Transgender Visibility and the Road to Acceptance
by Mila Madison
Today we celebrate the International Day of Transgender Visibility. It is a day when all of us who fall under the transgender umbrella celebrate who we are. Rachel Crandall, the Executive Director of Transgender Michigan, created the International Day of Transgender Visibility in 2010. Though we annually remember those we have lost every November 20th for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, she wanted to create a day when we can celebrate our lives instead of mourning them. The day of celebration would be March 31st.
“WE STILL LACK MANY OF THE BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS THAT SO MANY OTHERS TAKE FOR GRANTED.”
As we proudly celebrate this day, the question of how do we achieve true visibility is usually at the forefront of my mind. Though we have achieved so much as a community compared to where we were just a decade ago, we are still facing many of the same challenges. We are still facing discrimination in our day-to-day lives. Transgender people are still being murdered at an alarming rate. We still lack many of the basic human rights that so many others take for granted.
Though our struggles continue, it is great to see the gains we have made as a community. We have transgender people appearing in films and television shows. We have transgender models, singers, and writers who are finally catching the public’s attention. We are even beginning to see our issues debated in the political arena. And though we have made some progress and suffered some brutal defeats, the fact remains that these discussions are taking place where the never were before. These are all good things and I celebrate them, but in reality they are not necessarily representative of whom we truly are as a community or the struggles that we face. In politics, we see debates about restrooms and issues that really have more to do with cisgender problems rather than transgender ones.
Though transgender celebrities help to show that we do exist, society doesn’t see them as their next-door neighbor or someone they would interact with in their daily lives. They are seen as the exception, which up until this moment they are. Often, the fact that they are transgender is the attraction. We are still seen as “different” and we are not evaluated on a level playing field. In the end, the fact that it makes us more visible is a good thing, but the road ahead for us as a community is still long.
True visibility won’t come from the performing arts. It won’t come from our celebrities. It certainly won’t come with legislation or any other kind of politics. Visibility will come from us. It will come by us having the difficult conversations that many of us often avoid. I say this as someone who is guilty of not always having them. At times I just want blend in and not have to be the transgender person in the room, but I also realize that I am doing my community and myself a disservice by not having them. People need to know us. They need to hear our stories and learn about our struggles. We need to be present in our conversations so we can give those who support us the tools to do so in the conversations they have when we are not around. We need to give people the information they need when transgender issues come up in cisgender circles where the facts are often misrepresented.
The gay community achieved the right to marry in 2015, but it wasn’t just a ruling by the Supreme Court that got them there. It took years of activism and a societal shift to finally turn the tide, and though legal rights were achieved, the fight still carries on to keep them and to continue to shift perceptions to a place of understanding. In the end, the shift came when more people were able to say “I have a gay cousin,” or “my sister is a lesbian,” or “my friend is gay.” In their day-to-day conversations, more people were able to talk about gay rights with some understanding of the community and the discrimination they face. It took almost a century for people to realize that love is love, and there are still many who don’t.
“ACTIVISM ISN’T ALWAYS SOMEONE YELLING INTO A BULLHORN OR WAIVING A FLAG.”
Activism isn’t always someone yelling into a bullhorn or waiving a flag. It comes in many forms, and it is about being present, being visible. We need to get to the point where people say “my friend is trans,” or “my sister is trans,” or “I work with someone who is transgender and they are people just like everyone else.” We need to have the difficult conversations that will get us to this point. Society is beginning to shift, and we need to do our part to push it along. Passing new laws will not lead to acceptance if the culture is not in support of it. With each day that support and understanding grows, and once that support becomes a majority our society will shift. We will begin to see laws that truly represent us and help us to gain the rights that we deserve. To get there it will take us all being visible and telling our stories. Not just every March 31st, but every day.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and Peace,