Transgender Day of Visibility was last week (30th March) and it was a weird one this year for one of our young people. This blog is written from his experience of being transgender.
“Due to the isolation of lockdown we had no social events, no marches, no meetups. I spent most of the day avoiding social media, because these days can be exhausting – being reminded of our siblings who have died, been assaulted or been failed by the legal system and government of this country. I slept lots, I went on a long drive, and I took out my earrings when I used a public men’s bathroom to avoid confrontation.”
“Visibility was hailed in the morning as transgender people’s debutante “coming out” to the world, of moving from the subulture into the mainstream, of defining our existence on our own terms. But by midday this was being challenged.”
Visibility In The Media
“If by visibility we mean representation in film and media, we have a long way to go. The documentary Disclosure on Netflix highlights well the last few decades of trans representation in TV and film, and shows its shortcomings. Cisgender men playing trans women is not representation, because when they go to the red carpet they will wear a suit and settle back into cisness, which trans women in real life can’t do.”
“Cis men playing trans women teaches their audience that trans women are men in dresses which, of course, they are not. Films like Ace Ventura coined certain tropes that justified the trans panic defence, when a man vomits on screen after kissing a trans woman. Even when a trans actor plays a trans character, much of the media is still stuck in the dark ages where this character has to be cis passing, abide by gender roles and (most importantly) in a constant state of turmoil, because being trans is portrayed as an uncomfortable existence.”
What it is like being transgender?
“To be clear, being trans has the potential to be an uncomfortable existence. Because of hate crimes, misgendering, a legal system and government that stands in our way, housing and employment inequality, access to healthcare – but you see what these all have in common? Being trans is made difficult by cis people.”
“Yes, I have gender dysphoria that can make me uncomfortable in my own body, but it is my body. The cliche that trans people are “stuck in the wrong body” is outdated and misrepresentative. Being told this growing up makes it difficult for trans people to take ownership of their own bodies, and teaching young people self hatred about their body opens the door for abusive partners to get away with their actions. This body is my body.”
“Maybe I would adjust certain things, given the chance, just the same as you would go to the gym, but it is mine. I refuse to label my body someone else’s when it has carried me through life and achieved all that I have achieved.”
“On the subject of dysphoria and healthcare it is important to note that not all trans people experience dysphoria, and not everyone wishes to medically transition. These do not make them any less trans. You still have to treat them with respect and dignity.”
“Medically transitioning is largely inaccessible, due to NHS waiting lists and private medical costs, meaning many (if not most) trans people you encounter, especially as a young person, will not have medically transitioned.”
“If you only show respect to those who “pass” as cisgender, you do not respect trans people as a whole and this is deeply classist. It also shows a degree of misogyny, usually, when a person deems who looks “enough woman” or “enough man” for their liking.”
“I shouldn’t have to add this, but just in case: don’t ask if we’ve “had the surgery”, “had the op”, “had a sex change”. Don’t ask “what’s down there”, “what are you”, “but what’s your sex”.”
How can things change so fast?
“By the afternoon, the internet was beginning to condemn visibility, and by the evening anger crept out. “F*ck your visibility” read one post. “Trans people don’t owe you visibility”. “Trans and visibly angry”.”
“While many people were still thanking our ancestors for their visibility and activism that won us our (limited) rights, many admitted they had no interest in performing visibility for cis people.”
What does visibility mean to us?
“Visibility, as a trans person, means you haven’t assimilated into passing as cis. I am visibly trans, because I don’t look like a cis man. I am short, I’m not thin or fat but I’m certainly not muscular, my voice is high when I sing and when I shout. I have soft skin and no facial hair, and I like wearing pretty jewelry. When I go out in public I am always consciously aware of my chest, that shows slightly no matter what I wear.”
“And do you know what? I don’t hate that. I don’t hate being trans. I don’t want to be cis.Being trans has given me a deeper understanding of gender, of sex and relationships. Being trans has made me more compassionate towards others, and more alert to hypocrisy. Perhaps most importantly, being trans has made me part of a vibrant community that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
What can you do to help and support us?
“Finally, it’s that point where we talk about what your next steps can be, as a cis person. (If you’re trans and reading this have a cup of tea and do something nice for yourself, I love you.)”
- Put your pronouns in your bio. Do it. It’s so easy. Do it.
- Learn the proper language for referring to transgender people. Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray on instagram) has a good guide for this.
- Try and educate yourself without pestering trans people. If you need to ask us a question, respect our boundaries. Watch Disclosure, read trans writers, consume trans art and music, remember that most mainstream media still hasn’t caught up, and tend to talk about us without us.
- Keep up with legal issues the community is facing right now. In the UK, GRA reform has been slow and painful. We shouldn’t have to jump through all these hoops to self identify, we should have the right to exist on our own terms. In the USA, states are trying to ban trans healthcare and trans athletes, under the guise of protecting children and women (they’re not).
- Call out transphobia when you see it. This means correcting misgendering and people who use the wrong pronouns for your trans friends, but it also means more difficult things. Categorising trans women as men who seek to hurt cis women in gendered bathrooms is transphobia. Trying to ban trans people from sport is transphobia. Conversion therapy, banning trans kids’ access to healthcare, claiming trans rights and women’s rights cannot exist simultaneously is transphobia. Call it out.
- Love trans people more than you hate transphobes. Read that again. I don’t want to hear how you’d punch a terf or how much you hate JK Rowling. I want you to show love and kindness to trans people in your life. I want you to dismantle how your own prejudices and biases could be making things more difficult for us. On a practical level, if you have the means to, donate to trans people. There are so many fundraisers for surgery costs, rent costs, even support buying food. If you’re in Wales, consider donating your old clothes to the TIN Wardrobe, or donating to the TransAid Cymru mutual aid network.