Today is a day of celebration in the transgender community—International Transgender Day of Visibility. I grew up in a small, rural town and I had no idea what transgender was until I was well into my teens. I didn’t know any transgender people and our only representation in media was on television shows like the Jerry Springer Show or movies like Ace Ventura Pet Detective where we were made fun of, especially Black trans women and other transgender women of color. Visibility in those days came at the expense of ourselves, we were the butt of the joke, we were made to feel less than and othered and disgusting. It took me a long time to want to be visible as a trans person because of how the world demanded we be seen.
Growing up in that time and place was difficult and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have had transgender elders around, guiding the way, showing the world that we are beautiful and strong and can thrive despite all the things that work against us. But this also highlights the problem with visibility. Visibility doesn’t mean that we are free, that we are protected, that we are safe. For myself, as a white, cis-assumed trans man, it means that I have the privilege of being myself authentically that many of my BIPOC trans siblings don’t have the same privilege of enjoying. Black trans women, especially, are hyper-visible in death but not in their everyday lives. Being more visible costs us our lives, especially Black trans women, and it costs us anti-trans legislation. We might be visible, but we are not yet liberated—not until all of us are free to live authentically, free from harm, free from discrimination.
International Transgender Day of Visibility is a day we celebrate because we have lived. So many before us have not, and still, so many of us can’t. It isn’t safe for many trans individuals to be visible. If that is you, I want you to know that you are still valid and you are still trans. You do not need to be visible, you need to be safe. For those of us that can be visible, today is a day to show transgender kids that there are adults that look like them, that have similar lived experiences, and that not only are there people that are like them, they too can thrive and experience joy and love.
In Disclosure, the documentary about trans representation in media, Yance Ford tells us that “children cannot be what they cannot see, and it’s not just about children, it’s about all of us, we cannot be a better society until we see that better society. I cannot be in the world until I see that I am in the world.” I’m not sure how much different my life would have been had I been able to see myself represented on television, in movies, or as characters in books had I seen a positive representation of the trans community. Today is about looking back at how far we’ve come, holding space for love and loss, celebrating trans joy and how resilient we are, while also recognizing that we have so much work still to do.
Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility to my trans siblings. Celebrate who you are and the journey you’re on and know that you are loved for who you are.