“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.” ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
As a black lesbian who also heads Equality Florida, the state LGBT advocacy group, I initially wasn’t going to write about the accusations that our lieutenant governor Jennifer Carroll was caught in her office having sex with a female subordinate.
The tabloid-ready scandal involving a married, mother of three who is an anti-gay conservative naturally piques the imagination of our voyeur culture. But we’ve collectively feasted on right-wing sexual hypocrisy for so long that my care factor was half the size of the Higgs Boson God Particle. In fact, as I scrolled past the story in my email queue, my first reaction was “Oh that’s right. Florida has a lieutenant governor.”
There is no way for Carroll’s story to have a good ending. Either her accuser is using homophobia as a political weapon, or the lieutenant governor is abusing her power with a subordinate, or she is living a huge, sad and complicated lie.
I was content to steer clear of commenting, but then the Lt. governor went on TV and spewed her rebuttal: “Black women who look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”
I’m not sure what kind of extensive research she has done to come to that conclusion about black lesbians but perhaps she’ll publish her findings.
There are many ways for a person to deny accusations, but Lt. Gov. Carroll reached into her anti-gay bag of tricks and ended up hurling a series of stereotypes about women, lesbians and black people in one fell swoop. The hyper, nervous giggling didn’t help matters.
What did and didn’t happen in her office I’ll leave for others to suss out. But let’s get to the coded language Lt. Gov. Carroll was tossing about and why it has to be challenged.
Saying that women who “look like” her aren’t lesbians renders a whole lot of lesbians invisible. And that invisibility has consequences.
We live in a culture that continues to ignore the lives, needs and health of black lesbians by rendering us invisible. Carroll reinforces that invisibility by perpetuating the misconception that all lesbian and same-gender loving women look and act the same, virtually erasing the diverse array of Black lesbians. And if lesbians look a certain way, Lt. Gov. Carroll, tell us, what do straight black women look like? In putting a fence around what lesbians are supposed to “look like” she corrals acceptable black heterosexual womens’ appearance as well.