I’ve been dating Jacob now for eight months, and as often happens when I’m dating someone who identifies as male, I think a lot about my visibility as a queer person. Dating Jacob has added another layer entirely, which is my visibility at work since he’s also a coworker.
Now many coworkers of mine have met my English girlfriend [name withheld due to privacy concerns], and they know of my pansexual polyamorous ways. However, when you work for a company and are employee #38, after one and half years, and now there’s 130 and counting Mozzers… maintaining visibility is even harder. Confounded by new people meeting me and Jacob as a couple. And these are the people that I spend the vast majority of my time with.
But let’s back up… Why do I care?
I truly believe that nothing has propelled change in attitudes about queer people more than visibility. More than celebrities, the average queer person standing up and saying, “I’m queer, and I am a person who deserves to be treated like a human being. Oh, yeah, I’m also someone you might care a little about as a human.”
I care alot about human rights and about equality. Statistics show that you’re more likely to support, like, and understand an oppressed minority group if you have a friend, family member, etc. who is from that group. This is pretty logical that you wouldn’t want harm to come to or happen to someone that you care about.
Interestingly enough, studies have also shown that this kind of visibility also works with representations in the media. Don’t know any queer people? Do you like Modern Family and like Mitch and Cam? Then it’s pretty close to knowing someone in real life.
I also believe in being a visible role model or at least a safe person for other queer people to talk to. Not everyone, unfortunately, can be out, and not everyone feels comfortable sharing about themselves.
When I was a pre-teeen and budding in my sexuality, I was extremely comforted by representations of other queer people in media, like when Jadzia kissed Lenara on Star Trek: DS9 or Susan and Talia clearly spent the night together on Babylon 5. I knew that I wasn’t alone. Especially when I thought I was the only queer person I knew. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t!) These were the first positive notions toward queer people that I encountered compared to what I was being told in my bigoted Lutheran middle school.
I also grew up right on the cusp of when attitudes about queer people actually started changing. The shifts from when I graduated high school to when I graduated college were pretty dramatic. And I sincerely believe that media had a huge role in that from mainstream fluff like Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to stories that delved into darker places like David and Keith on Six Feet Under and gloriously smutty, all-gay soap operas on networks where people could get naked like Queer as Folk and The L Word.
We live in a world where we’ve acknowledge that homophobia’s a problem and that queer teens are more likely to commit suicide than straight teens. We have “It Gets Better” and George Takei killing it on viral social media marketing. We live in a world where there’s queer community even in smaller towns, and it’s delightful to see.
But we also live in a world where homophobia still lives. Where people still get beat up and kill for being queer. Where Russia’s off my travel list since it’s illegal to say the word “gay” much less be queer there. Where people still use the word “gay” an insult and assume everyone’s straight and cisgendered until proven otherwise.
Visibility matters to stand up and be counted. Kissing Jacob doesn’t mean I like women less, and kissing the English Girlfriend doesn’t mean I like men less. Biphobia exists both in straight culture and in queer culture. It’s important to challenge and change all forms of hate and assumptions.
Being visible means I get to challenge those assumptions. It means I get to talk lesbian dating gossip with my friend Maura. It means when my youngest brother needed a “reason” to stand up to a homophobic comment, he only had to look as far as me. It means that I got tears in my eyes reading an email from a friend who came out to me as transgendered in high school and now is beginning to live life as the woman she’s always been.
Not everything has always been roses, and I don’t expect it to be always that way. I’m lucky to have two amazing loves in my life who support me and I them. I’m lucky to have a great network of family and friends who may consider my life “weird” but not repulsive or demented. (Being out since I was 15 has an advantage of that any homophobes made themselves known 15 years ago, and I’ve had that time to work through those losses.) And I hope to change people’s perceptions, to be the side thought of “hey, that’s my [insert relationship to me] that you’re talking about.”
Visibility is our greatest power to be free of hate. But sometimes, it can be the hardest. Especially when I walk down the street holding my male partner’s hand. After all, I can’t always be wearing my new t-shirt or holding both Jacob’s and the English Girlfriend’s hands.