by a. broad
I sigh and roll my eyes, because this has happened to me every damn day this week. Nothing much about me has changed, but spring is in the air and I guess that makes me fair game for every random stranger on the street who feels that catcalling is definitely the way to get into somebody’s pants. I’m tired of it, and tired of the reactions it inspires in me; peering distrustfully at everybody who glances my way is not my preferred method of interaction. It’s especially galling to me now, even more so than it’s been in the past, because there is so much about me that these people don’t know. I look perfectly average, but inside this quiet and ordinary exterior is a genderfunny polyamorous queer, a wild reimagining of what a “good girl” could and should be, and it bothers me that my internal complexity is so imperfectly mirrored by the external presentation that feels most comfortable to me.
I’ve always been undercover, sometimes even to myself. I spent my childhood, my full-fledged girlhood, purposefully and happily wearing white gloves, lacy ankle socks, and frilly dresses—I would make my mother take me grocery shopping while dressed like that, often also wearing a large white straw hat with a ribbon on it—and other than my sporadic fascination with various female characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation (Beverly Crusher, oh yeah, and Tasha Yar before that) and the fact that I laughed so hysterically when I saw my first penis that my mother had to force me to apologize to my father for hurting his feelings, there doesn’t seem to be much in my early history that marked me as a potential queer. There were no childhood dreams of a corseted Tim Curry or a latex-clad Michelle Pfeiffer for me, and I tended far more towards the geek side than the tomboy aesthetic. “Nah, I don’t want to build a clubhouse today, I think I’m gonna go read.” Which I guess is queer in its own right, actually, but not quite in the accepted way.
I prefer undercover to the more commonly-used “invisible”, because it makes me feel smart and subversive instead of just lonely. If I say I’m undercover, I feel like a spy, like I can sneak in behind enemy lines with my quiet straight-looking nice-girl exterior and blow people’s minds when I finally get around to talking. If I start to feel invisible, though, that’s a whole different matter. Nobody wants to lack history; nobody wants to feel alone. But when I try to connect myself to the larger continuum of queerness, I usually feel like I don’t have access to the visible representation that might help facilitate that connection: when I see other queers on the street, there’s no frisson of recognition or meeting of eyes across a crowded bus, because I look like just another straight person on my way to wherever. Hell, I probably look straighter than most of them, if I happen to be in a neighborhood with a lot of hipsters.
There’s an adage of sorts that says that The Master’s Tools Can Never Dismantle The Master’s House, and I suspect that’s part of why femmes, non-queer-looking folks, and a whole slew of other potential identities get so much conscious and unconscious shit from everybody else: we look like we’re using the master’s tools. Hell, sometimes it feels like I’m using the master’s tools, what with my apparent and supposed normality and such; I’m well aware of how much easier my life is because of how I look—not to mention my race, my class, my level of education, all the stuff that is weighted before my favor, mostly determined before I even had much of a say in it—and sometimes that feels really, really shitty. What do you do when the tools you have at your disposal look so much like the tools of the ruling ideology, the ideology that has been screwing up the world for just about as far back as anybody can remember, that they are outwardly indistinguishable? That line is razor-thin, and I’ve never wanted to walk the straight and narrow, not really.
There are queers hidden under shy exteriors, shy exteriors hidden under flamboyant presentations; there are a million different ways to be alive, all of them valid and joyful and contradictory and confusing. I think the only way to begin to respect all of that is to listen to others, and to speak up—even if it’s in a whisper, even if it’s in writing, because in addition to being nonvisibly queer I’m also one of the quiet ones and I understand not always wanting to be loud. But if we can’t be seen, we have to find each other somehow; that’s why I wrote this and why, even as I respect my own comfort levels, I sometimes rush across them. I want to be who I am and I believe that there’s value in that, but I need community as much as anybody else. It makes me stronger.
Maybe eventually I’ll get fed up with all of this and decide that really I’ve always wanted that mohawk and those cool tattoos that might make me seem more queer on the bus and I’ll leave all this ambiguity behind, but I doubt it. I don’t want to blow my cover.