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"Lesbian invisibility has been compounded by the long history of misogyny and the absence of women from the seat of power. We were twice rendered irrelevant," writes Allison Hope.

Editor’s Note: Allison Hope’s writing has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

Lesbian Visibility Week, celebrated each year at the end of April, was first observed in California in 1990 and is marked around the world and in lesbian living rooms across America — including mine.

c/o Allison Hope
Allison Hope

Having been rendered largely invisible in the past, lesbians today have reason to celebrate our visibility. But in the past, being “out of view” of straight society was both a blessing and a curse.

One of the most infamously quoted lines cited in the Bible to condemn LGBTQ people is found in the book of Leviticus 18:22 — Old Testament scripture embraced by some who insist it should govern how “good Christians”  live.

The New King James Version of the verse proclaims, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.”

It says nothing about women not sleeping with women. I’d like to think that God liked lesbians. However, the truth is most likely that lesbian invisibility has been compounded by the long history of misogyny and the absence of women from the seat of power. We were twice rendered irrelevant.

Not that invisibility only has downsides. Many laws have criminalized gay men but not women, leaving us in slightly safer territory. Lesbians also have been largely exempted from some of the worst forms of discrimination, at least the kinds enshrined in law.

Singapore’s draconian ban on gay sex, for example, which was repealed in 2022, only prohibited sex between men, with no mention of women. Gay men are also more likely to be victims of hate crimes and violence. Being invisible means we’re less likely to get caught in the crosshairs of hateful legislation aimed only at us.

None of that means, however, that we’ve fully escaped society’s homophobic vitriol and violence. Lesbians have long been subjected to the same shades of hate, stereotyping and subjugation that other LGBTQ people have long endured.

We’ve been depicted as murderers or the murdered in movies and books, the butt of jokes or stock characters, expendable characters or invisible ones. We’ve quietly endured straight marriages we thought we had to pursue and lost true loves to heteronormative rules gay people thought they needed to play by. We’ve long been forced into the role of childless aunt in our communities, or described euphemistically as the one who lives with her long-term “friend.” We’ve been expected to avoid injuring fragile male egos but still be able to open jars or fix leaky faucets.

In the worst cases, we’ve been victims and survivors of “corrective” rape, murder, abuse, harassment and banishment by our families and communities. Gay men might be criminalized, but gay women have long been targeted, sometimes in heinous ways that fly under the radar of the law, and which go unprosecuted.

Still, lesbians have quietly been forming families and operating under the radar for a long time. It’s easier, after all, to read two lesbians with a child as aunts or sisters than two men with a child. We have side-stepped some of society’s worst condemnations.

As activists, lesbians were key advocates during the AIDS crisis, both in caring for our dying gay male chosen family members and demanding federal support for treatment options. Lesbians were also critical but sometimes unacknowledged players in advancing the Second Wave Feminist movement and advocating on the national stage. Yet, when it came time to support equal rights for lesbians, or even to raise the needs of lesbians in HIV/AIDS advocacy, both groups that we had helped for the most part failed to step up for us.

In spite of the challenges we’ve faced, or perhaps because of them, we celebrate our fabulous, lesbian selves. Some studies have shown that we have more satisfying sex than do our straight, cisgender peers and we earn nine percent more on average, possibly because of the reduced need for childcare duties and the higher-wage occupations pursued by lesbians.

We inhabit, in my view, the best parts of femininity and masculinity. We are vocal allies for our gay brothers, and our trans family and friends (minus the TERFS, dubbed feminists who don’t support trans people). I can both throw a football with my child and cuddle them to my bosom with pure maternal zeal. I can make love to a woman and watch silly rom coms with her, too. My wife is both my soulmate and my best friend. It feels like a tremendous gift I’ve been bestowed to be a lesbian.

Over the years, lesbians have gained visibility and mainstream media has introduced more nuanced and accurate depictions of who we are and the diversity within the lesbian community. TV shows like “The L-Word” broke barriers. Its runaway success came on the heels of more niche media that paved the path, such as “Dyke TV” in the 1990s — a public access news channel that aired weekly in dozens of markets across the US.

Today, there are more than a handful of movies and shows that feature recurring lesbian characters that are multi-dimensional and where being a lesbian is an aspect of their persona, rather than a plot device. Lesbians have welcomed A-listers out of the closet, including Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin and Kate McKinnon, and have elevated formerly “niche” lesbian performers into mainstream roles, like Lea DeLaria and Wanda Sykes.

There is also an interesting trend of lesbian bars, which have long been critical gathering spaces for lesbians. For a while many were on the verge of extinction but now they’re making a comeback as new watering holes owned by and catering to lesbians spring up around the US. We’re getting married, having kids and assimilating into the historically hostile — but now more welcoming — cishet (heterosexual and not transgender) suburbs.

Guilty as charged.

Many of us are also expressing our sexuality and gender in more expansive ways. When I came out a generation ago, you were either cisgender (identifying with the gender assigned at birth), gay or a lesbian. Now, many are identifying as transgender, nonbinary, pansexual or a proliferation of other gender and sexual identities.

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We think about lesbians as connected to gender, but so many, me included, feel more fluid. I don’t fit into the gender binary, but “lesbian” has also been the word that most closely describes me. Lesbian is not just a personal identity; it’s a political one. In that sense, I am very much a lesbian. A proud lesbian. A big dyke, to be more exact.

Visibility matters. Seeing yourself reflected in leaders and stars and role models provides a level of psychological safety that is critical to feeling like a person who can walk through the world with their head held high, like our lives matter.

On this Lesbian Visibility Week, I am grateful both to be seen and to slip quietly under the radar, unnoticed. Nothing to see here, culture warriors. Just a slightly butch, pragmatic lesbian over here, completing mundane tasks and retiring to the couch with my wife to watch something sensible on TV.