic umbrella. Bisexuals or pansexuals who have a partner that reads as the “opposite sex” to straight people can be invisible; trans people who identify as a different gender but have not begun to express it outwardly yet can be invisible; nonbinary people are often invisible unless they fit the specific type of thin, white androgyny often associated with being outside of the gender binary. These and so many other scenarios are all valid examples of queerness, and yet many of us do not feel ‘at home’ in the community at large due to the possibility that we may be seen as impostors if we aren’t constantly explaining and outing ourselves.

My queer identity is enshrouded in what seem like contradictions. I’m nonbinary — more specifically agender, meaning I don’t identify with any gender in particular —yet I wear makeup, wear ‘feminine’ coded clothes, and don’t bind my chest. People have no issue with immediately identifying me as a cis woman. I’m bisexual*, but I’m married to a cis man, so people have no issue thinking I’m straight, and in general . Basically, I’m not a “threat” to people that might house homophobic beliefs, and my invisibility allows me to go under their radar largely unnoticed.

I have seen many troubling sentiments toward bisexual and nonbinary people from others within the queer community. Spend a day on Twitter (actually, don’t) and there’s a fairly good chance you will see people making fun of others that list “they/them” pronouns in their bios, or claiming that people only identify as nonbinary so they can feel “special” and be included in queerness even though they’re not “actually queer.” Some genuinely don’t think bisexual people exist at all! To those people, the determining factor in someone’s own personal identity is…*looks at smudged writing on hand* their partner? I keep hoping that when I read one of those comments, my body will start to disintegrate Infinity War style but alas, I am still here on this hellhole in year of our Lord 2020. This is not a problem exclusive to Twitter, obviously — it is simply a microcosm of the toxic beliefs that manifest inside and outside of the queer community.

Can we at least stop gatekeeping under our own umbrella?

Many will cite the privileges that invisibly queer people experience as a reason that we cannot truly be a part of the community in the same way as others. To be transparent and state the obvious, there are many privileges; I’m not here to dispute that! For example, I personally have never had to worry about being assaulted in public while holding hands with my husband. I’ve never received weird looks or invasive comments when using a public women’s restroom. I didn’t have to deal with homophobic bakery owners when trying to find someone to bake our wedding cake. I didn’t have to come out to my family or friends at a pivotal point and risk losing some of them from my life forever. My version of queerness has not made my life immeasurably more difficult, and I fully acknowledge that.

By the same token, though, there is some amount of emotional turmoil in keeping a part of yourself hidden. I go through life being misgendered every day and know that, as a teacher, I will always be a “Mrs.” to my students. I navigate life knowing that even those closest to me among friends and family members don’t know or understand a vital part of my own identity. I have only come out to a select few people close to me after seeing many instances of evidence that they thought nonbinary and bisexual people were valid. I see my cis gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances having the best time at Pride parades each year and wish that I could be a part of something like that, but I don’t feel like I belong enough to go. Even if I wore a big sign on my forehead stating I AM BISEXUAL AND NONBINARY, it’s hard to feel like I would deserve to be at an event like Pride having been sheltered from the hardships that it celebrates in the face of due to my own privilege. I would never tell someone else that they don’t belong at Pride, but in my own mind it always feels as though I will never be “queer enough” to belong.

One side of me, always rational to a fault, says there’s no reason for me to come out to anyone at all at this point in my life. It is inefficient. It simply creates more possibilities for conflict to arise. The other part of me thinks: now that I’m an adult living under my own roof, wouldn’t it be worth some amount of conflict to truly be seen? For people to see me as I see myself?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but I think it is worth noting that several studies compiled by the American Psychiatric Association have found that bisexual women are more likely to experience mood and anxiety disorders compared to gay men and lesbian women; bisexual men and women are at greater risk of suicide; and bisexual men and women also are more likely to heavily use drugs and alcohol. The American Academy of Pediatrics performed a study in 2018 on rates of attempted suicide in kids/young adults aged 11 to 19 and found that 50.8% of female to male trans adolescents had attempted suicide. The next highest result was for nonbinary adolescents (41.9%) followed by male to female trans adolescents (29.9%) and then questioning adolescents (27.9%). Being queer in any part of one’s identity clearly places one in a position to experience heightened psychological and emotional distress. This continues on adulthood, as we know quite well that being trans places one in greater danger of being assaulted, killed, unemployed, or homeless, and the Black trans woman is the most targeted of us all. These are intersectional issues with many factors at play, but for all the turmoil society tries to put queer people through, can we at least stop gatekeeping under our own umbrella?

Whether out or not, whether invisible or not, it’s clear that being queer impacts our mental health and quality of life because of the dated societal structures we must navigate through. The magnitude may be different, but it affects all of us in some way. In a society that is often openly hostile to those that are different, we need all the support we can muster within our own communities. We must try to drop our judgment at the door and meet each other where we’re at, whether you’re out taking part in parades every June, or whether you’re living with family and are afraid to express your truest self just yet. We can’t directly control despicable politicians trying to take away our rights, or closed-minded people that refuse to believe we even exist, but we can try to embrace each other and weather the storm together.

*Side Note: My personal definition and application of bisexuality includes all genders, not just those within the binary. Pansexual may be the better term for it, but I have felt more comfortable throughout my life identifying as bisexual, as there is generally less confusion about what the term means and it is the term used typically in queer studies as in the example linked above. Bi and pan are both great ways to self-identify; use what is comfortable for you!

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Cleo

Cleo

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They/them. Musician, teacher, writer. Mental health advocate. Lover of cats, baked goods, astrology, and video games.