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Visibility and safety: A classic coin toss

A drawing of a genderqueer person that says "Are you a boy or a girl" with the person replying "no"

It’s Trans Day of Visibility!(?) Apparently, TDoV was founded in 2009 (thanks, Wikipedia!), but I only caught wind of it in 2015, when it gained some major steam on social media. For me, the whole notion of visibility raises some important questions, the most pressing of which is “Whyyyy?”

Ok, so I think I’m having a visceral reaction to the idea of “trans visibility” for lots of reasons:

1. Most often, when I hear about “trans people gaining visibility”, what I assume it actually means is that a very rich trans person did a thing, and now there’s a meme about it. While I love that more genders are being reflected in mainstream media, it is generally still wealthy trans people who fit neatly into one gender category (and adhere to Western, white beauty standards) who experience the most validation.

2. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been ~really visible~, because I’ve never fit into the gender binary. As Alok Vaid-Menon says in this awesome post that you should definitely read “[Those] of us – whose identities are more fluid, more difficult for strangers to comprehend and relate to – may not be visible in media but are more noticeable on the streets…

A drawing of a person on a mountain top. One one slope reads 'Visibility', on the other slope reads "Vulnerability", and there is a monster on the bottom on either side.

And it has always followed suit that the more visible I am (i.e. the less I fit into a typical man/woman category), the less safety I experience. It’s a classic coin toss – one that many trans, two-spirit, and gender non-conforming people engage with on a daily (or minute-ly?) basis.

3. In many cases, trans, two-spirit, and gender non conforming people gain the most visibility when we die. This has been particularly true for trans-feminine people of colour – as Janet Mock describes, “The names of our sisters shouldn’t only make headlines when we walk a red carpet or lay in a casket. Our visibility shouldn’t be subject to such extreme circumstances.”

I know that TDoV is itself an act of resistance to the reality that trans people often gain the most visibility when being memorialized.  But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t still associate “visibility” with highly publicized cases of suicide and murder of trans and queer people.

So what do we do?

I don’t need to recreate the wheel here – read this amazing article by Princess Harmony for awesome suggestions for how to work through the challenges of living in a culture that simultaneously demands and reprimands trans visibility.

Let’s do the work to create communities that are founded on dignity, respect, and safety for people of all genders and experiences.

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