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Being visibly queer

June 13, 2009

For the past few months, I’ve been consistently perceived as a cisgender male by strangers and new acquaintances. I guess I might not have that privilege in the future: apparently I look like a 13 year old, so people will probably figure me out in more adult settings like college and job interviews.

I don’t know how queer I look, though. A couple of things happened this week that made me think about this. First, I saw a gay couple in a restaurant; I was really happy because I only see openly gay couples in public two or three times a year, not counting the Pride March. I think I might have looked at the people in the restaurant a little too much, trying to figure out if they really were together.

Now I feel guilty because if they thought I was straight, then they might have thought I was staring out of ignorance or hostility (“Whoa, two men? Loving each other?!”). I think it’s a different story when queer people look at each other in recognition and friendliness, but what do you think? Is it rude in that case, too?

The other thing that happened: I think a man hit on me while we were on the bus. I’m not really sure because the bus was crowded, so maybe he couldn’t help standing close to me; and I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me because of his sunglasses, but his face seemed to point in my direction often. These and several other details led to me to think he might be attracted to me. Luckily, if he was hitting on me, he wasn’t doing it in an aggressive manner and nothing happened.

It isn’t the first time that I’ve noticed “gay-looking” guys looking at me (they set off my gaydar, although maybe I’m just basing my judgment on stereotypes). I wonder whether they look at me because they think I’m handsome or because they can tell I’m queer. Knowing they probably see me as a preteen boy confuses me further: isn’t it weird if they’re attracted to someone so much younger? Can a boy already look gay at that age?

There are many things I would like about being visibly queer, if it turns out that I am visible as a queer person (I don’t think I would change my appearance to become visible, though). It would make me recognizable to other LGBTQ persons and remind straight people that we do exist, although maybe it makes them believe that we really are recognizable at first sight. What makes a person visibly queer, anyway? Queers and straights come in all shapes, sizes and genders.

I’d like to know how I’m perceived. My friends can’t really tell: they’re too close to notice and they must have a hard time seeing me as male, anyway. I’m also concerned about my safety, since gay males are supposedly at greater risk of violence. So far, I’ve been lucky, but still I hardly ever wear my rainbow pins on my backpack. There are some parts of being visible that I can control, and sometimes visibility is just too scary.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. sqr permalink
    June 14, 2009 9:40 pm

    I think that it’s totally different when queers recognize each other visually and when other people just look out of hostility at members of the queer community, because the intent behind the actions are completely different, and it feels different(at least for me) being on the receiving end of looks about recognition and solidarity vs. looks that are clearly about hostility. So, while I would say that looks from people out of ignorance are rude, I wouldn’t say the same thing about looks of acknowledgment between queers

    About kids and looking gay-I think I’ve seen a couple of kids that I would read as going to be gay in the future, but it’s been a while, and I can’t really put my finger on why I thought that-other than stuff like body language and a general sense of difference(compared to most other kids) coming from them.

  2. June 16, 2009 6:23 pm

    Managing my own visibility can be really hard. I want to be out and visibly queer, but I also need to consider my safety. I’ve found that the more confident I become about passing the more willing and able I am to be direct and out about my queerness. It often feels like a balancing act with regards to my safety, my personal identity and the often fragile nature of both.

  3. June 17, 2009 12:39 pm

    it is hard to not be curious about how you’re being received. For me, throughout my transition, it’s also difficult and even unsettling to wonder if I’m going to go from living my life “looking queer” to experiencing my life being received as a cisgender male, and how that will alter interactions and assumptions (like if you’re looking at a same-sex couple for a prolonged period of time – or if I’m flamboyant and read as a gay male).

    I base how I’m being received just on the little tidbits of feedback I get here and there – like hearing the other day that a stranger asked a friend “who was that kid?”, and thought I was a 15-year-old boy. ;]


  4. July 10, 2009 3:56 pm

    Hey there, great words, I’m RSSing you …

    I wonder about how my “gaze” is “read” too; some days I think my queerness is easier to read than others, and I hate to think that a look at either “one of my own” or say, a woman who’s really beautiful, is being read as “look at that freak” or your standard objectifying male. So I try to monitor how a gaze might be perceived, and it all ends up being being Foucault-ish/panopticon feeling.

  5. nome permalink
    September 9, 2009 5:42 pm

    Mhmm. I’ve started charting out when I get read as masc or fem based on reactions from people. Sometimes I’m not sure. The subtle cues that go into how you’re being read is not a skill I’ve yet honed but I find it’s been helpful. Like I can think, “gee, why did I get ‘she’d three times that day? O. Right. I wore a bra.” Or conversely, “Wow, I got ‘he’d 4 times that day! My binder musta been tops.” Or whatever. Course, I’m coming from a genderqueer perspective and not really trying to pass as anything, although lately I prefer male on a (physical AND mental) safety level. I find being read male makes a situation better for me.

    • September 9, 2009 6:47 pm

      Sometimes I have no idea what it is that makes people perceive me as a boy or a woman. Recently, I’ve been seen as male by 95% of strangers, but there’s always someone who sees me as female. That can’t be due to my clothing, which doesn’t change — I think it has to do with the perceiver’s personal experience. I’ve been meaning to post about this for a long time; I’ll get around to it soon.

      I remember how interesting it was to make observations like these, back when I wasn’t trying to pass as anything. Genderqueer people have a great point of view to share with the world : )

      • nome permalink
        September 10, 2009 2:30 am

        Awww, you’re too lovely, really. Ya, most times I have no clue. Those two examples were some of the few when I had a pretty good idea what I could “blame” for it.

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