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The Importance of Community in Transgender Visibility

31 Mar 2021
By V Go

There is a certain kind of magic that occurs in the process of reclaiming identity as a trans person. It is a kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual shift back to remembering who we are, before the conditioning of binary constructs. Trans people often use their own lived experiences to create space through visibility—but what does it mean to be visible as a trans person? Do I want to be visible even when it feels like it requires me to educate at the expense of my personal peace? What can I do with my visibility? I don’t always have the answers, but I always come to the same objective: to build community. 

When I think about community, I remember that it cannot be built on suffering and despair. Instead, I grant myself the opportunity to experience a different possibility—despite all that I already know of the hardships our trans family endures. 

Community is a place we call in others to learn, where we are intentional about our interactions, but mostly where we look at what we can do with what we have right now. Trans people do not access the same spaces as cisgender people, but we are not seeking to completely replace those spaces; we are striving to coexist, and to remind everyone why our humanity needs to evolve. Visibility, like community, is multifaceted and takes collaboration. In this moment, we are being called upon to collaborate on building safer, sustainable futures for transgender people. 

This Transgender Day of Visibility follows the most fatal year for transgender and gender-expansive people ever recorded in U.S. history, with at least 44 deaths reported in 2020. We are experiencing an epidemic of violence against trans people who make up only 0.6% of the adult American population. We have already lost 11 more transgender people to fatal violence in the first quarter of 2021. This year also marks the highest amount of anti-trans bills introduced into state legislatures, totaling a record 82 bills. There are still an estimated 1.4 million trans people living in the United States who we need to protect. 

It doesn’t help that current data on trans people is scarce; we are still in the very infancy of having our history recorded after ages of erasure and exclusion. Police reports, government documents, and the media have misgendered nearly 75% of the trans deaths reported since 2013 according to research by The Human Rights Campaign. The little data we do have exposes the harm caused by the social and political refusal to acknowledge our existence. There are still many unresolved missing person cases and misgendered fatalities that we are unable to account for due to the misreporting. 

Our visibility has meant being met with transphobia, contempt, fear, invalidation, abuse, and violence. This is a reminder to my trans siblings that showing up authentically in our gender identities and expressions every day is an act of resilience. This is also a call to action for our cisgender allies to create community that priortizes our safety, empowering us to be visible.

When it comes to visibility in the United States, only 20% of Americans personally know someone who is openly trans, while the rest of the country knows us through irresponsible portrayals in the media, which are few and far between. Television, film, music, theatre, books, and magazines are often the first introduction of trans people to the general public. Although trans people have long influenced and contributed to shaping popular culture, our contributions are overshadowed by tragedy and the distorted portrayals of our community in the media. And the media's influence on the public's perception of trans people mirrors the way we have been treated by the government: with a lack of humanity.

Honoring Transgender Day of Visibility requires us to acknowledge the humanity of Black trans women, who have historically been on the frontlines of all social justice and liberation movements. Black trans women, the most vulnerable people in American society, are seven times more likely to be murdered than the general population, comprising the majority of trans victims lost to fatal violence. For visibility to matter, we must make a commitment to protecting the very people who have long fought for our collective freedoms throughout history. There can be no trans liberation without Black liberation; the two are inextricably linked. 

Liberation for trans people can only occur when we understand why visibility matters, what our barriers are, and how we plan on addressing our advancement. So much of this work continues to fall onto trans people to advocate for themselves in a world where we have been met by media, politicians, and governments committed to misunderstanding us. Cisgender people should reflect to understand the influence they have on shifting the culture of acceptance in all the spaces that cater exclusively to them. While legislative protections for trans people move at a glacial pace, social stigmas keep us on the margins, and fighting in the face of this adversity can exhaust our spirits—but it will never keep trans folx from seeking our liberation. 

But I often imagine how much more impactful and timely our hard-won liberation could be if our cisgender counterparts used their privileges to advocate enthusiastically on our behalf in politics, education, healthcare, media, and within their immediate social circles.

Trans communities do not require recognition by or approval from cis people to validate our truths, but we deserve the respect and safety directly influenced by their participation in political, religious, and social systems that shape the public's perception of trans people.

Being visible means more than just inclusivity. Visibility acts as a pathway toward one day accessing these spaces in order to represent ourselves. Allyship is a form of support, just as visibility is one tool for representation. Trans advocacy is not about trans people fighting their own oppression, it's about building new systems where we abandon the fear of perfection in order to support vulnerable parts of our communities. We celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility to recognize our progress on the path to freedom.

Community is not about perfection: you will make mistakes. But with accountability, those mistakes become opportunities to expand your learning. We have the power to change the current conditions for trans people, but we have to make it a daily practice to establish a new way of consuming, perceiving, and expressing ideas of gender. 

The work of dismantling age-old gender constructs is not easy, but no social justice movement is about comfort. Allow yourself to disengage from fear and sit with the complexity of gender––this is what trans people must do every day to exist. Do this in conversations with those close to you, but also with strangers. Learn to hold influential figures and brands accountable for their harm. Offer mutual aid to trans folx for survival and celebration. Create personal plans of action to include trans identities. Meditate on how to choose building bridges of knowledge through empowerment with informed education. But more than anything, begin to make it known to your community that you are in support of trans visibility as the first of many steps towards trans liberation, always centering Black trans women. The visible support for our most marginalized community members will ensure that we can hold each other accountable in our next steps towards justice. Visibility is certainly one step towards trans liberation, but it cannot be the last. 

Transgender Day of Visibility is not about perpetuating the narrative of trans people's relationships to trauma and hardships. Today is about honoring the realities of these challenges, while simultaneously offering the support needed for trans folx to become seen in the ways in which they want to be seen.

I celebrate today by remembering all of our trans siblings lost to violence. I am proud of the ways my trans family has shown me how to have the capacity to hold space for my complexity. I recognize that being visibly trans is not just an act of resistance, but even moreso, an act of joy. 

Celebrating visibility is a practice in commemorating our truths. 

Something we can all learn from the very existence of trans, non-binary, gender expansive, and Two-Spirit people that will aid us on our paths towards liberation: who we are is not about how we respond to the world around us, but about how we honor the worlds inside of us. 

Written by V Go for Youth To The People

V Go (she/they) is a Latinx Non-Binary transfem philosopher. They advocate for their queer community with a focus on trans awareness through public policy, public speaking, DEI consulting, art + media. Their work emphasizes explorations of vulnerability by utilizing thoughtful questions for conversations around dismantling gender binaries and social constructs.

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