About Transgender Day of Visibility

FYI, here’s a piece I was asked to write at one of the political blogs I follow:

As I mentioned in the comments, today is Transgender Day of Visibility, held every March 31, intended to honor and celebrate transgender and gender non-conforming people (GNC) — both those visible and those invisible.

It started a decade ago but only took off a few years ago, and is intended as a complement to the annual Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memories of that year’s victims of anti-trans violence — usually always all trans women, the vast majority of them trans women of color, in particular Black trans women. For years, TDOR was the only national/international event for trans people, and while it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, it’s also, needless to say, more than a bit depressing. Hence TDOV, which focuses on the living.

It’s all too rare that trans/GNC people have chance to celebrate who we are, and it’s also a chance to express our defiance of attempts to eradicate us from public life (the Talibaptists have a literal five-point plan to do so, and under the Trump administration, and red state governments, they’ve made significant progress on several fronts).

But perhaps the most important aspect is being visible. These days roughly 37 percent of Americans know someone who’s trans/GNC. Think you don’t know someone trans, well you actually probably do. There’s still an unfortunately-huge number of us who never leave the closet, and for those who do, there’s can often be a desire to fly under the radar, to blend in. For those in red states, this can be a matter of literal survival. But it’s also because — unlike coming out as LGB, which tells who people who you are — coming out as trans, invariably puts the focus on who you were. At least for a binary trans woman like me, i.e. I’m someone who prefers to be seen as a woman who’s trans.

OTOH, there are definitely trans people who are out and proud, and don’t care about that. There are GNC folks — who may also refer to themselves as non-binary or genderqueer — who are proud to be out and visible. (As well as those GNC people who struggle with being visibly “betwixt and between” which can be an enormously hard place to be.) There’s also trans people who can’t be invisible even if they wanted to, because they physically can’t blend in — most of us weren’t blessed by the androgyny fairy — and being “visibly trans” can be an exceedingly hard life. And some of us trans/GNC folks have had no choice but to be visible and fight like hell for our rights and humanity (to quote from the fierce and fearless Black trans advocate, Monica Roberts, whose blog is well worth following).

Personally, this TDOV, I’m feeling quite ambivalent about being visible — even if for years my motto has been “visible for those who can’t be” — for personal reasons that I go into at my blog. The tl:dr version is that 1) while my divorce from masculinity may have been amicable, the past three years still have been hugely stressful, with trans issues dominating my life, and I’d like to a break from that for some time to do some self-care; 2) I’m facing a Catch-22 where the more I writing and activism I do, the more “being trans” becomes the thing that defines me, when I’d rather it be the third or fourth most interesting thing about me.

I’m not quite sure how to square that circle, but this Teen Vogue article by 11-year-old trans girl about how visibility has changed her life inspires me to figure a way to do so. 11-year-old me didn’t even know that trans — or trans people — existed. I just knew that I was “different” and thought I was the only one in the world. I don’t want trans kids today to know that feeling. My hope is that we “late-life transitioners” are the last of a lost generation, that the younger generations will have the freedom and support to find themselves without wasting decades of their lives.

Unfortunately, we still have a long ways to go — a 2018 study found that up to half of trans/GNC teens attempt suicide. It’s hard to swim in a sea of poison without swallowing some. And so we fight.