Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility!

March 31st, 2010 is the second annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. Rachel Crandall, who leads Transgender Michigan, started the day last year and it’s already catching on in the community. Since Transgender Day of Remembrance is focused on remembering and mourning those we have lost to violence it is good to have a day to celebrate the amazing lives of trans folks as well. You can demonstrate your participation in the day by RSVPing to this Facebook event, which includes some info about local celebrations.

Visibility is a loaded concept for members of the transgender community. Being out about our transitions – or being outed – can be incredibly dangerous. Trans folks, especially trans women of color, are often barred from public spaces, discriminated against in employment, and experience high levels of harassment and violence. For those of us who identify as men or women, being out too often undermines our gender identities. “Transgender” is emphasized over “woman” – in the eyes of many people we will always really be our assigned gender. For many trans folks being out is not a choice – presentation or other people’s knowledge of their personal history means they cannot keep their transition private.

I made a decision when I began writing for Feministing almost a year ago that I would be visibly, publicly transgender in this space. The internet is one space where many trans folks have the option of presenting our gender without it being overdetermined by our trans-ness. But I joined Feministing largely to raise awareness about trans issues, and I knew I wanted to be able to speak from personal experience.

What I did not have at the time was a clear understanding of what being so visibly trans as part of the feminist internet would mean. I am just one person and can only really represent my own views and experiences. But there are so few recognized trans voices in feminist spaces that I feel a lot of responsibility for representation. My own unique intersectional identity means I cannot speak from personal experience about the needs of many of my community’s most marginalized. Which is part of why I think it is vital to create spaces where trans folks can safely be visible and speak our own truth. Too often we see people who are not members of our community fail completely at representing our identities and politics. Trans folks need to be able to tell our own stories safely.

While being out can be an amazing opportunity and a real relief sometimes, there should be absolutely no pressure for trans folks to out themselves publicly. The potential danger associated is far too great. Additionally, our transition status usually shouldn’t matter – we are the gender we identify as, and most of the time that should be enough information. The myth that being transgender is dishonest or a deception needs to be exploded, not supported by calls to come out.

While writing for Feministing I have had to look the ugliness of transphobia and transmisogyny in the face. Comments on my first post on the Community site included a lot of ignorance and transphobia. I have seen the same atrocious arguments made countless times in comments that do not make it through our moderation system (Anna, our superstar Community Moderator, now keeps me from having to see the majority of this hate). People off site have written things about me that I am still amazed one human being could say about another person.

But the rewards have been extraordinary. I get to speak my own truth publicly. I get to present my own view of trans issues to a broad audience, hopefully helping to shape the way people think about topics that have a huge impact on myself and my friends. I get to raise awareness of issues that need to be given a lot more attention. I’ve gotten to connect with other trans women like Toni D’Orsay, who also writes about trans issues online, and advocates like Kim Pearson of Trans Youth Family Allies who are doing groundbreaking work for our community. I’ve been in a position to direct folks towards necessary resources and support. And I’ve been incredibly blessed to hear about the positive impact my work has had in people’s lives. All in less than a year!

I dream of a day when whether or not a person is visibly transgender doesn’t matter all that much. When visibility is a safe possibility for everyone that does not undermine our identities in other people’s eyes. When there is no expectation that we be out but no danger in sharing this information, either. Transgender Day of Visibility is an important step towards creating this reality.

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10 Comments

  1. makncheese
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I feel the pressure at times to do the “visibility” thing, but then I ask myself…is it worth it? I already did the big “outing” thing before I transitioned, and it was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Now that my life is back to normal (living in a new world where no one knows my history), why would I want to mess that up again, and “other” myself? I just don’t see why it would be good for me. I’m glad you’re in a place where you can do it without repercussion, but I don’t.

  2. Devoted_Toucan
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Really great post, Jos.
    Although all transphobia (and other kinds) is disgusting, it makes me extra angry to think that, on a feminist website, people have talked crap about you. Even if transgender issues aren’t part of their feminist values, they should at least know that everyone deserves respect.

  3. Comrade Kevin
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I suppose the question is what do people find so threatening about trans-folks? My first impression when I encountered someone who identified as transgender was not hatred, but it was extreme discomfort. Many, if not all of my assumptions about gender were being challenged and I must admit I didn’t know how to respond to it. But the thought of lashing out so cruelly never crossed my mind. I knew pain where I saw it.

  4. Vexing
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I’d just like to say a huge thank you for putting yourself out there for the rest of us, Jos.
    It means a lot.

  5. Vexing
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Where trans women are concerned, it’s usually homophobia.
    Specifically, some cis men feel that their sexuality is threatened when confronted with trans women who are conventionally attractive (i.e. it ‘makes them gay’ if they find a ‘dude’ in a dress attractive).
    The other side of it is that men are socialised to think that boys shouldn’t do ‘girly’ things as that would be ‘sissy’ and therefore worthy of extreme contempt. They see trans women as men who have embraced everything that is ‘sissy’ and are therefore worthy of the most extreme contempt and ridicule.

  6. ScienceAndTheCity
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I just want to say thank you for this post and all the posts on this site about transgender issues. It’s something that I basically knew nothing about several years ago, and I know that I have a lot to learn still, but Feministing (and other feminist spaces on the internet) have really helped me begin to educate myself. Feminism means working toward a world where all people, regardless of sex or gender, are respected, so these issues are a really important part of that!

  7. tpaperny
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    So much love to you! The site gains so much from your presence.

  8. Toongrrl
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    1. There turns out to be a day for being an out trans person (Whee!)
    2. Good work Jos.
    3. Why would anyone want to be mean to you?
    Here’s something for them haters:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQZmCJUSC6g

  9. s mandisa
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    i think i hear what you’re saying, but its so not just about an interpersonal level. as a cis-person, its not good enough that i dont verbally/physically abuse transfolx or that i talk to other folx about not doing the same. institutional change MUST occur.
    whats so wrong about being “trans” in this world is that its a DIRECT affront to heteropatriarchy, which is built on a rigid gender binary and clear, non-movable roles for the 2 genders, and which uses white supremacist and classist notions to enforce it. when one’s very existence/way of being/life is outside of these pre-determined rolls, you are marked as othered, which leads to marginalization, criminalization, and violence against you. but i would definitely say, there is another level to being a trans-woman: misogyny….the hatred of woman which is exascerbated by a supposed “man” who chooses to “be a woman.”, thus trans-misogyny.
    so, i wonder if the questions cis-folx could be asking instead of “what do people find so threatening about trans-folks?”..especially because you seem to answer your own question about how it challenges all you know about gender roles/norms are questions like: “what systems directly benefit me at the expense of trans-folx?” “how do i simultaneously render genuinely visible the needs and experiences of transpeople, while not tokenizing or feeling ultra guilt?” “what does it take/look like to have a feminist-movement that is trans-centered, which might mean cis-folx moving back from current leadership?”

  10. pesematology
    Posted April 3, 2010 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Semi-related: I just watched this episode of Star Trek: TNG from 1992 — http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/The_Outcast_%28episode%29
    Thinly veiled discussion of the injustice and pointlessness of prejudice against queer identity. It brought tears to my eyes, how terrifyingly little has changed since my childhood.

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