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VIEWS Visibility isn't the goal
by Julia Hale
2019-09-18

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In mid-July, I interviewed non-binary rapper CJ Run. In discussing the coming out of gay country rapper Lil Nas X, Run articulated something interesting regarding queer visibility. "Around the country there are a lot more queer-ish rappers around," they said. "I don't know if that's acceptance or just hypervisibility." This got me thinking about how visibility in the mainstream relates to acceptance.

Queerness isn't uncommon in popular culture, or even in politics nowadays. GLAAD's 2018-19 "Where We Are on TV" report found that broadcast, cable and streaming had "significant increases in LGBTQ characters of color." From the Netflix reboot Queer Eye, to Tyler the Creator ( the Grammy-nominated rapper who's come out as gay in recent years ) to openly gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, it's evident that queerness is having a moment in the mainstream. Sure, this can manifest as genuine advocacy, space-making and people feeling comfortable enough to come out ( as in the examples above ), but it can also manifest as tokenism queerbaiting.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines tokenism as making a "symbolic effort," as opposed to a real one. Queerbaiting, while not in the dictionary, is defined by Wikipedia as a marketing technique in which same-sex romance is hinted at, but not actually depicted. For example, the CW show Riverdale has been accused of tokenism, queerbaiting and following the Bury Your Gays TV trope.

Queerbaiting is also common in the music industry; pop singer Ariana Grande has been accused of it, among many others. A Them.us article ( at www.them.us/story/was-that-queerbaiting ) outlines the recent history of queerbaiting in pop music, including everything from February's Dua Lipa x St. Vincent Grammy performance to the iconic 2003 Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera/Madonna Video Music Awardss kisses.

To be hypervisible is to be extremely visible. Some might argue that the hypervisibility of queerness in the media serves as proof of acceptance, but that is not the case. "I feel like in the media, being queer is like the hot new topic," said Run. "It's very in, and I don't know if that's so much acceptance or if it's just, like, a microscope is kind of on us now," they said. "That doesn't mean we're being accepted more, it just means people know about us more." So, given the evident influx of queerness into the mainstream, this begs the question: Is hypervisibility actually benefiting queer people?

GLAAD's 2018 "Accelerating Acceptance" report says that after years of positive momentum, in 2018, "the acceptance pendulum abruptly stopped and swung in the opposite direction." This 2017 study from RTI International, a North Carolina non-profit research organization, titled "Violence and LGBTQ+ Communities" stated that "despite perceptions that society is becoming more open and accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals, estimates of victimization disparities between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ populations appear to have generally worsened or been sustained since the 1990s." Furthermore, "the very 'outness' and gender nonconformity that decades of collective struggle have made possible for some LGBTQ+ individuals may also expose them to victimization at higher rates than ever before." People might be coming out of the closet more than they used to, but that doesn't mean queer people are suffering any less because of it.

Hypervisibility ( as we know it ) is only accompanied by perceived acceptance, not true progress. Visibility simply does not mean acceptance. Sure, Ru-Paul popularized drag, but the 26 trans characters found on TV during 2018-19 is matched by the 26 transgender women who died in the United States in 2018. Additionally, the casualties of hypervisibility, including tokenism and queerbaiting, are harmful and don't do anything to benefit LGBTQ+ persons. So, let us not equate representation, or the promise of it, with acceptance or even tolerance among the people of the United States. Just because you see more gay shit doesn't mean gay people have to deal with any less shit. In the words of non-binary rapper CJ Run: "It's nice that we're visible. Hopefully the acceptance piece can come with that."

Julia Hale is a rising senior at DePaul University studying journalism and Spanish.


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