A few nights ago I spent the evening in the emergency room. I am totally fine. But, my new partner, we are calling him D, has a roommate who is not too brilliant. The roommate had an encounter with a grill ( he tried to jump over it) that left him with a welt and cut that took up the majority of his leg.
The guy I am seeing is several years younger than me and his roommates are even younger. In some ways it feels fun to revisit my college days, but often I feel like a den mom. Let’s put it this way- I bring my own cup when I go and see him. I won’t even drink out of a “clean” cup ( if I can find one) in their house.
So, being the den mom I took this grill jumper to the emergency room. I had to help him fill out his intake paperwork because he had never done that before-I rarely feel old-but this definitely made me feel old.
D and I were on a date night when this unfortunate grill incident happened. So, he came with me to the emergency room and we had our date there. We just talked in the waiting room for hours and he put his arm around me. It was really nice.
There was a significantly older woman working at the front desk. Anytime she had a free moment she would just stare at us, often glaring. I could not figure out what her problem was. And then it occurred to me: I am in an interracial relationship. My partner is African American and I am Caucasian.
I wondered if that was what her snicker was about. Part of me dismissed it as a ridiculous thing. Of course that couldn’t be it. But, the part of me that knows that unfortunately racism is still very prevalent wondered if just the site of our romantic interaction upset her. Maybe it was that he had his arm around me and we shared one-super-G-rated type kiss, or maybe it wasn’t about race but it was about the conversation we were having. I thought she was too far away to overhear us, but my voice travels. So, who knows.
Regardless of what caused her snickering, the experience really got to me. The idea that we live in 2013 and race is still a factor makes me mad and sad. When I got home, I told Adam about the woman. This isn’t the first time I have been in an interracial relationship. But, it is the first time that I had the level of social awareness that I do. I told Adam that the experience had upset me. I knew I was in an interracial relationship but I hadn’t really thought about it. Maybe that is my white privilege that I didn’t consider it. I thought it was because I don’t really see race-but maybe it really is just white privilege.
Adam looked at me and said, “you already are in an interracial relationship-it just isn’t as visible.” It was one of those totally “duh” moments. How had I not thought of that. Adam was totally right. Adam is Hispanic but only 50% and most people assume he is Caucasian. Once again, being the Caucasian in the relationship-I hadn’t fully considered what that meant.
I know logically that I am in an interracial relationship with Adam. But, it doesn’t consume much of my thought time. I like that Aimee has various heritages to celebrate but, as strange and as bad as this sounds I forget that my husband is a different ethnicity.
I know that telemarketers call our house and instantly start speaking in Spanish because of our last name. And there have been two times I can recall where Adam was pulled over for speeding and the cops tone negatively changed after reading his driver’s license. Maybe that is racism maybe it was ageism and maybe those two cops just sucked-I am not sure. I know that my husband was called horribly derogatory names in middle and high school. But, I still forget.
We are an invisible interracial couple. I had never thought of it like that before. In some ways we are extended white privilege because of this invisibility. But, the invisibility isn’t a good thing. It is sad. We want to embrace our backgrounds and the backgrounds of all people. We don’t want our daughter to live in a world where assumptions are made based on what people see visibly. People look at her parents and they see a heterosexual, Caucasian and monogamous couple. None of those labels are correct. This realization made me start to think about the several areas of invisibility that are present in our life together.
Let me be clear, I am not complaining about my life. I, for the most part, absolutely adore my life, my family and my friends. But, I think it is important to acknowledge that invisibility exists in my life and in my marriage. Also, I am totally aware that invisibility is not something that is just occurring in my life. And I am certain other people suffer from invisibility on a larger scale than I do. But, I hope that by talking about the areas where invisibility intersects in my life I can bring awareness to the broader issues of invisibility.
During pride weekend this year, a friend of mine on Facebook made a comment about the pride parade. She said she didn’t get it. She didn’t get why gay people needed a parade. She said something to the effect of I don’t have a parade about the way I love my husband. It pissed me off. Heterosexual privilege in action. Of course she doesn’t have to have a parade for it. She didn’t have to fight for her marriage to be recognized in a public arena. She didn’t have to endure discrimination at work, at home or in public because of her sexual orientation. When people look at her and her husband they most likely assume that they are a heterosexual couple and in their case, the assumption is right.
