No, not another super-hero family with powers of self-effacement. I am referring to those among us, who cannot be distinguished from the straight population at large. Those who blend in, becoming another faceless figure in the crowd, as opposed to those who defy norms of sexual and gender expression.
The Invisibles often get a rather schizophrenic treatment: the camp who endorses such 'normality' as being what will bring the straight people to our cause, and the camp who believes gay people are different no matter what, and hence the Invisibles are selling out.
In the lesbian world, invisibility is associated with 'femmes', straight-appearing women who are not visibly masculine or lesbian.
Wait. Read my last statement carefully, and you will have noticed several assumptions and stereotypes reflected already.
1. Lesbians are usually masculine girls, often butches and andros
2. To be explicitly identified and acknowledged as lesbian, one must dress and behave differently from straight women
I shall not attempt to discuss the origins of such assumptions, for it relates to extensive amounts of queer theory, history and culture. But I would like to question the validity of it: does being feminine or masculine have anything do with sexuality? There are plenty of masculine girls who are as straight as the day is long, and plenty of feminine girls who only have eyes for other women. I’ve heard people saying, “but they all look so femme!” as if lesbianism and feminity were mutually exclusive. Visibility is not equal to sexuality.
The advantages of being invisible, of course, is that one gets treated equally with the rest of the population, as long as he/she doesn't come out. Even if they do come out, chances are, people will react to them more favourably than to a breast-binding butch[not that anything is wrong with a breast-binding butch, but that the mainstream is not comfortable with one] Visibility, in interesting packages like drag queens and butches, often come at the expense of what is perceived as 'normality', hence alienating the mainstream population.
There are two sides to this argument. To illustrate, I shall allude to racial identity. In the L Word, Bette, a biracial lesbian, gets challenged by an African-American lesbian, Yolanda, with regards to her racial identity. Bette's complexion is rather fair, leading people to think she is white, and hence she gets 'white privileges'. She does not hide that fact that she is half-black, and yet she does not parade it.
Now, in a world where racism is still rampant, Bette can be said to have had a good life, because she is not visibly black. She does not get passed over for promotions, or called a 'nigger' by red-necks. Is it okay for Bette to get this treatment? Or are we going to be 'fair', and say that she should suffer along with other African-American people, as Yolanda is saying?
Replace black with gay, and we have an interesting dilemma. Are we to say that everyone has to progress by the lowest common denominator? Do we have the right to make that kind of judgement, and hold everyone back, and say that the invisibles cannot proceed by 'straight privileges'? It is an interesting question, and I think, one the local gay community has to start thinking about, as we march on towards equality.
Often, the invisibles are often accused of being detached from the gay rights fight. On the surface level, this might be seen as true, because the visibles are the ones who are first identified as part of the community. They receive the first onslaught of homophobia, as hate is directed to what is more tangible. Proceeding by this logic, the visibles are the ones who will always be at the forefront of the march. People often cite the Stonewall rebellion, where the initators were supposedly transgenders, drag queens, and butches.
However, this logic is flawed. Firstly, this kind of mentality is not inclusive as their advocates seem to believe, but exclusive. They are applying the visibility = sexuality equation. Over time, this will only turn out badly, as straight people need to see both sides to accept the whole thing. Or else, all they will have are stereotypes and objectionable images to work with, in creating their mental pictures of the gay community. Furthermore, what makes people think only visible people work for the community? There are plenty of butches, effeminate men and drag queens, and whatever else, who do not give a hoot about gay rights, while there are invisible people who toil their life away for it. How do we know that the Stonewall riot did not include invisible people?
Lastly, invisibles have to come out to two sceptical groups: the straight people who don't believe they are gay because they are not effeminate/masculine/'deviant'-in-some-way, and the gay people who don't believe they are gay because they are not effeminate/masculine/'deviant'-in-some-way. As if sexual and gender expression are the sole determinants of one’s sexuality, or pride in that. Strangely enough, even though I’m completely invisible, I take more pride in my sexuality than my visible counterparts who often say their sexuality is only a tiny part of them.
Clearly, we are missing something here. We are missing the bridge between these two groups – open and honest communication about perceptions, stereotypes and expectations. We are going to have to expose ourselves to each other.
And I’m going to start by wearing my rainbow pride band.