The Price of Visibility

How much do we risk for being visibly transgender? Unfortunately, far too much - but can we afford invisibility?

“That’s a controversial thing to wear,” a friend of mine told me. She was one of the community support officers for the local police in charge of reaching out to the LGBT+ community: dealing with hate crime, outreach etc. She was giving me a lift home from a party, not acting in an official capacity.

The story is a typical example of casual transphobia: I was shouted at and physically threatened on the street. I didn’t hear what on account of the very loud music I was playing. I didn’t stop to find out - I was marching to get my daily walk in as I had to cover my customary distance for my errand anyway. I was also texting a friend while this was happening so I barely got a look at the guy - if he hadn’t moved his face inches from mine, I wouldn’t have known it was even directed at me. If he hadn't gotten out of my way as quickly as he came, he’d have been hit in the face as I carried on full tilt.

Despite all those mitigating factors, it was upsetting to have that happen. Violating that someone felt they could get in my face in that way. Frightening that the person felt justified, even gleeful (judging from his expression) in assaulting a person on the street. But I was wearing something controversial, so this police worker - friend - felt that on some level, I was asking for it.

The controversial thing was a T Shirt I bought for Pride and occasionally wear just out and about that reads, ‘I survived testosterone poisoning.’

The controversial thing was a T Shirt I bought for Pride and occasionally wear just out and about that reads, ‘I survived testosterone poisoning.’ I can understand, on one level, what she meant: the shirt announced that I was transgender. But that it then follows that my being transgender is controversial… well, that I don’t understand.

Being transgender is not a justification for being assaulted on the street, and my friend, the police worker, would agree with me on that point. But wearing a shirt that says so does. So it’s OK for me to be transgender so long as I don’t say anything - we’ve heard this before. It’s OK to be gay so long as you act straight in public. It’s OK to love your ethnic heritage, so long as you don’t show it to anyone else. Your religion is beautiful and worthy of respect, but keep your traditional clothes off until you get home. Whatever your difference is, just keep it away from the rest of them.

This is a basic human issue. We have a right to who we are, and society’s role in this is to support people so long as what they’re doing isn’t somehow harmful. Where support isn’t given, tolerance is expected because that’s how organised, well ordered, nice places to live work. My transgender status wasn’t harmful to anyone on that street, yet one man decided to assault me because of it. The unofficial word from the local police: it was my fault. My visibility is controversial, and so I should expect this kind of treatment.

I’ve written previously about how invisibility is a component of passing; the concept of successfully representing the gender norms expected of one’s culture. I asserted that all of humanity was invested in this concept, and my community support officer friend affirmed this with her statement: be invisible. Visibility is controversial - what did I expect, being myself in public. And they wonder why we fear.

When our so-called protectors have these private attitudes, we can’t expect them to protect us. Invisibility becomes highly appealing when all sides of society punish you for your visibility. Invisibility becomes the only safe option. It’s highly likely that we have the largest number of visibly transitioning people now than we ever have, and society’s response is to demand that we hide. Don’t stop transitioning, but don’t be seen. That this is what we call progress is terrifying.

"Fear of visibility permeates the transgender community."

Fear of visibility permeates the transgender community. People who were invisible find themselves more visible, and they are afraid. Some who still are invisible are staring at visibility with trepidation; worried about what will happen to them if their lives cross over to a point where they can’t remain invisible. There is a whole section of the transgender community that lives entirely separate from their fellows. It’s their choice, but they should feel free to come back out and rejoin us if they wish to and they are too afraid to consider that an option - or they choose to live with that fear as they connect with other transgender people.

In the end, I told my friend that the price of visibility is not being attacked by strangers. She agreed, but her initial response couldn’t be undone. I knew where she stood, and I knew that private bias would spill into her work, one way, or another. I didn’t report the incident. I didn’t trust them; they didn’t make me feel safe. Failing safety, support would have done and they failed me on that score as well.

I say in my articles again and again that I will remain visible as a political act, and it is, as paltry as it sounds. In this climate, visibility is a revolutionary thing; a dangerous thing. Area woman attacked by a passer by, woman found guilty of being herself in public.

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Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


I like it because it's obscure, and as I said I don't actually know what was said 'cause of my music so I'm not really sure what aspect of myself he was actually attacking. That was just the only thing I could think might single me out. I personally probably never would wear a shirt that says 'I'm trans get over it,' I prefer something with a bit more wit - hence the T poisoning shirt. It's also a shirt that exists within our discourse community, which i like.

