Trans Day of Visibility is an important time to amplify voices across the diverse trans community.
We caught up with a few members of our Trans Advisory Group to hear their thoughts on the day. You can learn more about the group here.
John Lucy Muir
Today is transgender day of visibility - or TDoV for short.
It is a day when Trans folk, our community, and our allies celebrate Trans lives. A day to honour who we are as people, to embrace our diversity and to raise awareness of the challenges we still face.
For anyone unfamiliar, TDoV is a more recently founded event than its autumn commemoration counterpart, Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR). In contrast to that day, established to bring attention to the continued violence and discrimination endured by the trans-community, in 2009 trans activist Rachel Crandall founded TDoV in response to the lack of an event to honour Trans folk.
In 2009 I was finding my way around the Trans community and understanding what being Trans means to me. That year I had no exposure to the day itself, given its newness. At the time I knew of TDoR and its significance. Like Rachel Crandall though, I did sense something was missing for our lived lives. Had TDoV already been established it may have been a beacon to me and others. Over the following years the day grew in profile and stature and I came to understand the contribution it was beginning to make for our community. Countries can, and sometimes do, pass positive legislation to effect change. It takes more though to empower people to be themselves. It takes more to win the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters. It takes more to engender understanding
In my experience, Trans is often misunderstood. In 2016, such misunderstanding is sometimes glossed over with an ever growing trans media profile. Yes, Time Magazine declared a 'Trans tipping point' in 2014 and yes, NME heralded 2015 as the year 'Trans culture went mainstream'. There is still much to do though. Many people conflate gender identity with sexuality. There is limited awareness that who you love is not the same as your sense of gender - or indeed lack of. There is limited knowledge of wider identities and experience under the broad Transgender umbrella. In the UK there is much legal change still needed. I can go on and on. Days like TDoV present us with both a moment to reflect and an opportunity to stand up together for what we passionately believe in. It is also a day to simply be. To be who we are. To be who I am.
I believe now that TDoV has become that beacon to many around the world. A beacon for all those taking pride in who we are and seeking positive change in our lives and/or the lives of others. A beacon to light our community and all who serve it.
I wish you a happy one.
This year’s Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) has the theme and hashtag #MoreThanVisibility.
But how does this theme resonate with trans people of faith? Has being more visible helped trans Jews, like me, in the UK and worldwide?
In the past two years, we have seen increased global coverage of trans issues in the mainstream media, and celebrity coming out stories a la Caitlyn Jenner.
Visibility has certainly has had the effect that most people nowadays would have come across the word transgender. It helps. But does it help everyone? And has this ‘mainstreaming’ made things better overall?
Amazon’s Emmy Award-winning programme Transparent - about a Jewish family coming to terms with their father’s decision to transition - has perhaps allowed viewers to develop a greater understanding of the transgender experience in a faith context.
But, despite all of this, many trans and gender non-conforming Jews have experienced first-hand that visibility is not enough.
Personally, I am probably one of the trans Jews who is blessed enough to benefit from certain privileges.
I am an out and proud Progressive Jew, and international LGBTQI campaigner with my latest project being Twilight People, the UK's landmark multi-faith heritage project exploring gender & faith beyond the binary, which is hosted by Liberal Judaism. My family, friends, workplace, and faith community are supportive.
I don’t mind my picture and story being out there - as long as I am portrayed in a respectful and authentic way, of course. So far, I have been lucky and it’s been a positive journey for me.
Yet, some participants in Twilight People had to remain anonymous. Others did not take part at all, fearing reprisal from their religious community and family. Not all are as welcoming as Liberal Judaism.
A friend of mine, a UK trans woman, who came out after a long struggle within her ultra-Orthodox Charedi community, told me: “The government should demand that every school be exposed to [trans issues]. I've had to spend countless hours explaining to Charedi Jews that this [being trans] is not a choice, it’s real.
“I have not seen my kids for so long – the court system is too slow. I have received death threats and so have my friends. These threats are made indirectly, so the police are not interested in dealing with them as a result.
“The law has to change. I had to move away; I cannot move around my hometown freely anymore. I wouldn’t feel safe.”
It really seems, that visibility is not enough anymore and never was enough for some trans and gender nonconforming people of faith.
I believe we now need better education around trans issues, improved legislation, especially when it comes to dealing with hate crime.
I am excited to be working alongside Stonewall on true trans equality, and hopefully changing hearts and minds in the more conservative faith communities too.
The last 12 months, in particular, have seen a massive leap forward in terms of the recognition and acceptance of the rights and the existence of trans / nonbinary people. If visibility means coming into the light then as a group we have certainly become much more visible.
However, it remains the case that for a range of reasons many, many trans / nonbinary people continue to be force d to live their lives in the dark ! So for me Trans Visibility Day is about r recognising this, remembering and acknowledging these people and giving them the hope, confidence and encouragement to come out of the dark and into the light
So, Trans Day of Visibility, again. At a time when trans people have never seemed so visible, is this just another marketing ploy to push trans people further into the limelight?
