Before I knock on an office door or take my ticket in a waiting room, I take my queerness, fold it up nice and small, and put it in my back pocket. Not because I need to, it’s just a sort of courtesy. I’ve still got it on my person, but I’m prepared to get it out of the way so that this can go smoothly. I need an extension, I need an appointment, a referral, a new card, a receipt, an IT fix. It’s a new building, filled with people I’ve never seen before. An interaction that seems designed to be intimidating. I need to make sure that when the “Can I help you, Miss?” comes, I can catch that ball and run with it. God forbid I correct anyone on my pronouns. I have become used to entering hetero mode when in an administrative space, it seems natural that those spaces are tense and alien — the experience of being uncomfortable is already such a familiar one, there have been too many occasions when I’ve been denied or circumvented away from the help I am asking for. My queerness is not actively excluded in these places, it just gets sucked into a vacuum, a limbo. Like Patrick Bateman, it simply is not there.
Campus lost property is a classic example of such a place, or at least I expected it to be. A big, unfamiliar building in an unexplored limb of Darlington, inexplicable automatic doors and crisp, uniform athletic shirts all round. I am already aesthetically distinct, queer. Anyone who has seen the way I dress will find the image of me in an office comical. Imagine Willy Wonka in Fisher library. A woman approaches to help me and I can already feel my heart rate hitch.
Then I see it. Around her neck, simple and delightful, a rainbow lanyard. The lanyard, a symbol of authority, but also strongly associated with lesbian culture, is a literal conveyor of identity whether it be keys, trinkets, or a literal name tag. Upon a lanyard dangles a person’s whole world. And she’s wearing a rainbow one.
Gay! That’s gay! I’m gay! Relief hits me in an instant wave. I’ve suddenly never been less stressed in my life. They haven’t got what I came here for, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t even mind her colleague explaining the email ticketing system to me. Suddenly, all of me is allowed to be here.
Was it being able to identify another queer person in the space? Being able to do this helps me feel comfortable and protected, like I’ve got some backup. There is an understanding, particularly with people of my own age, and I feel it particularly strongly with other trans people, for which I’m grateful.
Of course, the woman who helped me might not have been queer at all. The rainbow lanyard can be purchased from the USU by anyone who cares to have one. But in any case, it felt like a promise, its mere presence meant that the person I was talking to was at least an ally. The concept of an “ally” gets memed a lot — for good reasons — but something as simple as a little rainbow gave me the expectation of being treated with respect, which gave me confidence. It’s rare that in an office you get the sense someone is seeing you as just what you are.
Don’t mistake me for naïve. Severe institutional exclusion and inequality remain for queer people, especially in healthcare. “Gender” still only lists M or F for the vast majority of cases — if I’m lucky I can bubble in “Other”. “Other” indeed, I always think to myself. Of all the things the LGBTQ+ community needs, visibility can feel like a throwaway addition. But visibility can be everything when you feel tense, excluded, and on the fringe. It’s a little gesture, I suppose it’s nothing dramatic in the way of progress, but how can I express what it meant to me in that moment? It is a sublime pleasure to be seen. Whenever I see a member of staff or faculty wearing a rainbow lanyard, I can’t beat that feeling — the feeling of arriving somewhere safe. And of course, just as good, is the feeling of “Hello! I see you too!”