A Lesbian Reflects on Lesbian Visibility (Sort Of)

I have started and stopped writing this so many times.

It’s not that I have nothing to say; it’s not that I don’t think designating days as celebrations of specific identities carries importance. It does. I love rituals. I love being forced to think about something as complex and amorphous as lesbian visibility, a term that feels loaded and also incomplete. I love even the most rudimentary ritual of this day, the scrolling through Instagram and seeing photos of all the lesbians in my life indicating that, yes, they are indeed lesbians, a joke here and there about disappearing once the clock strikes twelve as if we can only be seen for just one day. I like the jokes! Keep em coming!

I briefly flirted with the possibility of excavating my own lesbianism in the form of an experimental essay formatted as the artifacts catalogue detailing the findings of an archeological dig. The archeological site would be my childhood bedroom; the artifacts would be my mundane possessions that when examined by an objective eye might not mean anything at all but when examined through the lens of personal hindsight tell a story — one about a girl who quite literally obsessed over the words lesbian and gay long before ever directly applying them to herself, dog-earing pages of books that bore them, but never underlining, because that would be something too easily discovered. Maybe it would have been a good essay, I don’t know. It felt, despite its loosely scientific approach, too personal, which is silly to say about a personal essay. For now, I’ll bury it, see if it takes on more meaning with time.

I thought, too, about writing about how the lesbian characters who have made me feel most seen throughout my life — in novels, movies, and shows — are the ones I’m supposed to be critical of. Bad, monstrous women whose desires are often insidious and wrong.

And then I thought about writing about the way my relationship with lesbian visibility changes every time I move to a new place.

The problem with these pieces is that they could be written any time, published here on any day. Forcing myself to write them toward a specific day on the calendar wasn’t a problem from a time management perspective; I work great under hard deadlines. It was a problem from a creative perspective. I used to be better at packaging my own queerness when I wrote for other places, places that publish queer content only when there is a specific peg. I don’t have to do that anymore, and I’m lucky for it. Forcing myself to write a Lesbian Visibility Day piece brought me back to that headspace of needing to categorize, catalogue, translate my identity in a way that didn’t feel organic or genuinely exploratory. Instead, the only thing that really felt right for me to write is this self-referential reflection.

It’s hard to write about lesbian visibility when that is what I’m writing about every single time I take pen to paper. Sometimes I feel I don’t know how to write about anything else. Perhaps I could have more easily found a way to articulate this day and what it represents when I was first coming out, when lesbianism still felt so shiny and new to me that it was almost like I could touch it, could turn it over in my hands. Now, it touches everything. I wouldn’t know how to break it down simply.

Throw in the fact that this is supposed to be a day about community, about not one single experience of lesbianism but about our collective stories, needs, desires, and imaginations, and I’m blissfully overwhelmed. There are so many ways to be a lesbian. It is, I suppose, why we usually default to a roundtable format when honoring this day at Autostraddle. It lets us paint a complex picture, lets us include a range of identities and narratives across lesbianism. You should read them (2022, 2020, 2019, 2018); they’re good. But I think every year, we’re a little stumped about how Autostraddle celebrates this day when lesbian visibility is one of the many things we’re here for every single day.

I want so much more than visibility.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 808 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. I feel the same during Pride month. Since I talk about sapphic books all year round, it seems strange to call it out specifically one month of the year. I’m grateful for Autostraddle keeping it queer every day.

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