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Visibility and the Weight of Representation: Fighting for a Relationship You Can’t Afford to Grieve posted May 2, 2018


Earlier this week we celebrated Lesbian Visibility Day. While it was tempting to lump it with other lesser known holidays like sibling day, the idea stuck with me as I wondered, who is the visible representation of me: an openly queer woman of Haitian-American descent? Homophobia in the black community is prevalent, but in Afro-Caribbean families, the stigma of LGBTQ+ identity can seem insurmountable. Gender expression and sexual orientation can look as different on each person as the genetic code they individually embody. Sexuality is a huge umbrella, including a number of identities. Stereotypical characteristics of what it is to be male, female, or non-binary, can be as subtle as the nail polish on your fingers or the name you choose for yourself. Romantic attraction can be as loud as the hand you hold or person you propose to. For queer people of all hues, coming out is a constant reoccurrence. Everyday moments at your favorite restaurant, sharing one side of a booth with your partner or updating an old friend on your relationship status, call for declarations, justifying your preference or norm. At times, having a queer relationship can feel less like a labor of love and more a claim to stake one’s sexuality on, consummately defending its validity. My partner’s title is often stripped of its sentiment in conversation because this kind of union cannot dare be spoken...yet. Family may see your "friend" as an embodiment of your sexual identity, the scapegoat on which to bare your gayness, and possibly the person on which they can place their discomfort so they can reconcile accepting you. Afro-Caribbean cultures are often collectivist societies where everyone knows each other, the decisions of an individual reflect on the family, and the opinions of others affect your social standing. When made public, your relationship is no longer solely your own. Your love then becomes a political show of resistance, an inspiration to those courageously coming into their truths, and a new norm for those who have never seen it before. In such a climate, not unlike social media, this dynamic highlights the importance of visibility but also bears the weight of representation.

So, what happens when a relationship begins to crumble? If this relationship is the flagship of your sexuality, are you then left to hold the pieces of your fractured identity? For invested onlookers, is there hope that you're not really queer or that this was just a phase? For me, the answer is no. But I did feel the responsibility to fight for a relationship my family was uncomfortable with before ever meeting the other woman involved... as if my failing would somehow reflect on an already marginalized group. I am the only queer person that some people may know personally, so to them, my actions are a representation of the LGBT+ community. No pressure, right?

Is this why parents stay married for the kids or famous couples stay together for the culture? What would we do if Will and Jada split or Ellen and Portia called it quits? Blasphemy, I know. But people are often made into prototypes of their groups and then stereotypes are born out of generalizations about those groups and their members. The way we dismantle stigma is by visibly being our beautiful, authentic, human selves. To boldly love whom we choose, to grieve a relationship even when its absence brings such relief to others, to get back together or move on should you so desire. Live freely, as anyone else would, despite the weight of people’s glares or comments. Visibility may be coming out, getting over, and remaining intact. For me, just living in my truth is the essence of representation.

2670 PointsGold

Stephane Louis, LMFT

/ Licensed Counselor | LGBTQIA / LMFT