This article was published on April 26th, 2022
April 26 marks Lesbian Visibility Day — a day devoted to celebrating the women who love women. But what does “lesbian visibility” mean, exactly?
It’s a fair question, and one that raises many more questions. For example, should we even have a “day” for lesbian visibility? Is it offensive to imply that lesbians are invisible at other times? Or is it necessary? And when we’re talking about “visibility,” what exactly do we mean, anyway?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, being “visible” means “able to be seen.” The word grew out of the Latin word visibilis. So, for a lesbian to be visible would mean for her identity to be known and her existence to be seen.
But when it comes to lesbians in history, that hasn’t always happened. There’s no shortage of famous lesbians in history, but many of their stories are conspicuously absent in the history books. The earliest known lesbian in history was Sappho, a poet who lived on an island off the coast of Greece around 600 BC. Her erotic poetry has survived through the centuries. But even so, much of what we know about her is still shrouded in mystery.
Did she really leave her husband? Did she really kill herself by jumping off a cliff because she loved a ferryman named Phaon who didn’t love her back? Where was she buried? Did she have any children? We may never know. However, what is known is that Sappho was deeply committed to expressing her love for other women through her work.
Her poetry has been praised as some of the greatest literature ever written by critics throughout the centuries, and Plato even described her as “the tenth Muse.” But she also faced harsh criticism from men who felt threatened by her intellectualism and sexuality — so much so that she was exiled from Lesbos (the Greek island where she lived) around 600 BC.
Fast forward more than 2,000 years later and many lesbians still have difficulty finding safe spaces within which they can express themselves and their love for other women without fear or judgement.
We live in a culture that is dominated by the male gaze — everything from the media we consume, to the way we talk about relationships, to the way we conceive of female sexuality is filtered through the lens of our society’s predominant gender. That means that when people think about lesbian relationships or female-female sexuality in general, they tend to perceive it as something that is being done for men — that are, to a degree, still doing what men want them to do.
Because of this prevailing perspective on lesbianism, many people choose not to come out as queer women. They worry that if they do come out, they will be perceived as performative, or caring more about attention than actual connection with another person.
They worry that because our culture’s view of female sexuality isn’t really a view at all, it’s a blank slate waiting to be filled with whatever anyone wants it to be, that coming out as queer means that you have no voice of your own. These fears are totally valid and there’s a reason why so many people don’t come out until later in life and/or as adults.
This is why Lesbian Visibility Day is so important as its goal is to create more visibility for all lesbians and help them feel less alone in their experiences with discrimination and prejudice.
Our society tends to view women who are not heterosexual as “less feminine” than those who are attracted to men. This means that when a woman comes out as a lesbian, she can often be subjected to ridicule or harassment. For instance, many people believe female homosexuality is more common among younger women than older women because they have not yet developed an awareness of their own sexuality.
However, studies have shown that young adults are actually less likely than older adults when it comes to identifying themselves as either straight or gay. And this does not even take into account those who identify themselves under other labels like bisexuality/pansexuality.
These kinds of attitudes and beliefs can cause great harm to those who identify as non-heterosexual, and it is imperative that we educate ourselves about the experiences of these individuals in order to create change for the better.
Therefore, as we celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day, let us remember that there is no one way for lesbians to be visible and no one way for them to be invisible. What matters most is how we choose to show up in the world and what kind of impact we make on those around us.