The privilege of visibility
Trans visibility is necessary, but not everyone has that privilege
Thursday, March 31, is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Why is that important? The stated goal of Transgender Day of Visibility is to celebrate transgender people and raise awareness of the discrimination we face, as well as to celebrate our contributions to society.
The phrase you hear a lot is: If you can see it, you can be it.
There is some truth in that. It’s one of the reasons I challenge media organizations who call me for comment when a transgender woman is murdered or assaulted in some horrible way to maybe, sometimes, publish or broadcast a positive story on how we live, instead of always focusing on how we died.
Visibility also helps us dispel myths that have not a grain of truth to them but that are so often used against us. If you don’t know anyone who is transgender, you might be vulnerable to these little fear bombs. It’s like when you were little, and there was a “monster under the bed” that terrorized you. But when you would shine a little light on it, you would see it wasn’t scary at all. When we shine a light on those transphobic lies about who we are, the monster they tried to make us into disappears.
A great example is all of the noise made and fear ginned up over trans people using the restroom. No law was ever passed, yet all of the fear-mongers have moved on now, because it’s a non-issue. Today, public bathrooms are no less safe and no less disgusting than they have ever been. (except for Buc-ee’s, which are notoriously clean).
Transgender visibility should be celebrated — but with the knowledge that for some, that visibility is a privilege that is out of reach.
Not every transgender or non-binary person lives visibly. No trans or non-binary person owes society their visibility.
Visibility can be an act of privilege. It can also put us in harm’s way.
For proof, you need look no further than legislative sessions around the country in 2021, especially the “who’s the most extreme” contest between Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida. Between the two of them, they’ve turned the transgender population into Public Enemy No. 1.
We’ve really gotten in their heads.
Visible trans athletes have not exactly re-written the record books, but, nonetheless, they have been banned from participating in UIL sports. God forbid Lia Thomas, the transgender swimmer from Penn, wins the 500-yard NCAA title. Competing is one thing, but excelling will NOT be tolerated!
Visibility has its downside, and that backlash can result in a wide variety of draconian consequences.
Recently, under the guise of “caring for children,” some real-life monsters in Austin have targeted affirming healthcare for children. Denying affirming and medically necessary healthcare for children is unconscionable! The American Medical Association agrees, as does the Endocrine Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. But of course, Greg Abbott has never been one to look at science as any kind of authority.
Why does he even care? Because these kids became a little too visible. The father of a trans child was involved in a bitter custody case and made enough noise to present an opportunity for Abbott to pander to his base during primary season by claiming this often-life-saving affirming care is “child abuse.”
This is 100 percent pure cow cookies. Lambda Legal and the ACLU have taken Texas to court and, so far, have secured an injunction to keep the state from investigating families for child abuse who are actually just affirming their children.
The whole idea is an obscenity! This being a priority when the state of the Texas foster care program is dangerously in shambles is an embarrassment.
That our state “leaders” would torment Texas families who are loving their kids and providing medically necessary care is unthinkable. But parents who rightfully would want to show up and speak out, in some cases, don’t. Because if the governor’s opinion is upheld in court, these parents rightfully fear being prosecuted and potentially losing their children.
Isn’t visibility great?
So, on March 31, when social media is peppered with trans and non-binary flags and lots of beautiful pictures of our precious community — please know that the celebration is tempered with the fact that a very binary world isn’t yet able to wrap its collective head around non-binary identities. Remember that not all transgender people live visible lives, because it can be fatiguing having to justify your existence on the daily.
Finally, let’s make sure we remember the price of visibility for our Black trans women. Visibility too often comes at the price of their lives.
I don’t mean to be a downer, but visibility for the trans population is a coin with two very different sides. Progress isn’t linear; it comes in fits and starts. As much as we want to think otherwise, the trans community is still living a taboo. So we need all of the friends and allies we can get.
Because this year, Transgender Day of Visibility feels like a real-life game of Whack-A-Mole.
Leslie McMurray is transgender education and advocacy associate at Resource Center in Dallas. She is also a regular columnist for Dallas Voice. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.