It hasn’t always been thus. I still clearly remember feeling that I really didn’t want to be visible at all. The risks of being visibly trans, even in my middle-class suburban town, started at verbal abuse and only went higher.
Fortunately, for me, the verbal abuse was rare. One memorable moment was when two lads shouted “Oy, look at that” over a busy, city centre shopping street. Even though they were pointing at me, everyone turned to look at them. While I could see the funny side, it was still scary. After all, I was obviously just "a that".
Starting campaigning meant that I had to become visible. My past became an open secret. That particular box cannot be closed now. It meant that I had to overcome those fears – and there are still days when that’s hard to do.
Right now, in North Carolina, I guess a whole bunch of trans people are fearing being visible. A new law makes it illegal for a trans woman to use the ladies loo, or a trans man to use the gents.
I guess Trans Day of Visibility is all about showing people that trans people are just like anyone else. We’re not to be feared, or stalked, or beaten up. We’re just people, with quirks and foibles just like anyone else. While it celebrates the remarkable achievements of many trans people and the progress that’s been made over the past year or two, we shouldn’t forget the perils that still exist for those who are visibly trans.
(Poem about how I came from a man who had low self- esteem pre-testosterone, into a confident man while taking testosterone)
It's what's on the inside that counts
or so I'd like to believe
but I'm a hardback book judged only by its sleeve
My contents overlooked and my pages disregarded
Told my identity lies between my legs
and not where my heart is...
But things are not always what they seem
eyes lie sometimes
mirrors do deceive
and this shell does not accurately show what's inside of me
I've been living in a cage, and I want to be free.
"Fearfully and wonderfully made", 'He' said.
You claim spirituality but are blinded by morphology
and what a waste of this body if it's never dressed in white and led down the aisle to begin a lifetime union
with a REAL man....
as God intended
But when God made me 'He' didn't make me empty
And no, a body is not a reliable representation of your heart or mine
you need to look deeper to see what TRULY lies
behind my green eyes
my white skin
Yes, you need to learn to look within
"Fearfully and wonderfully made", 'He' said.
I am a human being
not a freak show
flesh and blood with my own unique essence
don't just see my tears
hear the anguish that echoes from deep within this shell
where a wounded spirit and a worn out soul
has cried out for years
desperate to be seen
"Fearfully and wonderfully made", 'He' said.
"I hurt, and this is far from wonderful", I said.
19 years young of it spent
taking part in continuous, yet failed attempts
at trying to live up to all the expectations you'd set
when I was just a fetus
and you hadn't even met me yet
I have cried
I have screamed
I have suffered
but I have grown
and you may say that you're hurt and you wish you had known
but while you were busy living life
I was right here, dealing alone.
You may cry over changed faces and words spoken in a lower tone
but I'm still here for you to see
in some way I will always show
for my eyes are still the windows to my unchanged soul.
"I am tired of hiding, and I want my body to feel like home", I said.
"You are fearfully and wonderfully made", He said.
No shame; no blame
I will not be ashamed of who I am.
As a woman living in a male role for my first 55 years, subjected to electro-aversion 'therapy' in my teens and being trans-historied is a matter of public record but, even if I could, I would not seek to deny nor hide it. I am me.
Unshackling that natural part of my being was the best decision I have ever taken. My innate nature... is not of my making; not my fault. I will feel no shame nor accept any blame for that intrinsic element of my being. I stand to be judged only in how I have succeeded for myself and others.
Today is Transgender Day of Visibility, where we'll see an explosion of transgender-related activity for 24 hours where social media will be swamped I'm sure with a host of positive memes and self-affirming selfies leading the charge.
And that's great, fantastic and needed, it's part of a wider evolving trans civil rights movement.
But we need more...
Much has been made of a transgender tipping point over the last couple of years. Looking over the events of 2015 no one would argue that it feels like society has turned a corner in its awareness that transgender people exist.
Transgender people's increased visibility in public life by itself does not equate to the equity they should be accorded by the society they live in. That process is going to take time and it can only occur if the contemporary issues that impact trans people's lives are known to that society.
The recent Women and Equalities Committee’s Transgender Equality report highlighted 71 recommendations to begin the process of trying to make our society a more inclusive society for transgender people, it's certainly worth a read if you haven't read it yet.
Those issues require much-needed visibility, they are the intersections which impact on every transgender person's life. They are the context to our stories, our struggles as transgender people.
Let’s work to make those issues the centre of attention, let’s platform those issues with insight, providing solutions as we work our way to the equity we deserve.
Let’s seek to empower and amplify transgender voices, to give context to the injustices and discrimination impacting them and the communities they live, work and play in.
Let’s give our message of acceptance without exception the visible context, depth, and meaning that it needs to achieve our goals.
Happy Transgender Day of Visibility.
