transgender day of visibility
Sunday 31st March 2019
The International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV)
is celebrated on March 31 every year. It was founded in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in transgender issues. The purpose of TDoV is to recognize the accomplishments of transgender and gender non-conforming people as well as bring attention to their continued struggles. It is an important day for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole and the transgender community in particular.
Members of marginalized groups often have limited exposure to successful people that look like them, be it real-world examples or visibility in the media. The transgender community is no exception to that rule. Their visibility in the media is minimal. Despite their limited visibility in media, more and more Americans are saying that they know someone that is transgender. There has no doubt been an increase in visibility in recent years, with an estimated 37% of Americans personally knowing someone who is transgender. That is an impressive number considering that it may be an underestimation in that there are likely people that personally know a transgender person and are just unaware. This possibility brings up an interesting point: In many instances, a person's minority status is apparent (race is an excellent example of that). However, when it comes to transgender individuals the fact that they are a sexual or gender minority is not always obvious. Many have transitioned medically, or have accommodated in other ways (such as binding of the chest or use of bra inserts), and as a result, are not easily identified as transgender. You wouldn't know they were a sexual or gender minority unless they chose to disclose that to you. Such disclosures are not always forthcoming, and for good reason, because disclosure can result in significant consequences. This risk is an important distinction from other minority groups.
For many minority groups, the goal is to be recognized as a member of the minority yet be accepted. For example, lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals often desire for people in their life to know their sexual orientation but love and accept them anyway. Another example is race and ethnicity. People often want to be known as a member of their race or ethnicity and also to be accepted and affirmed. The goal is usually for the majority to accept the minority despite awareness of their minority status. However, the exact opposite is true for many transgender individuals who would prefer that you be unaware of their minority status.
Why is that the case? Why is it that some transgender people would prefer that others not know their status as a sexual or gender minority? Why is it that some transgender individuals do not desire to be visible representations of the transgender community? Well, for starters, there is a cost associated with visibility. If being visible means that you could lose your job or housing and have no legal recourse that might indeed be a deterrent. If being visible means that you have to explain, answer questions about and try to help others understand aspects of your past that were painful and marked by shame, dysphoria and anxiety, that might indeed be a deterrent. If being visible means that strangers might feel that it is okay to ask you questions about your genitalia and your sex life, that might indeed be a deterrent. If being visible is thought to equate to the voluntary relinquishing of any semblance of privacy, that might indeed be a deterrent.
Some people may desire for others to know that they are transgender. They may choose to pick up that mantle, and if they do, they are deserving of all of the recognition and visibility that comes along with that. However, there are others who have a very different desire; they want nothing more than for you to see them as they know themselves to be. A peaceful fading into the background, just another man or woman walking past you in the grocery store, the epitome of: "Keep it moving. There's nothing to see here folks." They want to live their life as their authentic self and not have the fact that they were assigned a different gender at birth be something that is noticeable or noteworthy. Maybe that is at the heart of the difference. Perhaps that is what separates the visible from the invisible.
If a person spends several years trying to escape something painful and distressing, when they finally make it to the other side, they might simply want to enjoy the fact that the pain is over. They might have no desire to share their story of anguish with others, and honestly, that is okay. The reverse is also true. A person may escape something that is painful and distressing and when they make it to the other side want nothing more than to share their story with others, to be an example of the fact that there is hope on the other side. Neither of these realities is wrong. There is value in both those that are openly transgender and those that choose to keep their minority status to themselves. There is value in those that end up having TDoV articles written about them, and there is value in those that walk past you in the grocery store and go entirely unnoticed. There is value in every transgender and gender non-conforming person, so while visibility is appreciated (and especially so at this time of the year) it is essential that it not be considered a measure of authenticity.