Visibility is scary. Any kind of visibility. And being visibly transgender is a risk. To be honest, unless I wear a shirt like that the only way anyone is going to challenge me is if I bring up something in conversation (which I do. Often.).

Picking and choosing your visibility is a perfectly acceptable, personal choice. But I still maintain that visibility is our greatest weapon in this war on our existence.


I agree with the comment of not caring, I had a couple making comments, my wife noticed it and I told her I din't care and if there was an issue I'd address it but for now we should keep enjoying ourselves. A creepy old guy stalking me at the bookstore, kept appearing in aisles when I realized itI was creeped out. I had a guy block the aisle at the grocery store and I asked an employee for assistance even though I know the store better than most. It annoys me to no end but I'm not going to let it deter me. While I talk big I am guilty of hiding in plain sight too. I prefer to blend in, I don't talk politics, I don't talk religion and I don't see a reason to tell everyone in the world what my personal / sex life is or worse yet make my wife a target. Why do I have to risk my income and life AND hers? Other times when I am so lucky to be able to pass it is the most awesome feeling. I'm not excited, I'm not getting over on anyone I am just being me, finally, 40+ years of hiding and I can just exist, it is so liberating and then frightening when I know I have to keep my eyes open because people that are free to be themselves don't want me to enjoy the same freedom. One place that knows me didn't know who I was and then was so supportive when they realized it was me. In addition to society I think I am more put off by health care providers forcing WPATH on me when ICATH makes more sense. If I was twenty then maybe it makes sense but I am almost 50, I can sign for a nose job, breast augmentation, a tummy tuck... but to get rid of this thing that has haunted me my entire life I have to risk my life? Why force someone to be a target or to be paranoid and carry pepper spray or carry a concealed weapon or worse just be a victim? We have come a long way baby but we have SO much more to go.


To be pragmatic. The issue with this shirt could be to some men it is an insult to them. For them, testosterone is good and you are saying it is poison. ... So men are poison. Perhaps the message is too complex for a t-shirt. The dumber the man the more likely they don't see the more complex message. The dumber the man the more likely they are to get violent with perceived insult. For me, I wouldn't wear it for this reason and wear a more direct message like "I'm Trans Get Over It." Then I think all the arguments here apply. Of course this doesn't excuse being attacked but it might explain it a bit.


"And if violence happens, it is the duty of law enforcement to ensure that the aggressors are made unwelcome." Clearly!!! "And if I want to walk past a bar in a bikini, I similarly have the right to expect to be left alone" Clearly!!! But in the situation I painted above, a woman walking down the street in a string bikini in front of drunken men at a bar is not a safe situation, if you want to base your personal safety on your expectations vs a known hazard, please go ahead, the men were wrong, the police have a duty to help you and prosecute them, but please don't come crying you how you bare no ownership. I will not put my personal safety on idea of "the way things should be" vs "the way things often are". "I have the right to protection" Clearly, but that is after the fact (reactionary), as I doubt the police were there to prevent the altercation (if they were present before the altercation that is different). "What you said is just victim blaming with softer words" Or maybe I'm saying, You have a duty and personal responsibility to YOURSELF, to be smart about your surroundings, to taking reasonable and basic precautions to guard your own personal safety. There are varying degrees of enticement and personal responsibility for one's safety, the bar you walk past in your string bikini, where you wear your I survived t poisoning shirt matters, if you're wearing it in the suburbs you can reasonably expect one reaction, if you are wearing it in a gang infested neighborhood I think it is reasonable to expect another reaction, and yes there is only one clear standard of right vs wrong, wrong is ALWAYS on the perpetrator, wrong is NEVER on the victim, and yes there are two message here, both are true. The initial responsibility for personal safety is on the (would be) victim, then comes the police, the job of police in most assault cases is REactionary and not proactive, in other words an ounce of prevention is Gold. I am sorry if you do not agree or like that.

Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


On the other hand, I am enticing a dialogue. I'm enticing someone who is curious to go ahead and come up to me and ask what I mean or go ahead and make my transgender status part of a conversation. I'm not enticing violence, even if I'm inviting curiosity.

There is a world of a difference.