chapter  1
All That Visibility Allows, or Mapping the Discourse of Queer Visibility
Pages 26

In April 1997, Ellen DeGeneres appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “Yep, I’m Gay.” This well-orchestrated coming out took no one by surprise; after all, DeGeneres and her character Ellen Morgan, the main character of the ABC sitcom Ellen, had had one foot out of the closet for months. This contradictory play of hide-and-seek characterizes much of the so-called “explosion of gay visibility” in the United States during the 1990s. Often referred to as the “gay 90s,” this decade saw a proliferation of queer media representations and heated debates in both the popular and academic press over the implications of this allegedly new visibility. But was this new-found visibility really all that new? Who was being included (and excluded) from this particular form of queer visibility? More precisely, in what ways does the kind of queer visibility that emerged from the closet alongside Ellen obscure other possibilities and traditions of imagining queerness? These questions are central to investigating the discourse of queer visibility during the 1990s and beyond. Yet these questions are too narrow to allow a comprehensive mapping of this discourse, as the phenomena and conversations that comprise it cannot be neatly divided into “before” and “after” the 1990s or into “visible” and “invisible” sexualities. Rather, this mapping requires a careful analysis of the many facets of queer visibility, particularly one that considers its focal point, namely, the closet and its relationship to race.