The Queer Corner | Swimming in visibility

The Queer Corner is a biweekly blog exploring LGBTQ+ community and culture.

By Rachel Bachy, Senior Staff Writer

I sit happily inside the safety net of Pitt’s on-campus queer community. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s removed from the everyday phobias that infested my youth. Here, I’m non-binary, and a lot of my friends are too. There’s an understanding that comes from shared queer life experiences. In this space, I’m visible. But I can’t always count on my own visibility.

I have largely separated myself from conservative thinking thanks to my beloved block button and my long deleted Twitter account. And while that separation has shielded me from hearing the ramblings of conservative relatives, it has also given me an undue feeling of security in my queerness. It’s a security that breaks more and more each time a “Don’t Say Gay” bill moves across a state senate floor, and every time I avoid correcting my pronouns in job interviews. Little by little I’m leaving my safety nest.

Trans Day of Visibility takes place on March 31, and Pitt’s holding a little colloquium that I’m happy to be a part of. I’ll be presenting my semester-long research project on androgyny in the archives, and in my nose-to-the-grindstone ideology, I’ve missed some of the reasons we have trans-positive events in the first place. The world outside of my queer community continues to debate the worth of my life and the lives of people in my community. As I begrudgingly check Twitter, I’m starkly reminded that progress isn’t always linear.

Recently, University of Pennsylvania student athlete Lia Thomas has gained public attention due to her position as both a record-breaking swimmer and a transgender woman. Thomas’s hypervisible story follows a long line of athletes fighting against anti-trans rhetoric in sports. One Twitter search finds a series of transphobic results, drawing stark comparisons between transgender women’s so-called superior strength and cisgender women’s presumed athletic fragility. But this transphobia is nothing new. We’ve seen it all before.

To me, these remarks clearly portray a blatant misunderstanding of gendered bodies, transgender healthcare and, frankly, how sports work. Cisgender athletes recieve swarms of praise for their winning speed, agility and strength, but transgender athletes, specifically transgender women, are demonized for their supposed biological advantages. At their core, arguments against transgender women in sports are arguments for women’s subjugation.

These anti-trans talking points are popular pretty much everywhere. Our earliest moments separate masculinity and femininity, creating two immovable categories for existence. We’re taught that men and women have distinct biological differences that produce strong men and weak women. It’s a common belief that men are stronger than women — and thus better athletes. The reality of biological differences is more complicated than that. 

Women’s historic inability to compete in sports, the wide variation in biological sex and the trend of raising boys and girls differently all figure into the myth of men’s athletic superiority. The idea of a transgender woman participating against cisgender women goes against this societally ingrained hierarchy. It topples the notion of inherent biological differences, and thus threatens the very foundation of the patriarchy.

Outside of sports, anti-trans talking points creep in everywhere from the front page news to formerly beloved authors on Twitter. J.K. Rowling is infamously transphobic due to her extensive campaign to rid the world of transgender women in the name of feminism. Her rhetoric takes the shape of trans-exclusionary radical feminism — though many, including myself, would argue that TERF opinions are hardly feminist. This mask of women’s empowerment helps the movement to gain traction in spaces undereducated on trans issues.

So much of this rhetoric deals in fear. There’s the exaggerated claims that predatory men seek to exploit women’s spaces — J.K. Rowling wrote a whole book about that. There’s the belief that trans men are simply victims of the patriarchy, longing to escape women’s oppression. And then there’s the erasure of non-binary voices in the midst of all this gender essentialism, the belief that gender is innate.

Insidious anti-trans rhetoric creeps all around us. I’ve been blissfully ignorant to the worst of it. It’s no surprise that transphobia dominates conservative spaces, but as a soon-to-be college graduate entering the workforce, I’m beginning to encounter more and more people slipping into transphobia thanks to the work of subtle anti-trans rhetoric. It comes in the form of “fairness” in sports or “protection” in bathrooms, but it combines to create an apathy to trans life.

This space, the one of trans apathy, is where I’ll be most visible. And it’s potentially the space I’m least prepared for. In my teenage years, I could argue with transphobes on Twitter all day long — you can see why I deleted it. The scarier thought comes from pushing Sisyphus’s rock up the mountain of queer education day after day. That’s the kind of activism that slowly unravels me. Not the white hot rage of a debate, but the constant reminders passed through email or mumbled in meetings. Yes, I’m queer. No, you can’t use that word. No, you can’t call me a girlboss.

It takes strength to remain visible when others choose not to see you. But that’s nothing compared to the courage it takes to combat the prying eyes of hypervisibility. That’s the world of Thomas and other transgender individuals who are judged on their trans-ness before anything else. For better or for worse, I can blend in. That’s a sort of privilege not afforded to many in the trans community.

So, this Trans Day of Visibility, I’m thinking about what it means to be visible. As I turn outwards, away from my queer community, I’m finding a world still infested with fear and I’m learning to navigate it as someone who can be invisible.

Rachel writes about queer culture, the queer community and navigating life beyond the binary. Talk to them at [email protected].