Because Adam and I are not a same-sex couple- the majority of people assume we are straight. We are not. Many people we know who are in same-sex couples ( not all of them) assume that we have it easier than they do. And, in some ways they are right. Because of the way we look, heterosexual privilege is extended to us in several areas. Most importantly, we were able to get legally married and share in all the benefits such a legal union extends. I know of a few heterosexual couples who refused to get legally married until their same-sex friends were offered the same rights. I love that act of solidarity. Adam and I have often talked about how we wish we had been one of those couples who waited. We didn’t wait until our same-sex coupled friends had the same rights, but we have tried to always be a voice for marriage equality and to fight alongside our friends and family. Marriage equality isn’t less important to us because we present as a male-female couple-it is vitally important. We need to live in solidarity with our friends.
I would be lying though, if I said that some of the privilege extended to us has made our lives easier-it certainly has. But it is a privilege that is difficult to be grateful for because we see how many people that privilege leaves behind-heterosexual privilege doesn’t necessarily leave Adam and I behind, but it does leave us invisible.
When I lost my job last year because I came out as bisexual, many people criticized me for coming out. The reaction of several people was that I should have shut my mouth. I was assumed heterosexual because I was married to a man. And, if I hadn’t corrected that, maybe I would still have my job. But, I wouldn’t feel like I had my integrity or authenticity. I don’t blame other people who don’t come out at work. Each person makes that decision for themselves. I think it is devastating that we live in a world where sexual orientation, or any protected class for that matter can factor into if someone gets or keeps their job. It makes me sick.
Yes, in this case I could have let people believe I am heterosexual and I wouldn’t have had to go through the pain of unemployment and the stress of financial uncertainty. But, it took me until I was twenty-six-years-old to come out as bi-sexual, to assert this major part of who I was. And nothing, not even a job could push me back into the closet. That is why I asserted who I was. Out of pride for who I was, out of the hope of creating a more accepting work environment and out of a strong sense of self.
In addition to feeling bi-invisibility, there are times when I feel separated from even my bisexual friends because Adam and I live a polyamorous lifestyle. We are sometimes afraid to share excitement about new partners with our friends and family of all sexual orientations that are not themselves poly, for fear that they will feel uncomfortable. I will not elaborate more on how our polyamorous lifestyle makes us feel invisible because I plan to share a series of posts on poly life over the next few weeks and I can address this more then.
I read a blog post today where a woman who identifies as queer, said that people look at her in disbelief when she talks about her ex who is a male and then in the same breath comments on how attractive a woman walking by is. I totally understand this. That is bi-invisibility. She also spoke of how she sometimes doesn’t feel like she fits in her predominantly gay circles or predominantly straight circles. I also understand that.
I am lucky to have many great accepting friends and family members. But, proportionately very few of them identify as bisexual. There have been times when I have been at an event that was predominantly attended by my gay friends, people I absolutely adore, and even still I have felt out of place. The same goes with events that are attended predominantly by my straight friends. Sometimes I just feel…invisible.
The Invisible Illness
Depression is often called “the invisible illness.” Many times (not always) you look the same on the outside, you still get up and go to work. Maybe you even laugh at jokes and still have the ability to have fun. Then, some people think, you couldn’t be that depressed. Or they dismiss depression as a mood swing or something that will pass. Depression is often trivialized, leaving the person suffering from depression to feel smaller-invisible even.
Unless you have struggled with depression or loved someone who has, it is easy to think depression isn’t that bad or to judge someone and assume they could just get better if they tried harder. I almost ruined my relationship with Adam because I falsely believed that if he put in enough effort he would get better. It wasn’t until he was hospitalized for being suicidal that I woke up and realized how big and all consuming depression can be. For the one suffering from it and the ones they love.
I have also struggled with depression and Adam has always extended much more empathy to me than I was ever able to give to him. It is one of the reasons that I think he is such a great man.
Adam suffered from depression for almost 13 years before getting the help he needed. Adam has been on medication for depression almost two years now and his depression has been doing so much better. But that doesn’t mean it is gone. I no longer have to make sure he takes his meds or ask him if he is suicidal-a blessing I am grateful for every single day. But, depression is still a part of our lives. For a long time, it consumed our lives, and it consumed our marriage.
Even though we know so many people who suffer from depression, there was never a time we felt more alone than when Adam was in the midst of his depression. It was a mixture of our fear of reaching out and the fear other people had in talking to us about it that led to our feeling isolated. People don’t know how to talk to you when you say you were institutionalized. People don’t really know how to talk about depression, or mental illness in general. Our national dialogue on mental illness has come a long way, but mental illness is still stigmatized and often comes with a level of blame on the person that other types of illnesses do not.
