You have a secret superpower: the ability to appear and disappear at will. When and where will you use this new superpower? Tell us a story.
I’m stumped. Thinking of a scenario where the unexpected appearance of a middle-aged white lesbian who can barely use a pen doesn’t exactly bring images of social justice superheroes to mind. I’m more Jackie Tyler than Rose Tyler if you catch that allusion.
Mind you, I have a list of scenarios where I’d love to get to the truth and this could be handy, but none of those are things I’d lay out on my blog. They would either be so obscure as to be rather dull to read or so heavy-handed that I’d never obfuscate that identities of persons involved. You’ll just have to take me on faith that I’d delve into some good stuff to hopefully set things right for people who have been unjustly hurt.
Then it hit me – just a few moments ago. I already have this power – it’s called privilege. (Don’t roll your eyes.) I am a typical, frumpy middle aged white woman and the vast majority of people who see me perceive me as a straight woman. I don’t look like a stereotypical queer woman so I often have to ‘appear’ – imagine Wonder Woman doing her spinning thing and looking exactly the same when she completes the transformation. She’s just now queer.
How do I appear? I mention my partner and use her name. I talk about my blog. I talk politics. I drop the word “queer” into conversations. I talk about my work with queer organizations. I am fully aware of the assumption that I am straight so I make these choices with deliberation and intent.
Sometimes I appear and I can actually see the dawning in the eyes of the other person, the “a ha – she’s a lesbian!” moment. Body posture might shift, language changes, subtle things that only people who appear and disappear on a regular basis might notice. It is rate that I elicit a violent or strong reaction (unless they read my blog!) but I’ve become attuned to the low-key response. The thing is – I can also disappear again into the assumptions they make about me. I just don’t talk about things that make them uncomfortable and and it’s fine. Right? It happens and I can admit I use that to my advantage if necessary. Because, sadly, it is necessary.
I shared a story yesterday from a work situation where my appearing as a lesbian did some real emotional damage and left me at the mercy of workplace bullies. Toning Down the Gay is akin to disappearing. It can be a survival skill when you are dealing with a bully or worse, it can also be an escape mechanism or a coping tool.
Privilege is almost a four letter word. It gets very messy within the LGBTQ community when people start to push the boundaries to claim their identity, to demand visibility, to change our language. It is equally messy when others demand we who have privilege take responsibility for it – that’s a dialogue that doesn’t typically resonate especially with male and racial privilege.
So even though we have our own experiences of appearing and disappearing, we struggle as a community to integrate that into our acceptance and understanding of the larger queer experience.
I don’t have to write this story, I live it every day. As with all superpowers, there is great responsibility and that’s the part most of us don’t seem to manage very well.