One of our volunteers has written about their own difficult relationship to visibility for TDOV (Trans Day of Visibility), which is celebrated every year on the 31st of March.
It’s a quiet night (or very early morning) in the summer of 2011 and I’m sitting hunched over a laptop I’ve borrowed (stolen) from my mum for the night, on an internet deep dive into all things trans. I scroll past the faces of young trans men taking their first shots of testosterone, waking up from top surgery for the first time, even just selfies they’ve taken showing how happy they are post-‘transition’, and it’s like I’m seeing a reflection of myself, or of what I wanted for myself, in the future.
Almost in the exact same moment I make the connection that I myself am trans, I quickly and hastily decide that it’s also a secret that I want to take to the grave. Oh, not that I thought there was anything wrong with being trans, instead it was just… Not something I felt like I should share. A simple preference about what I chose to share about myself, right? Looking back, I can recognise that what I was actually feeling was a severe amount of internalised transphobia, and an unhealthy dose of shame.
I was afraid of judgement, and what cis people would think of me, and how they would perceive me from there on, and, and, and……. The ‘ands’ were endless, and each one weighed down on me so much that I went about my transition as secretively as possible. I told my closest friends at school, and my family, then went to university far far away from home, where I socially transitioned all in one go, and god forbid any cis person suggest I was trans.
Whenever I hung around the other trans people I’d met at university, it was like a breath of fresh air because for once I didn’t have to hide a huge part of myself, but at the same time it was hard not to listen to the dark voice in the back of my head was whispering ‘careful, if you hang out with these people too much where people can see, people might think you’re trans’. Past self, you idiot, you are trans. And there’s nothing wrong with being trans. There’s nothing wrong with being visibly trans.
I was so terrified of ‘cis judgement’ and thinking of things from the ‘cis perspective’ that I’d forgotten to even view things from my own trans one. I was prioritising the thoughts and opinions of an imaginary hivemind I had dubbed ‘The Cis’ over my own well-being, and it was unhealthy.
But I couldn’t help but remember how happy and free my trans friends seemed – sure they had to deal with discrimination, but it wasn’t like my closeted bubble was entirely discrimination-free. And my cis friends were nice, accepting people, nothing like the ‘The Cis’ hivemind I’d formed in my mind…
Then Trans Visibility Day came round. I’d almost forgotten it was that ‘today’, but when I checked my phone I was stunned.I saw so many happy and joyful trans people of all walks of life all over my social media feeds, full of pride and absolutely radiant. It was like looking at a (much more diverse) recreation of that same moment that made me realise I was trans in the first place.
I couldn’t help but remember how earnestly I had wanted to one day post my own transition photos with pride. I wondered what my past self would think of how I had made it to a point where I was proud with how much I had grown, and how far the community had come, but I hadn’t posted a thing.
I couldn’t help but wonder where I would even be as a person, if the original members of the trans community had done the same as I had, and stayed silent about their experiences.
Transgender Day of Visibility: a day to celebrate trans lives, embrace our diverse community and even raise awareness of the struggles we still face. A day to make ourselves heard, so that not only cis people can listen and learn, but so the young trans generation can see a bright and happy future for themselves.
I was struck with a thought, a dream I’d had as a young trans man, of being settled on the beach on a hot summer day with my dream husband and our circle of friends, enjoying a barbeque and laughing as we all chickened out of actually swimming in the sea. I would have been shirtless, because of course, and my top surgery scars would be visibly on show (while of course sun-screen would be well applied).
Though I had no way of knowing, in my dream a young trans person would have seen that and felt a little more hopeful about being trans. It’s something I desperately wish I had seen when I was younger, and something that I wished I could give to a young trans person out there even more.
It would be perhaps too perfect an ending to this if I’d ended my TDOV by making my own post, officially coming out and ‘accepting myself’. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t. But I did reach out to my community. I made new friendships with trans people across the world, and even started volunteering with a trans charity. I’ve been more vocal about my support of trans issues, and managed to squash down that voice in my head that always made me so wary of what ‘The Cis’ would think. Maybe I’ll even add a trans pride patch next to the gay pride patch on my jacket.
To any trans people out there reading this who are in a similar situation to what I faced: I know that there’s safety in silence, and you should think about your own well-being and safety. But there’s also joy in being vocal. With visibility, you can help the world seem like a brighter place to a young trans person in need.