(In)visibility with Sex, Gender, and (Dis)ability: Correcting Images
"I think being invisible is the only superpower that doesn't have a downside."
Someone said this to me as I was working on this webpaper, trying to construct an argument about queer invisibility and and the invisibilities of disabilities. My thought process crashed to a halt--she hadn't even seen my brainstorming.
"What makes you say that?"
She told me that flight can lead to motion sickness, mind reading can be overwhelming, super strength can cause someone to break another person's bones when simply trying to give them a hug. As far as this goes, I can see how invisibility doesn't have any downfalls.
Except for the fact that you don't exist.
Initial photo of a butch woman:
Through a heterosexist lens, women cannot be butch. They must be feminine women or masculine men--nothing else is allowed. So the initial photo may be corrected to:
Her face is now blurred out, her breasts are unidentifiable, her waistline is brought up so it doesn't look like she has hips, her shoulders are made broader, and her legs are made broader. This is a "better" definition of a man.
Through an ableist lens, this is not a man on a laptop:
It's just a picture of a wheelchair.
Maybe this person does not want to be defined only by their disability. Maybe they want to exist outside of their disability (go figure!). Maybe we should be seeing them as this:
What do you see when you look at this?
A feminine woman and a masculine man standing together? Well even if they're wearing rainbows, they must be straight. Look! She's wearing a skirt! Look! He has facial hair! This image must be corrected to:
No more rainbows, barely even bodies are left, just heads and smiles from a feminine woman and a masculine man.
When in reality, it may be something completely different:
This may indeed be a picture of a couple, but a picture of a straight man and a queer woman.
In the following picture, the rainbow isn't supposed to be taken as a symbol of the woman's sexuality--after all, it's JUST an umbrella.
So this image finds itself being corrected so that the focus is only on the disability:
When maybe, the focus is supposed to be on an expression of sexuality and the disability should be disregarded in order to see the person as a person. Maybe it should be seen as:
People often become invisible due to the way they are visually represented. Disability may be the only thing that's noticed. Queerness might be ignored in exchange for heterosexual representations. On the flip side, people with invisible disabilities get mistaken for able-bodied people, sometimes to the extent where they need to be physically put in wheelchairs in order to gain the help they need. Femme lesbians get mistaken for heterosexual women. Masculine gay men get mistaken for heterosexual men.
How can we get noticed for who we really are without having to hide the visual clues that give us away?
Well for starters, you could ask.
Ask, and maybe let others know that you genuinely notice them.
All photos except for the picture of me are from istockphoto.com
Picture of me and boyfriend taken by a photographer from phillygaycalendar.com
All photos have image descriptions for those with text to speech readers or a text-only browser.
**EDIT: some of my pictures appear to have disappeared. re-adding.