This year I will be attending an event at government house with my mom that is being thrown in honour of Trans Day of Visibility. It is being hosted by the UVIC chair in Transgender studies and the Lieutenant Governor of BC.
The issue of visibility is one that is deeply tangled up in many layers of privilege and oppression. As a white trans masculine spectrum person living in mostly fairly progressive communities, my visibility as a trans person hasn’t come at the same costs of someone who can’t be read as and given the access and credit of a middle aged white man. I know that some of my trans femme siblings have lost access to social currency, safety, professional validity, dating pools, and housing and employment security by the inverse turns that granted me more access to these things. My perspectives as a trans masculine person confirm for me the fickle and imperfect natures of structures of power that hinge on social constructs like gender, race, ability and orientation while also confirming for me the responsibility of those given access and power to challenge these inequities whenever possible. The humility and vulnerable imperfection of people granted power in an inequitable society is needed to tip the scales, and in this, the space can open up for voices that haven’t been consulted or included but need to be if we want to move forward in better ways.
So with that, I invite and encourage you to listen to the voices of trans folks who live in a different intersection of these things than I do. Here is a short list of prolific leaders, writers and content creators that may help you gain a more well rounded perspective on what trans visibility can mean when it overlaps with intersections of race and misogyny.
Serena Bhandar is a dear friend who I am so proud of, she is a very prolific poet and writer as well as having served in artistic mentorship roles with queer and trans youth and girls of colour. She has a new poem out today in Menaces Zine which you can find on IG @menaceszine.
Syrus Marcus Ware is a scholar, visual artist, activist, curator, and educator. Using painting, installation, and performance, Syrus works with and explores social justice frameworks and Black activist culture. He has also written a childrens’ book that was published by Flamingo Rampant called “Love is in The Hair” which is a favourite bedtime pick here in our house.
Miss Major is a Black transgender elder and long time (50+ years) organizer within trans/gender non-conforming community. Beyond extensive library of speaking engagements and film projects she is also a leader in the House of GG that provides support to trans women of colour in the American south.
Alok V Menon is a publicly visible trans femme poet and scholar who is incredibly prolific and has a lot of writing on their experience of being visibly trans, femme and brown in a transphobic, sexist and racist society. I recommend checking out their book reports on IG where they have been breaking down things like medical racism, colonial gender violence legacies, and queer, trans and feminist histories.
Pınar Sinopoulos-Lloyd is a Quechua Turkish trans Indigenous nuerodivergent psychonaut who co-founded QueerNature and works as a mentor, educator and guide helping heal the relationships between queer folks and wild spaces.
I encourage the sharing of other trans voices in the (moderated) comment thread, if you are a trans person who writes or creates (around themes of visibility specifically of not), please drop a link in the comment and if there are thought leaders that you follow who have informed your understandings of visibility who aren’t linked on this page yet drop them in too.
There was a time in my life where I didn’t consciously embody visible transness, as I didn’t have a conscious awareness of my transness. I didn’t have conscious awareness of transness. Initially at all, and then, I only saw trans femmes (namely on Jerry Springer and Priscilla) and couldn’t see myself in that or extrapolate from there. For me now though, as a person who has navigated most of my adult life as an out, visibly trans person, it has been a mixed bag. While my gender, how it is being perceived (or misperceived) is a fairly consistent source of potential anxiety for me, a lot of that is not automatically visible to the general public. The places where the depths of these things are most tangible are behind closed doors at the end of long days, in the arms of a partner or the holding of a professional support session. The ways that my transness can hurt from the ways it rubs against an ill fitting world are often something I am able to keep relatively private, which is one of my motivations for writing here as I do, my safety and ability to choose what to make visible is something I see as a privilege that comes with a responsibility. I can choose to share with you about my challenges, which leaves me with an agency that I wouldn’t have if that sharing wasn’t a consensual choice on my part.
Time travelling back to before I had that choice, before I had that awareness, I invite you to visualize the following. The year is 1997 and the prevailing haircut is some variation of bowl/mushroom/bob. I had only recently been allowed to cut mine to the level of my ear after a long ponytail childhood that I was approaching the end of at 12. I was still about 7 years away from even being introduced to the possibility model of trans masculine people existing in the world. I had no concept of who or what I might grow up to be. My extracurricular time was split between playing center/nose tackle in PeeWee football, dancing with a small Polynesian dance school, and studying Luther’s catechism and theology in preparation for my confirmation (like a mix of a Catholic first communion and a Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah it involved a lot of preparation before making a public fool of myself in a public coming of age and commitment of faith).
When I was in my football gear, playing in a ‘mixed’ gender league (which consisted of 5 girls across the ~8 teams in the league), I would hear the rustling between players on the opposing line.
You take the girl.
Number 55. That’s a girl.
No way. Can’t be.
