On Visibility and Vulnerability
Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, the one day of the year when myself and the millions of other Trans, Two-Spirit, and Gender nonconforming folks across the world can be perceived with mere mortal eyes. Or something equally dramatic and to that effect, at any rate.
Unlike TDOR (the Transgender Day of Remembrance), this isn’t a day for mourning – it’s meant to be a day of empowerment. It’s a day to celebrate the accomplishments and lives of Trans and Two-Spirit folks. It’s a day to spread awareness and understanding, as well as to challenge and confront cissexism, transphobia, and transmisogyny. For myself and for many other Trans folks however, “visibility” is a complicated and loaded word… and it’s an exceedingly large double-edged sword.
On one hand, visibility is crucial to the work I do here at VSAC. I’m lucky enough to be able to, on occasion, go out into our community and facilitate talks, presentations, and workshops on Trans issues, serving Trans clients, and advocacy. When I talk I make it personal, and I make myself as visible as I can. I tell my story, relive my experiences and struggles, and discuss the ways I have been personally impacted by transphobic violence – both systemic and otherwise. This personal connection is so necessary. People can be given papers, statistics, and shows to watch – but until there is a real live actual human being in front of them explaining how this violence has impacted them personally… in my experience many people don’t get it. It’s not real to them.
Making myself visible in this way also leads to powerful and impactful conversations. Just last night I spoke to a group of folks from Camosun – some of whom drove all the way from Duncan to be there (!!!) – and by the end of it half of us were in tears and I was trying desperately not to ruin my mascara. It was an amazing talk, and seeing so many folks get passionate and dedicated to making a change in their programming (most of these folks were nursing students) as well as their lives – was beyond inspiring. They even got me chocolate and an adorable gift! I now have little “Marceline the Vampire Queen” bobblehead who now lives (or unlives?) forever in my office. It took me a good ten minutes of recovery and general blubbery-messiness before I could manage to drive home. Marcie is now chilling on my laptop as I write this (as you can see!).
Though impactful, this visibility can feel incredibly raw and vulnerable. As someone who’s experienced transmisogyny and transphobic violence – and who lived “stealth” for quite a while because of it – it’s sometimes frightening. Although the feedback and support I get is often so empowering and validating, I can’t forget how it felt to be visible and vulnerable in the past. There was a time where I had no choice but to be visibly Trans, and where I was – with good reason – utterly terrified of this visibility.
So today, on this day of visibility, I ask you to think about what being visible really means. For those most at risk, increased visibility can mean greater vulnerability and even increased violence. Trans and Two-Spirit people live in a world that opposes our very right to exist, and often to us (as well as to many other marginalized people) invisibility means safety.
Please don’t forget those who aren’t visible, those who can’t be visible, and those who were once visible but paid the price.
Amusingly Marcie up there was my Halloween costume one year – at a time when I was still mostly living “stealth” myself!