I had never thought about mine and Adam’s experiences with depression as an area of invisibility, but now I so clearly see it that way.
Not Your Average Drag Queen
I don’t think invisible is a word many people often associate with drag queens. Most of the drag queens I know are anything but invisible.- I think that is part of the point of drag-to be out there and to entertain.
As many of my readers know, Adam is an occasional drag queen. This often meets with great surprise even from other queer identified people. Adam is a musician, singer and performer, so I don’t think it is that odd. But, many people think the concept of a bisexual man, with a female partner being a drag queen is strange. Drag certainly isn’t reserved for only gay men, but I think that is often the first image that comes to people’s minds.
We had a friend who the first time they saw Adam in drag commented, “wow Adam sure makes a better looking man than a woman.” I know this person to have many friends who are drag queens-gay men who are drag queens. I am sure the comment was not meant with ill-intent-in fact I am positive it wasn’t-but it sort of illustrates a point that Adam’s reception in drag isn’t the same as his gay counterparts.
This mixed response to him in drag has causes him to pause dressing in drag for a while. In addition to the invisibility that he feels as a bi-man in drag ( we are sure there are other bi-men who dress in drag but we just don’t know them and our friends don’t seem to either) he struggles with body consciousness. Adam is neither a thin man nor a big man. For the most part he is average sized with the small beer belly that comes with college eating, late night snacking and trying to balance work and fatherhood.
When I asked him why he was pausing drag, I was surprised when he said that he felt there were not many drag queens his size. I am sure there are some, but again we mostly know (and see on TV) either very fit drag queens or very voluptuous ones- he wasn’t sure where there was a place for an average size queen. I argued that this is exactly the reason he should keep doing it-to pave way for more average size drag queens. But, I don’t blame him for putting it on pause. It is hard when you don’t see people like yourself echoed in your community.
I thought about discussing the drag invisibility in the section on bi-invisibility, because in Adam’s case I think that part of his feeling invisible in the drag community is because he is a bisexual man married to a female partner. But, there is the bi-invisibility piece and the body size piece, so I thought it was an issue worthy of its own section.
I despise the word fat. In fact, when Aimee called someone fat I was far more enraged and disappointed than I have ever been hearing her say the other F word. I go out of my way to never call anyone else or myself fat or oven obese. I am not a fan of the term “thick girls” either. I try to avoid the topic of weight at all costs, but if I do have to talk about my weight, I call myself “overweight.”
The negative media attention women get, and the pictures of larger women’s butts being passed around on Facebook as laughing material, would suggest that plus-size (one of the better terms) women are plenty visible. But, the visibility we are getting, when we get any is typically negative. Again, there are exceptions. There is a rise in belief in health at any size and in adipositivity.
But, as someone who has been overweight her entire life, I can say that it isn’t so much the bad looks or comments that I get that hurt ( though they do as well), it is the lack of looks all together and the lack of good comments. I am lucky. I don’t like being overweight, but I have always managed to have decent self esteem. There is definitely room for improvement, but I genuinely think I am pretty (though until recently I would have only been ok with the term cute). I still worry, though, that other people won’t think I am pretty or hot. I think that concern previously stemmed from my own negative areas of self-esteem. But these days I think it stems much more from my awareness of how we as a society treat overweight women.
Being overweight is another one of those areas where it is easier to blame the person than to try to understand them. Someone who is overweight is “lazy” or doesn’t care about themselves.
The other day I was at the gas station and I drove up to the pump. I took a minute to get out of the car because I was digging through my purse for my check card, answering a question my daughter asked from the back seat and finishing a text message. There wasn’t a wait behind me and then all of a sudden there was a truck behind me waiting for my pump. So I hurried out of the car and tried to fill up my tank so the driver behind me could have my spot. He revved his engine, drove past me glaring and then parked his car perpendicular to mine right in front of me so I couldn’t get out. From there, he proceeded to yell at me in front of my daughter.
“ What were you doing in your car? Don’t you care that other people are waiting you selfish b****!” He then proceeded. “ oh of course you don’t care-look at you-look at your body-it is obvious you don’t care for yourself, so how could you care for anyone else.”
I said nothing. I just looked at my feet. He drove away. I decided he wasn’t worth it. But, my daughter was in the car and I wondered if I should have stood up for myself. I told my daughter that that man was lying and that we shouldn’t treat each other that way. She smiled and said, “ I know mommy.”
I have had other instances of this kind of hate just because I am overweight. But, the majority of the hate comes in averted eyes, failure to notice me at all, intentional avoidance, or in my dating profile being overlooked because all someone can see is my weight and not me.
