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Queer visibility part 3: Looking straight amongst the queers

It’s June 2016 – Pride month in Canada. One of my closest friends from university is visiting Toronto for pride. We spent the afternoon sipping coffees and eating rainbow donuts. I was sporting a low-cut tank and they, as always, were parading around in all their queer-edgy-hip-artsy glory. We were going to meet my other queer friend that evening for a roller derby competition. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty queer.

This is Part Three of Six of a mini-series on queerness and fashion, appearance, and visibility. Check out Part One and Two too!

As soon as we arrived at the roller-derby game, boy, did I feel straight. People rocked undercuts, dyke mullets, and androgynous ensembles. Because it was such a queer space, I felt my queer invisibility. I hate that while I’m drooling over the cuties, I’m also flying under their radar.

In really queer places I often feel self-conscious and like I have to prove my queerness. Sometimes my appearance makes me feel invalid or somehow less queer. Perhaps this feeling is often in my head (the people at the roller derby game were very nice, for example), but I think some femme women are looked at with suspicion by the lesbian community. (I think this is particularly true for bisexual femme women, which I am not. You can find out why I call myself a lesbian here.)

I get it. Queer spaces are safe spaces, whatever that means. Straight people can feel like an invasion. No one wants to be someone’s queer experiment. However, I think the trope of the experimenting straight woman is much less prominent than the reality. I say this as someone who relocated across the ocean for a woman who ended up being straight. People can be confused and identities can evolve. People should be given space to figure out who they are and to change. As long as discovering who you are is done with compassion for others, it should be encouraged.

Since I don’t look queer, I assume I will often have to make the first move. That’s scary! Gay bars are dominated by gay cis men. If I go, I look like I’m a straight girl who came with her GBF.

Until now, I’ve used dating sites to meet people. I have a theory that they are especially popular in the queer community because you can clearly see who is available to you.

My desire to be read as queer by other queers goes deeper than not wanting to be seen as an intrusion, or hoping someone will ask me out. In some ways, it sounds a bit silly. Why do I care if people know my sexual orientation upon seeing me? I struggle to articulate why in a way that does not come across as strange or identity essentialist. Yet, it feels important to me in a deep seeded way. I think what bothers me is consistently not being seen for me. For a ridiculous example, I feel I would be equally frustrated if everyone consistently thought I was a sweet potato instead of a human being. What cuts deeper, I think, is that I ache so longingly for a queer community, so the thought of someone within the queer community being cautious of me as a potential straight person is low-key heartbreaking (can you see the influence of working in a university residence rubbing off on me…all the millennials say low-key).

I’m writing the final version of this at the tail end of 2019. In the last couple years, I have very strategically tried to look queerer, and this includes my posture in the world, my cultural references, as well as my ‘look’. Of course, there is no one way to look queer, but I do think there are assemblages of indicators that some people choose to use to portray their queerness. These days, more-often-than-not, I think I am read as queer by other queers. However, the hetties will be forever clueless…

In the spring of 2019, I had a really funny experience. I was at a lesbian club night that tends to be attended by edgy, androgynous queers. I did not feel cool enough to be there. When I was going to the bathroom through the crowd, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘you belong here too.’ Did I look that awkward and out-of-place? Were they on some strange drug trip? I’ll never know, but it made me feel better.

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