What Do You See? Reflections on Trans Day of Visibility

Last Tuesday, March 31st was the International Transgender Day of Visibility. In light of this, I want to talk about the concept of visibility and why it isn’t obligatory.

Fear has been a huge part of my experience as a trans person as I believe it is central for many people within this group. When I first started college I was able to decide if I was going to continue to talk about being trans or if I was going to let it quietly exist.

[I intentionally choose not to use the phrasing, “be open about being trans/hide my identity" because being openly trans is different than being openly gay. The stakes are higher and I think it's crucial to acknowledge the difference in visibility for trans and LGB people.]

In college, I chose to be quieter. I cleaned out my facebook history, mostly. I’m sure that one could still easily find evidence of my trans-ness, but not without some digging. I choose to bring it up only occasionally, and mostly just with close friends. Ever since my voice dropped and my gender presentation became more concretely male, I have found that it has been easier to brush off people’s questions that are based on hearsay.

I can feel the activists cringing:

“But what about educating people!”

“But what about creating a safer world/campus!”

“But what about trans rights and trans visibility and putting a face to the idea!”

I hear your point. But the thing is, I’ve been there. I was very out—for two absolutely hellish years of high school. It was a necessary thing because if I hadn’t been so visible, I would have vanished - emotionally, spiritually, even physically.

But now there is more to my life than being a tool for education, awareness, etc. Being trans is not my identity; it is one part of my entire identity. I enjoyed working to create awareness and knowledge, but I don't want my life to singularly consist of a topic that is most often very painful. While there were a lot of really amazing conversations that happened, when I started college, I chose to actively step away from the Visible Trans Person role.

I am enjoying existing as a person without constantly having a still-controversial label slapped onto me by strangers. I like not wondering what's behind people's stares. I prefer “Why is he wearing that?” instead of “What kind of surgeries has he had, or will have, or won’t have.” Sometimes I do still talk about being trans but most often with my close friends. Those  that I trust and that I choose to let in on some of the more personal facets of my life.

Yes, being quieter is partially a product of  fearing what will happen to me if word gets to the wrong person. I worry about being hired less, fired more. I worry about experiencing further sexual or physical harassment. I worry about having to overly explain myself everywhere and I worry about how much that way of existing drains me. I worry about going to school in a county where I am not legally protected. I worry whenever someone with any kind of authority gets a glance at my ID that still has an “F” at the bottom. I worry if they will notice and treat me worse because of it.

But mostly my choice to be less vocal about this piece of what makes me, me, is just a personal preference. Trans Day of Visibility is a powerful and important day. One that makes me feel less alone. But it’s not a day or an action that I am obligated to be a part of simply because I am trans. Visibility is a choice and a process that I will have the gift and burden of exploring for the rest of my life.