There is no area in my life that I have felt more invisible in. Because my struggle with my weight has been life long. Despite strides I have made in my own health, mental and physical, I am so cautious to talk to anyone about my weight. I am worried that I won’t be met with empathy or understanding but rather with judgment.
So, like the story with the guy at the gas station, I say nothing. One year, for my birthday a group of my girlfriends bought me some really nice clothes. They bought me clothes in sizes 1x and 2x. I was devastated that they knew my correct size without having to ask me. I had been shoving myself into large and xl clothes for years because my mom had taught me to go for the smallest pants size I could. But, I found that when I put on the clothes they gave me that were in my correct size, I felt really pretty. Since then, I have tried really hard to always remember that experience and not get so hung up on label size.
Other than talking to Adam, I have only mentioned my weight in the occasional conversation. If I can pretend that I am not overweight and you don’t say anything about it than I can pretend that you avoidance isn’t your discomfort with my weight or with the subject area, but that you simply haven’t noticed that I am overweight. I realized that by being so afraid to acknowledge something that is factual, I am overweight, I have allowed isolation and invisibility to perpetuate in my life.
I have never told anyone, other than Adam that I am constantly aware of my posture and the clothes I am wearing because I am terrified someone will ask me if I am pregnant. Sometimes I ask Adam if I look pregnant before we go out somewhere. This fear was validated several years ago by a woman at a rummage sale who asked me when I was due. Unable to grasp for a witty remark I simple said, “not pregnant” and walked away.
To this day I catch myself walking with my purse in front of my stomach to avoid anyone noticing it. No one has ever said anything about this habit, or about how I always sit on the couch holding a pillow in front of me. Until, this past year, a man I know called me out on the fact that I always kept something in front of my stomach when I hung out with him. I was mortified that he noticed, but also relieved he noticed. He was very gentle about it and he made me feel seen and understood. He had noticed I was hiding and let me know that around him that wasn’t necessary. To be acknowledged in that way, even though there was an element of embarrassment in it really helped me evolve positively in the way I see myself.
I still resent that overweight men don’t have to worry about being mistakenly called pregnant. I think men who are overweight struggle with discrimination too, but I think our society finds it more unacceptable for a woman to be overweight and certainly there is far more commentary on women’s looks. Male privilege. I am not undermining that many men have struggles with weight, self esteem and eating disorders. I think those men are often invisible too. But, that does not negate the existence of male privilege in this area.
Yes, I have overweight friends and family. But, I often find myself in situations where I am the biggest person in the room or one of the biggest people. I, like my other friends who are overweight, try to compensate for it with my other qualities. I have gone through fazes of being extra nice, promising unbelievable loyalty, pushing up my boobs to make them the first thing people notice and letting it be known that I am pretty easy to get into bed . I have done all of these as ways to compensate for my size. I still do all four of those things at times, but now it is because I want to not because I am using them to cover for a perceived deficit.
Several of my friends and family who are average or even thin have body image issues too, so I in no way think this problem is exclusive to me or even to people who present as overweight. My friends who are average size and struggle with self image struggle with a different type of invisibility-people may not know they are struggling because they look healthy on the outside.
I struggle with invisibility because people literally fail to look at me and often when they do, they don’t see me. Or, they do see me and pity me. They think because I am overweight that I must be unhappy or have problems at home. Some people wonder how I can have sex or if I even do (I am actually a lot more flexible than several of my average size friends/partners FYI). Or, they assume that the partners I have are “chubby chasers, ” a term I find incredibly demeaning all around. Still others wonder how I can keep up with my daughter or are surprised to hear that I swim laps most days of the week or that I love to dance.
There are moments when someone obviously adverts their eyes or says something like the asshole at the gas station and I want to be like “ Really? I am sleeping with two people- how much sex are you getting?” and just watch the look on their face.
The Invisible Homeless Present in Many Ways
I have been homeless three times in my life. Most people who know me don’t know that. Or, they do know but don’t think to consider the situations I have been in as “homelessness.” The first time I experienced homelessness I was twelve and my family lost their home and we had to live in a hotel. We lived in the hotel until the money ran out and then moved into the upstairs of my mom’s boss’s house. We were beyond lucky that we had shelter-but we only had transient housing for some time.
The second came when Adam lost his job because of mental health issues, our daughter was young and I was home with her, so I wasn’t working either. When he lost his job we had no income and had to give up our apartment. We were blessed because my aunt took us in.
