The Price of Visibility
“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.