Last year I wrote a quick article about Transgender Day of Visibility. I was sat in a bar in a hotel in Chicago at the time, visiting for a few days while doing a bit of engagement work for the trans movement. I love traveling and exploring in general, so spent a day before and after the meetings seeing a bit of the city, feeling incredibly lucky to be there at all. Actually, I’m often amazed just where the work I do with the trans community takes me, the places I never thought I’d end up and the variety of amazing people I never expected to meet or call friends. I was also relishing the fact of simply living in the world at all and enjoying the beautiful details around me (large and small - the sunlight reflecting from a skyscraper, or the melting snow on the shoreline of Lake Michigan) which I often missed in the darkest times of my own gender dysphoria before I finally came out.
Hooking up with trans advocates in the US and hearing first hand about the battles they have fought, the incredible steps toward success they have had and witnessing the momentum that has built up in the fight for trans visibility, inclusion and respect, echoed the successes made in the UK and other parts of Europe by so many true trailblazers in the past 10-15 years. Both there and here, I am always impressed by the talent and passion of those I meet and even those I haven’t and the work they do. Great articles. Great speeches. Leaders, teachers, vloggers, writers, media celebs, artists, soldiers, firefighters, doctors… No one, surely, can argue that these people are in any way a drain on society. It would take a work of defiant and determined ignorance to avoid seeing such glaring and wonderful humanity. Or to believe that they made some sort of social choice to be trans, given the all too common backstory of pain and anguish so many experienced to finally be who they’ve always known themselves to be. After all that, you’d expect the world to say, “Bloody well done,” and have utmost respect for their integrity, honesty, resilience and commitment.
I’ve agonised for days over what to write for TDoV. I feel there’s so much to say, but that it’s all been said, somewhere, by someone and probably far more eloquently. There are so many incredible and diverse role models out there that I wonder what extra I could add. The successes the trans community have had though, have come about because of the number and variety of voices being heard. From the mutual support and allies that generates. I keep launching into great paragraphs of explanation and nuance, but ultimately it comes down to a pretty simple concept.
Life works beautifully when people have pride being themselves.
All the additional nonsense derives from how we either enable or block that simple thing from happening. It’s why events like TDoV are so wonderful, amid a storm of negativity and serious concern about the future for trans people, which varies intensely from country to country and state to state and knowing that young trans people growing up now are playing a lottery as to whether they are surrounded by loving support and empowering messages leading to a happy and full life; or a daily drip-feed of crushingly dehumanising language and alienation, leading to a life that should have been.
The choice is our’s as a society, which option we’re going to make a reality. It is that stark.
This is where visibility is critical and the sharing of confidence and honesty inherent with that act. It smashes taboos, it provides language and a framework to what is possible. What I would love to see, is moving that visibility ‘beyond trans’. Seeing that gender identity is just a facet of humanity. If you are able to, be proud of being or knowing someone trans, talk about it, and then talk about all the other things that make you and them amazing. We all role model for those around us, including allies, many of who we as a trans community owe an impossible amount to for the changes they’ve helped enable. Trans visibility and trans pride not only empowers other trans people, in particular the younger generation, but the friends and colleagues around them.
I gave a talk recently to the workers of a fantastic social housing organization in Hertfordshire. Afterwards, a burly looking tradesman came to chat with me and said the biggest hurdle for him being an ally for any diversity element, is the feeling of treading on eggshells around these topics. While being an absolute ally at heart, he felt uncertain being so proactively. Someone who could naturally be a great, great ally is unnecessarily restricted.
If you’ve done any reading about gender identity or listened to someone try to explain it to you, you’ll know it can quickly become a tangle of terminology and caveats. It turns out, this is because humans are a pretty diverse bunch who won’t fit neatly into labeled boxes. Faced with a potentially daunting array of opportunities to get it wrong, most people I meet elect to avoid the detail and move straight to the simpler humanising solution – “She’s just doing her thing and that’s right for her…” etc. That’s great for individuals. They, as allies may even pass that on to a close friend or colleague and remember the experience next time they meet a trans person. But, they’ll not have the confidence to discuss it any further. In my experience, they’ll not often have the confidence to stand and challenge conversation or banter that perpetuates harmful and alienating stereotypes. Their heart may well be in the right place, but they’ll not know what to do about it, or even if they need to.
Our greatest collective responsibility is in the simple daily actions to normalise and de-stigmatise – to build bridges.
I’ve benefited first-hand the effects of positive visibility and the quiet effect this has on perceptions. Within the UK military before 1999, being trans would have been the sole reason for discharge. After European legislation and UK military policy changed around that time, trans people found themselves able to continue serving. The genuine trailblazers of that time (note that they are not the new-wave ‘firsts’ – self included – the media so gleefully but incorrectly refer to over a decade later) set the standard, recognised as professional and equal to their peers. They wonderfully and without undue fuss, humanised the entire experience. By the time I came out, it was not a scary unknown and I found genuine and consistent support from military peers young and old (and old and bold!). Frankly, we just wanted to get on with our role and didn’t need to make a big deal of this. Perfect!
TDoV and the continuing work throughout the trans community is making that message heard by all that still need to. Not just heard, but believed. The message of pride and positivity needs embedding in our culture so that it’s there and ready to be heard by anyone who needs it. We are all, whatever your gender identity, responsible for enabling that.
Relish your innate pride and that of those around you, then share it. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.