The third time was this past year, after I lost my job. Despite the amazing amounts of financial help from my in-laws while I searched for a job, I still couldn’t find work soon enough for us to keep our apartment. Again, we were blessed by family and my in-laws took us in. But, we had to give our home and move half way across the country in order to have shelter.
We have amazing family and friends. And it is because of that that most people were not aware of how much financial trouble we were in. We were still able to go to friends houses and even to events because friends and families would secretly pay for our tickets. Family members would help with our rent and our gas money.
Someone bought our Christmas tree for us and another friend gave us money for ornaments. We still had a car because we had help paying our car payment and insurance from my in-laws. Aimee still went to daycare because we got a scholarship. We kept our dog because my mom bought him for us and my in-laws gave us the money to keep him fed and healthy.
We still hosted dinner parties because I am really good at finding the best food at the food shelf and because we had food stamps. Most people didn’t know or realize that this was how we could have people over for dinner or provide dessert when we hosted cards. We didn’t want them to know. Like most people struggling financially, we wanted to keep our lives as close to normal as we could, we wanted to live with what dignity we could and we acknowledged that there was a stigma surrounding poverty.
It was extremely hard to go to friends houses who were financially stable. We wanted to celebrate people’s promotions and enjoy events at their great homes. We were beyond grateful for the invitations and the friendships. But, there were moments when Adam and I would stand in the homes of our friends and just feel so invisible-realizing that this was so far from our own reality.
We would smile at parties and enjoy great conversation and on the way home cry because we weren’t sure how we would get more toilet paper.
I am not trying to tell a sob story. We have struggled but I am aware how lucky I am. For one, I acknowledge that we live in a country where we have opportunities for advancement that people in other countries may not.. Secondly, I acknowledge that we live in a family that would never allow us to live out on the street. And third, I acknowledge the blessing it is that I have never gone without health insurance and neither has Adam or Aimee. I know that is not true for so many people. I am so aware that many people do not have the opportunities we do. And, I try to remain focused on gratitude for those things.
When I worked as a caseworker for people in poverty, every time I looked at my clients who lived on the streets I absolutely thought “but for the grace of god go I (that isn’t exactly what I thought- my thoughts on “the grace of god” are for another time-but it is the closest phrase to the sentiment I felt). But for as many clients as I had that lived on the streets, I had clients who were one paycheck away from losing their home, who had enough money for rent but not for food, or who couch hopped to stay off the streets. Their poverty was invisible to most people. They still had cars and the clothes they wore before they lost their jobs-just like Adam and I did.
There are tons of people who do not present as homeless but may be or may be just a step away from homelessness. That kind of financial stress is ostracizing. I am not ignoring the reality here. There are thousands of people who live on the streets.
The city I was raised in has a huge problem with invisible homelessness. People squat in old buildings or under bridges and they are not as visible as in some other cities- where homeless people are actually seen on the streets-but poverty and homelessness is still a huge problem in my hometown-in part because it is so invisible that people fail to acknowledge its existence. And, when there is a failure to acknowledge a problem steps cannot be made for change.
Prejudice and Invisibility
As I said before, there are people who deal with invisibility in much bigger ways than Adam and I do. I acknowledge this and I assert gratitude for the network of people and opportunities in my life. But, I have learned that the fact that other people may have different or deeper instances of invisibility does not negate that it is alive and well in our personal lives.
Invisibility is not only at work in mine and Adam’s life, it is pervasive in our culture. I believe that invisibility and prejudice go hand in hand. I think it is so important to exam our biases and educate one another to eliminate these prejudices. This is crucial if we wish to create a world for our children and ourselves where we feel celebrated and visible.
If anything, looking at the areas of invisibility in my life has made we aware of a solidarity I feel with the other people who are invisible. Not just in the areas that I am, but in all areas. Perhaps this is where empathy stems from-from our own areas of invisibility. I know that in my life it is where activism stems from.
I am incredibly passionate about bisexual visibility, finding an end to racism, body positivity, ending homelessness and poverty, suicide prevention and alternative treatments for depression. It hasn’t occurred to me to look at it through this lens before. I am now totally aware that my areas of invisibility have caused me to stand up for the visibility of others in those areas.
Dear readers: Can you relate to any of these areas of invisibility? Have you ever failed to recognized an area of invisibility in someone else’s life or an area of privilege in your own ( I know I have)? What are the areas of invisibility in your own life? What are the areas of privilege? Have you considered the concepts of invisibility and privilege? What are your thoughts. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share in the comments section. And, as always, thank you for reading.