To see and be seen: on some level, this is all that we, as human beings, could want from this world. Visibility is the cornerstone of human experience. It allows us to share in the lives of the people around us and encourages us to reach out and get to know people whose lived experience in the world is both similar and different from our own. For this, and many other reasons, we celebrate the Transgender Day of Visibility. We all long to have our experiences deemed as authentic and valid –but to go a step further and to think the experiences of others as authentic and valid well, that, in short, is visibility. It is about embracing and uplifting the narrative that another person gives us not the one we make for them and feel comfortable with.
The transgender and gender non-conforming experience is often defined by those work are not trans. Those outside of the community see what they want to see. They see physical transitions. Surgeries. Hormone treatments. The transgender community is often defined by the stories told about us and the legal battles that place our very identities on the front lines such as a military ban against transgender people, whether or not medical companies can cover gender confirmation surgery, and the threat of conversion therapy to conceal and silence voices of the LGBTQ+ community.
In short, this means that a lot of work still needs to be done when it comes to transgender and non-binary people being seen as humans before our struggles.
Transgender Day of Visibility exists so that we, transgender and gender non-conforming people, can seize control of our own narratives and tell the stories about ourselves and our community that we want to share. It can be a day to have meaningful conversations about the aforementioned issues. Or, as this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility’s theme contends, it can be a day to share personal narratives that “celebrate authentic bodies” and to start “breaking barriers.”
It is imperative that we acknowledge that “celebrating authentic bodies” is no easy feat. Parts of society teach us that there is a certain way to present ourselves and our identities. Even within the transgender community, we tend to “gate-keep,” or to tell people that they are or are not “trans enough” based on their experiences. This can make identifying as transgender feel like checking off boxes on a list. Do you experience gender dysphoria? Check. Have you sought after hormone replacement therapy? Do you use conventional pronouns that are ‘easier’ for other people to understand? Check, check, check.
With all of this gate-keeping, it’s no wonder that for some people, the Transgender Day of Visibility feels exhausting this year. It can feel like people are seeing through the nuanced diversity of the transgender community instead of seeing it for what it actually is. So how can we reclaim our own visibility? How can we assert our authentic selves and break down barriers, even when the emotional labor that such celebration requires is strenuous, difficult work?
Start by taking a look in the mirror. Take a deep breath. And then, out loud, say the following words: I am trans enough. Remember that your identity is exactly what you define it as. It is personal, it is political, and it is perfectly defined (or undefined!) by the meaning that you give it. Taking ownership of your trans identity can shine a light on a part of yourself that you can feel proud of. In other words, it can help you be visible to yourself. Once you have made note of the wonderful, authentically fantastic person that you are, expand your circle of transgender influence. Read a book by a transgender author. Listen to music from a transgender artist. Connect with other transgender people in your life and use the Transgender Day of Visibility to begin meaningful conversations with friends, family, and allies.
And if you are an ally, know that the necessary work that goes into promoting transgender visibility does not fall solely on the shoulders of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Do your share by amplifying the voices of trans people, promoting their work, and stepping up in a few ways one is by stepping back and listening to the transgender community before jumping in to try and meet their needs. Another way to help, it to speak to your cis friends about the trans movement. We aren’t a secret. Let people know that you love us. Mostly, know that we cannot do this work alone, nor do we want to. What we do want, however, is a helping hand from an understanding friend, a well-intentioned coworker, or a loving stranger.
Visibility is all about being seen, and equally important, seeing the people around us for who they are. It is about breaking down the barriers set between us by those who seek to define our identities without consulting us, who seek to define us on their terms, but not our own. So on the Transgender Day of Visibility, and on all days, make an effort to change the narrative around the transgender and gender non-conforming experience. Own your own story. Share the stories that trans people give you. And above all, start to see every person in this world for their authentic, self-defined entity.
Sierra Debrow is Transilient’s Outreach Coordinator. They are a nonbinary young professional living in Jackson, Mississippi. Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Sierra received a B.S. in Psychology from the College of Charleston in 2017. It was at the College of Charleston that they found a passion for Jewish Education, Disability Studies, and a passion for LGBTQ+ advocacy. Sierra is currently an Education Fellow at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. In their free time, Sierra enjoys hiking, writing, cooking, and exploring new places across the United States. After their fellowship, Sierra hopes to pursue a Master of Social Work degree and work with Jewish communities and spaces to be more inclusive of people of all backgrounds and abilities.