CW: mention of homophobia

The term ‘visibility’ has been bouncing around my head ever since Pride Month all the way back in June. I’m still at a loss for what exactly it means and Google’s cold, precise definition isn’t giving me the fulfilment I need (but it’s linked here if you’d like to take a look). Literally speaking, visibility is what you can see. It’s flags and patches and slogans on t-shirts. While it seems like a good place to start, I can’t get the nagging phrase ‘rainbow capitalism’ out of my head. Can visibility really be bought and sold so easily? Pride celebrations are hardly immune – corporate sponsorships and month-long rainbow logos on social media give the illusion of support while CEOs rake in the profits. I refuse to believe that this is what constitutes such an integral part of my community.

Maybe visibility is better found in individuals rather than what can be turned into a commodity. It’s never easy to be LGBTQ+ in the public eye, but youth today have more role models than ever: cultural icons like Sir Ian McKellen, Elliot Page, and Lady Gaga grace the stage and screen, picking up plenty of well-earned awards. Behind the scenes, Britain’s very own Russel T. Davies is responsible for some of the most ground-breaking LGBTQ+ representation in television for the past twenty years, reported in detail in Freddie Hull’s excellent article. Jake Daniels has joined the ranks of Tom Daley and Clare Balding as an openly gay figure in the world of sports, and he must be commended for being the first active footballer to do so. According to the very lengthy Wikipedia article about representation in the government of the United Kingdom, we have “the largest number of self-identified LGBT members of any national legislature,” currently including over twenty-five members of the House of Lords and four directly-elected mayors. From the perspective of communal representation, we seem to be making progress.

But this doesn’t necessarily answer the question of what it means to be visible as LGBTQ+. Does it mean to be publicly out? Do you have to be visually identifiable as not straight? And what does that mean anyway? Surely that just leads to stereotypes about what queer people ‘should’ look like? The ethics of it all is a minefield and one that I’m not nearly knowledgeable or skilful enough to navigate. I started this article by questioning what visibility is but I can’t honestly answer that. All I can do is try to figure out what it means for me.

The keen-eyed among you will have already noticed that my name is missing from this article. For all my pondering about visibility and the importance of role-models, I’m fully aware of the obstacles that prevent someone from openly being their most authentic self. I’m living through a lot of that personally, and while I can’t go into specifics without identifying myself, I can promise you all that I earnestly look forward to the day when I can write these sorts of articles with my name proudly emblazoned below the title. I can’t wait to confidently hold my partner’s hand as we walk down the street, or to take part in Pride Month festivities without the fear that someone will take a photograph of me – even if I’m just standing in the background – and my family will see it. I have faith that I’ll see better days. Until then, I rely on the visibility of others to inspire me. Whenever I see a pronoun badge or a rainbow patch on a backpack in public, I know that other people made it to where I want to be. Throughout all the dangers of being publicly identifiable as LGBTQ+, they persevere and that courage gives me hope. Maybe, one day, I can even be that person for someone else.            

If nothing I’ve said here has made any sense, let me at least try to phrase this clearly: visibility is the bedrock of our community’s survival. It is a celebration and a battle-cry. We still live in a time where our refusal to hide ourselves away is deplored as “shoving queerness down other people’s throats”. Old-school bigotry attempting to force a connection between queerness and the grooming of children is once again rearing its ugly head through anti-LGBTQ legislature. We can’t let this sort of ignorance stop us. We can’t afford to be pushed back into the dark ages where we are barely tolerated, and even still only as long as we sit down, shut up, and look like we belong in a heteronormative society that values conformity over genuine acceptance of others. I planned this article fully intending to end it on a positive note but now it feels much more important to leave you all on a truthful one. We can’t all be visible but we can all keep on fighting, whether that means quietly motivating ourselves to get through another day or whether that means taking to the streets in times of celebration and protest. The struggle is fierce and so are we.