I am visibly trans, and I adore that about myself. I thrive in my genderqueer expression, I feel genuinely excited to get dressed each morning in celebration of my identity and selfhood. But with this joy and agency has come a complicated sense of alienation.
I’ve lived in London my whole life, but it feels like a different city now. Now my experience is far from anonymity, the simultaneously comfortable and unnerving assurance of blending into the crowd has vanished, and even a walk to the shop has become an exercise in resilience.
Now I often ask myself, am I emotionally robust enough to wear a skirt and a beard today? Can I brush off the double-takes and muttered insults, do I have an escape route if someone starts following me? Trans visibility is hard and it’s inevitable, and for many of us represents a constant negotiation between our authentic self-expression, and the threat of violence and stigmatisation.
This abuse goes beyond the streets of the real world. Last week marked a year since I left social media, largely as a result of the bombardment of trans-related content being circulated around my network – it was becoming detrimental to my mental health. In the end, it stopped mattering to me whether it was supportive, all I felt was the overwhelming sense of being scrutinised, depersonalised and minimised into lofty, irrelevant discourse, and bandied about like a litmus test of acceptability in the comments section.
Most people are familiar with the omnipresent ‘toilet question’, but imagine how personal and threatening that disembodied discussion feels in the moment I walk into a public bathroom, and someone glances my way for just a bit too long? That’s the reality of trans visibility in the UK today.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a global event “dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society”. It was founded by the wonderful trans activist Rachel Crandall in 2009 in response to a lack of recognition of trans people within the LGBT+ and wider community. I don’t think anyone could argue that that’s still the case in 2021 in the UK, when wildly mixed commentary on gender-inclusive spaces, self ID, access to the most basic of healthcare and yes, going to the toilet, resurfaces in the media almost every day.
Many people reading this will consider themselves allies, and that friendship is more welcome than you can imagine. You know as well as anyone that trans people are valid, beautiful, and that we contribute so much to every facet of life. So, this International Transgender Day of Visibility, what can you do to honour our visibility, to make it something for us to celebrate? Sharing positive online content can only go so far, especially when shared into an already supportive network. The troubling reality is that transphobic individuals have become experts at dog-piling and disrupting well-intended posts with nasty comments, souring the whole endeavour and exposing trans people and allies to further abuse and doxing.
In any case, trans people don’t need cis people to justify our existence for us, or to tell the world on our behalf how wonderful we are – that message is coming loud and clear from us already. We need you to use the privilege that comes with your allyship to break down the barriers that still silence our voices. Practical allyship means regularly donating money to trans individuals and organisations. It means organising solidarity groups to champion trans voices demanding access to basic healthcare, and resourcing those individuals while they’re doing it. We need you to walk into your HR department and find out exactly what policies are in place to protect and celebrate trans people in your workplace, and then demand more.
Older and disabled trans people have no guaranteed safe provision for proper care if they are unable to look after themselves independently – lobby your local council and don’t give up until you’re satisfied. Work towards changing the tone of our visibility rather than dampening or justifying it. Fight back proactively, in real terms. When trans people are freed up from the preoccupations of basic life necessities, when the outside world sees demonstrated, tangible allyship smashing down every attempt at stigmatisation and alienation, that’s when we’ll be able to start thriving in our visibility with the joy and freedom we deserve.
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