Anonymity is a privilege, while visibility can be a boon. Not that either is always a choice. People often just get read how they get read, and that can change, whether they want it to or not. i had an experience a few months ago that helped me learn to appreciate my visibility in a new way. A way beyond allowing (some) people being able to see me the way i see myself.
Someone that frequents the café i work at struck up a conversation while i was ringing their order. i mentioned something about being queer, and i am very obvious in my queerness. They asked me to get coffee with them. i had read them as a cisgender punk kid, this was my assumption and i will own that.
Anyway, when we got coffee, they asked me my pronouns and inquired about my transition in a seemingly overly curious, yet respectful way. At first, i thought that maybe they were just getting used to the uniqueness of their new friend. But then, out of the blue, they came out to me.
They told me that they’d been feeling very uncomfortable in their assigned gender. They described themselves as wanting to be androgynous and unreadable. Without delving too much into their story, they put themselves out there in an incredibly vulnerable way.
Of course i listened intently, and supported them the best way i know how. They eventually became a good friend, and someone i consider with the fondness of a queer older sister for a younger queer sibling. Later though, i became introspective.
i realized that my visibility operated in a way that affected people beyond myself. Prior to this, i selfishly conceived of my visibility as only affecting how people treated me, and felt differently about this at different moments. But here i realized my visibility allowed me to alter spaces, to carry safety with me. My visibility was now a shining beacon to others. It allowed this person to feel safe and comfortable in their vulnerability, in many ways because they saw themselves as a “like object.”
i had recognized my visibility to other queer folks as a method of achieving solidarity and welcome into spaces. But i’d never thought that my queerness could create an aura of safety for others. i was instantly accessible as a person with answers and insights, a person that could offer support and a safe ear.
i spend a lot of my time organizing safe spaces and educating those around me and writing on gender. i quickly came to embrace this newfound benefit of my visibility. i, by existing, was service, was safety. My capacity to queer spaces simply by existing in them began to become more apparent to me. i found myself reveling in it quite often, letting it wash over me and fill me with joy and love.
i won’t pretend, even for a second, that i always like being visible. i get harassed a lot. From my conversations with other folks, it seems that i get harassed more than most folks in my generation/location/etc. I think that the level of harassment that I experience is, in large part, consequence of my visibility. Although after these moments i always come back around to the self-empowering idea that i don’t want to change my presentation to avoid said harassment, i acknowledge that my visibility often carries a price.
But when my newfound friend was able and willing to reach out to me, it made that price all the more worthwhile. My visibility was no longer just about my own comfort and sense of self; not that these are invalid in any way. i was emboldened by this additional element of visibility. i began to see it as an elegant boon, and i began to notice it cropping up again and again. Visibility became something that i can use to carry safety for the Other with me like a torch, and that’s not something i’ll soon forsake.