Sunday, August 14, 2011

In / Visibility.

I've got identity on the brain, so it seems. The idea of identity and how identity is a composite of our knowing ourselves internally, others' interactions with us, and situational context is pretty amazing, and I love thinking about it. Within these concepts, I have been thinking more about identity and visibility - that who we are may be related to how we present ourselves, or how others read us causes them to identify us as X, whether these assumptions are correct or not.

I think about visibility a lot because I actually have like, no visiiblity as an intersex individual, no visibility as a genderqueer individual, and arguably little to very little visibility as a person who's queer in terms of sexual orientation. (I've been told that the fact that I present with assymetrical hair styling (yay for the side-bun!) helps others to identify me as lady-loving, as well as the small ear gauges I now have, even though I dress pretty femme-y or tomboy femme-y. Hmmmm....) Visibility, I'm learning, is both important to me, and not important to me. I want to be visible to others in different ways. I want people to know what intersex is - duh! - which is part of why I do the work I do. I don't care to walk down the street and have someone immediately identify me as intersex - something that wouldn't necessarily be desired by intersex individuals who don't identify as intersex, and also something that would be super-difficult to try doing anyway since there's many intersex variations. Just like any arbitrary way we try to lump people together, WE DON'T ALL LOOK THE SAME ANYWAY. What I want in terms of identity is just to be able to say to someone that I'm intersex, that it wouldn't be so much coming out, that it would just be, "Oh, okay, cool," and understood the range of things that that could mean in my particular case. In terms of queer visibility in general, when I first realized I was genderqueer - and then something later I've thought about when I realized I had a fairly strong preference for female-bodied/-identified individuals - I had the urge to present as really androgynous and be a fabulous occasional genderfucker and all that good stuff. After thinking about it for a while, though, it wouldn't have been authentic. I LIKE wearing skirts. I LIKE flowly femme-y cardigans. I LIKE wearing adorable ballet flats everywhere. Don't get me wrong. I just as much love my shitty, shitty loose-fitting gender-neutral T-shirts that say things on them that make no sense whatsoever (yay for thrift stores!) and my black clunky vegan sneakers and pulling my hair into a bun (side-bun?) without combing it really. These things don't necessarily fit stereotypical understandings of what a femme looks like, but when I wear them, I still want to wear short jean skirts and other more femme-y things. I needed to face that, at this time in my life, I present as femme or tomboy femme. And this means that I'm not going to get the dyke nod walking on the street, and I'm not going to be read as particularly anything much but a white, straight, cis-gender biofemme, and only one of those assumptions is accurate.

I would like to be more visible, in terms of more mainstream/conventional people understanding what various identities mean, but have also accepted that intersex isn't visible in the mainstream, and this is why we need people to have conversations about it and discuss it and actively try to raise awareness. Because I know this isn't on mainstream radar, it doesn't always hurt as much when I am not visible in these ways, because I expect more that, for now, it just isn't going to happen until more work is done. I am more bothered that I am not/very infrequently recognized by members of the communities I identify as a part of, in terms of intersex or various forms of queer. For queer identities, I am more or less accepting that there's not much I can do. I have realized it's dumb to alter my appearance to something inauthentic, that's not really me, so that I'm more visible. Even if I don't feel that I am immediately IDed as part of a group I identify with, I have been myself the entire time. I have always identified as This Claudia. And that is more important than "looking the part" if how you are and want to present doesn't fall in line with typical ways to present and perform. By being myself, I'm not as visible, but by presenting and performing authentically, I am also expanding the range of what people-that-identify-as-X present and perform like, and that's pretty cool. I also need to recognize that I have privilege because, even though it wouldn't be authentic, I technically have the OPTION of presenting some ways that other members of various queer communities can't. For example, there are a bunch of hairstyles that are thought of as stereotypical dyke cuts, but these styles are often not possible or desirable to do or maintain for some people of color. I have to recognize that even if I'm in the same boat as being mostly invisible, I still have privilege in that I can more easily be visible in some ways if I chose.

For intersex, I think it's trickier yet. People with bodies that may be considered intersex by some may not identify as intersex. Those that do identify as intersex in some way may not be comfortable sharing these identities. Those that do identify as intersex AND are comfortable sharing intersex identities don't just necessarily randomly do it freely and to anyone in public. Especially since there's so many intersex variations, it is basically impossible to ID intersex individuals, even as an intersex person. And that is a major bummer for me. There's things people talk about and write about that focus on identifying members of Group X (or at least (stereo-?)typical versions of them). Check out Krista's (hilarious) blog, Effing Dykes as an example for identifying queer ladies. (To illustrate, her tagline reads, "YOUR GIRL GAYDAR SUCKS. LET ME HELP YOU." If that's not to-the-point, I don't know what is!) There's no blog out there, though, that's talking about how intersex individuals often present as X, Y, and Z. There's no Effing Intersex with hand-dandy ID-ing tips & tricks. THERE'S NO WAY FOR INTERSEX PEOPLE TO RECOGNIZE ONE ANOTHER, and if there are intersex individuals out there that say they can, my guess would be that it wouldn't be very accurate. If we wanted to identify each other, how would we do it? I mean, we could all be super-1990s riot grrrl or something and decide that if intersex-identified people want to ID each other, we could marker up our hands with happy, colorful symbols. Get together and standardize, HEY, EVERYONE, IF YOU IDENTIFY AS INTERSEX AND WANT TO BE VISIBLE TO ONE ANOTHER, TRY DOING THIS. But this limits personal choice and results in inauthenticity. How could we really do that? Part of me is tempted to make shirts akin to what people of other identities have done - "NO ONE KNOWS I'M ---," like Original Plumbing magazine has done to raise awareness for transsexuals. (Sidenote: OP is so good!) I don't think that we should try standardizing anything, that isn't what I'm going for. (Although I really might want to make a T-shirt, anyway, just cuz I'd like it. Anyone interested, ha?)

I have learned later in my life that there were actually other intersex individuals that I came into contact with, but didn't know it until much later. I would've loved to know that, would've loved to have been able to share and talk and discuss and process stuff. But I didn't. Part of this is because, as we have learned from shared personal experiences, those people who have been shuttled through the medical stuff - and that is the vast majority of us - have it ingrained in them that this isn't stuff you talk about, and/or are traumatized by these (non-consenual) experiences and can't talk about them. Even those who would not have had these experiences are not going to be dancing in the street screaming to everyone they're intersex. Whether we're not visible to one another because we don't want to be visible or whether we do and don't have a clear way of signaling to one another, the result is that it's pretty common to feel like you're the only intersex person in the world. It also doesn't help that the Internet and medical journals and books and news specials and documentaries are chock-full of numbers and statistics claiming hard-line figures for how many of us there are, when these are actually more speculations since it's been pretty much impossible to get accurate stats on how many of us there are, as we've previously discussed, giving us NUMBERS to calculate how freaking few of us there supposedly are and increasing feelings of isolation.

I want to be able to have bunches of intersex friends to talk with and hang out with and feel some solidarity with. I know a few now, and am SO SO lucky to be friends with these awesome individuals (HI, THERE!), but it would be great to expand my circle. Do you all feel kinda lonely? Are you bugged by the lack of visibility, not just in the public sphere, but to one another? I have been bumming about this, and wanted to know what you all thought.

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