Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Invisibility Isn't A Privilege

This is for Bisexual Health Awareness Month.

I've heard a lot of people claim that bisexuals are able to access "straight passing privilege".
But being invisible isn't a privilege.

As a teenager, first discovering my autism and getting involved in disability rights, I came across the idea of 'visible' and 'invisible' disabilities. Several years later, I made friends with a wheelchair user and saw the difference in action.

My friend was seen as disabled by everyone, whether she wanted to be or not. She got a lot of what I'd now describe as microaggressions - such as people handing me her change even though she was the one who paid.

But when she came up to someone and asked them for help with something disability-related, they tended to give it. Very often she didn't even have to ask - people anticipated that she would need help because of being a wheelchair user. She also got people coming up to her to talk about disability-related concepts, something that I'd love to have happen to me. And most people who were ableist but not assholes tried not to knowingly make comments that they thought might bother a disabled person in her presence. Invisibly disabled people were also more likely to tell her about their disabilities, because they could tell at a glance that she'd probably get it. She was even represented by the disabled symbol.

In contrast, I have to tell people over and over that I need a certain accommodation, and very often people will just flat-out refuse to believe me. Very often, I'll just struggle on my own because it's less trouble than trying to get help. And the only time someone anticipated a disability-related need of mine without me telling them, it was another disabled person who did so. No one ever pegs me as disabled unless I tell them, and even then, it often doesn't sink in. And I get to listen to the disabled jokes and the random ableism out of nowhere, because no one expected it to feel personal to me. People assume that I'll have a non-disabled perspective on disability.

The idea of visible and invisible disabilities doesn't perfectly map onto LGBT+ people, but the general concept does kind of apply. If you visibly violate gender norms, or are clearly in a same-sex relationship, you're visibly LGBT+. Which gets you hate, sure, but it also gets you community and recognition.

If you're straight-passing (which can mean single, closeted, stealth, or in a relationship that looks heterosexual), you tend to be isolated. People assume you're straight. LGBT+ people are less likely to tell you that they're LGBT+, and non-asshole homophobes are more likely to show their homophobia in your presence, and expect you to agree with them.

Being invisible isn't a privilege. It's just another flavour of oppression.

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