Yea. I don’t hit girls, you take her.
Me? I don’t know man…
Whistle blows, bodies smash.
I open my eyes to find myself 10 feet back, laid flat, the boys arguing about who would hit me leaning over to help me up. I get myself up and remind them that I am here to play, same as anyone.
When I was at dance class, the teacher informed me that unless I was willing to wear a wig, I would not be welcome to join the troupe for any public performances.
The flow of long hair is a part of the dance she says. Her male teaching colleague has short hair and the most elaborately groomed facial hair I have ever seen outside of the hunger games. I had no way of understanding or communicating that I would prefer to dance the male role in the dances, just a nagging sense that my attempts to perform as a girl were not right. Not right for her or not right for me, and you best believe as a pubescent undiagnosed neurodivergent trans-egg I took that on as mine.
In church classes, I was regularly reminded of the importance of patriarchal order, memorizing stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as passages penned by men long dead but still revered by living men holding them as divine. The church was (and is still today) one that didn’t allow women in any sort of significant leadership positions; but relied on the labour of women to keep the church clean, flowers on the altar, coffee and raisin bread with margarine after the service. I had always felt called to leadership, and was given opportunities to pursue this in Girl Guides and at school, but within my faith community, those roles were set from birth. Girl children were not to grow up to say wise things or rock the boat, they were to grow up and be in service to their husbands, their children and the needs of the church. I always rocked the boat a bit too much.
In all of these settings I knew that something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t always see how exactly, and some (but not all) of the ill fit was a matter of being a girl in a sexist society. I wonder now sometimes, if I had grown up in a world with trans visibility if I could’ve had a better sense of what that ill-fitting rub was about.
My choice to continue to live as visibly and out as a proud trans person is made for that kid. No kid should have to personally feel like they are so wrong fitting in the world. There is a changing that needs to keep happening to our society for that kid, and those who have come since, and will continue to – because we have always been here [everywhere]- and me, right now, as a grown-up, and not only that, but a grown-up who has grown up to appear as if one of the narrowest perspective having, but most readily given power sort of human. I can be mistaken as a cis white guy (which is not an uncomplicated puzzle). If I don’t say anything to anyone in a conversation about it, or they don’t know me enough to know anything about me, most people would have no idea that I was trans. Unless I was naked. Which… is less common. And another story for another conversation, which ALSO needs to happen, but another day. Maybe I am visibly queer, I like to think I am at least usually visibly queer, but… In many cases, I have become invisible. Unless I chose to be visible.
So I take this opportunity of yet another ‘visibility/recognition/celebration/remembrance/euphoria/awareness’ days to fly my little flag and step out, visible, proud. To remind folks who may have somehow lost track or missed the following:
- Trans and gender variant kids, as well as cis girls and boys would like to be able to play all kinds of sports and games. While I claim no expertise to speak on competitive level sports, as that is fully outside my wheelhouse, I can say that for children’s recreation to happen in safe and inclusive ways, rigid gender exclusion criteria are often unnecessary and mostly serve to foster inequity in access that continues up to the highest levels.
- Trans and gender variant kids, as well as cis girls and boys would like to have access to a full range of arts and culture opportunities. It is important for children of all genders to have support in exploring creative expression, movement, rhythm, across a range of modalities. This can mean that practices and traditions that may have developed without trans participation may need to grow into a new chapter where fluidity and expansiveness will continue to feed the evolution of the living art form. This evolution is led by those who live in expansive genders who are supported by those who are already given some credit (trans and cis alike) within the practice.
- Trans and gender variant kids, as well as cis girls and boys would like to access to spaces that nurture their spiritual well being. Traditions that continue to hold the oppression of women, queers and gender non-conforming people as central to their dogma are violent. I believe that there are leaders challenging and re-creating a lot of traditions while others, resistant to this process are being left in ever growing numbers and healing is being sought en masse. The deconstruction-post-evangelical moment that I witness happening around me makes a lot of sense to me, I had my own version 15 years ago as I came to terms with my queerness and what the church thought about that. I know from being a church kid, and also now as a parent, finding a church community to raise my kid made sense for a lot of reasons. I am glad to have found an awesome one. But if you have found your family into a church community that is not really respectful of those around them and within them; but rather seeds harm, then why? Why stick through that and normalize it for your kids on the off chance that it won’t hurt them personally. The odds are against that, and the gamble is too high.
- We have always been here. (everywhere)
- We will always be here.
- Attempts to legislate us out of existence hurt everyone. Yes every one. A community looses out when we lose trans lives over discriminatory political theater power games.
I hope that however and wherever you are visible- even if just to your own self in an imperfect reflection like a wet dark tile or a sun kissed mud puddle- your truth exists in ways that both serves you and helps others feel more correct-sized in a world that can have these things pretty confused.