It’s coming to that time of the year again. The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and trans people are Visible. I find myself asking – on a yearly basis – what is the point of Transgender Day Of Visibility (TDOV)? Why should I care? What is there to celebrate?
Trans people have been, shall we say, increasingly visible over the past five years. In 2016, when the UK Government launched their public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, who could’ve predicted the reach it would have, how it would serve to galvanise so much anti-trans sentiment, and whip up such a ferocious culture war against trans communities and identities?
Well, frankly, trans people did. Trans communities know that visibility and representation in political discourse is a double edged sword – a sword which has been used against us time and time again.
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From beloved sitcoms such as Friends and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, to ‘well-regarded’ actors including Eddie Redmayne and Jeffrey Tambor, everyone’s had their go at The Trans Issue. The reality is, even before this furore around Gender Recognition, trans people – and in particular, trans women – have been hyper-visible in our public discourse for decades. And no, it’s not necessarily a good thing.
Trans women have been the butt of cis people’s jokes for as long as I can remember. We have been consistently and persistently portrayed as predatory, dangerous, and hypersexual by nature. Perceived “masculine” features trans women may have – a deeper voice, Adam’s apple, broader shoulders – are highlighted and ridiculed when we appeared in pop culture. I grew up feeling significant self-hatred thanks to how Visible trans women were, and how normal it was to dehumanise and degrade us in the public discourse.
So what’s changed? Young people growing up today aren’t necessarily seeing trans women being made fun of in the sitcoms we watch or the Netflix flicks we binge through. They are, however, seeing a toxic debate rage through the media, they’re hearing about it on the radio, they’re watching the scary Newsnight coverage of this awful influx of trans young people in our society. They are still seeing, hearing, being surrounded by trans people being degraded, dehumanised, viewed as less than. The nature of our visibility over the past 20 years has, materially, changed very little. We’re still trotted out as the boogeyman, the scary trans cabal, the danger to your wife and kids.
It’s not something that we can pay attention to once or twice a year, it’s a daily struggle, a daily fight, and it requires constant work
Visibility, as a concept, does us little good. What use is visibility when trans communities experience homelessness, poverty and isolation at disproportionate rates? What use is visibility when we can’t access transition-related-healthcare without waiting up to five years and confessing our life story to a cis psychiatrist? What use is visibility when it puts our young people in the firing line, being attacked across the front pages of major newspapers?
Trans Day of Visibility primarily functions to make cis people feel good about tuning in once a year. It’s not rooted in the needs or wants of the communities, nor is it enjoyable to engage with for many of us. It’s the one time a year when every organisation and their dog wants to run an event about The Transgender Issue, and pay us peanuts for it, without recognition that being trans and fighting against the oppression of your own communities is a full-time (very exhausting!) gig. It’s not something that we can pay attention to once or twice a year with TDOV and Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, it’s a daily struggle, a daily fight, and it requires constant work.
So today, I think I’ll try being invisible for a change.
Alexa is a trans rights activist from Newry, Northern Ireland, and a director at TransgenderNI