Trans Day of (in)VisibilityMarch 30, 2023
Written by Leith Campbell – Technician, Metalshop + Foundry – Academic Facilities
On March 31, 2021, Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation1 recognizing the Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV). The TDOV was ‘unofficially’ begun in 2009 when a Facebook campaign by Detroit local Trans-activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker caught hold and became a national, even international day of celebration. It has become an important day in the Trans-activist movement; a day that serves as a positive counterpoint to the Trans Day of Remembrance, the day during Pride month that we mourn our dead. But, in the ensuing years, Crandall-Crocker has publicly stated that in retrospect, visibility is a ‘double-edged sword’2. The fact is, that even after a decade of great advances for the Trans community, visibility can still be a dangerous thing.
From micro to macro aggressions3, we are still on our guard at all times. Anyway, what’s one more day of visibility going to do? A whole month of history didn’t help George Floyd. So, as a woman who happens to be out trans, what does this day mean to me? How much more visibility do I need or want?
Maybe I can get to an answer by describing invisibility. I was invisible for many, many years. So many that I can’t describe them as either good or bad, but as a period of time where all of life’s ups and downs happened; kids, marriage, career, life, love, all the things. What binds them all together was the stone that I was dragging, my secret stone, a stone that got bigger and heavier the longer I pulled on it. It cast a pall over my whole life, always keeping me just separate from the ones I loved, just separate from the ones I needed to be close to. It was a veil made of the secrets I was compelled to keep.
Anyone near me could tell I was carrying something, and thank God they stayed close no matter how pointless trying to cheer me up seemed to be. They would ask, ‘What’s wrong? Can I help?’ As much as I wanted to tell them, as much as I wanted to scream it from the rooftops, all I could answer was that I didn’t want to talk about it and that the only help I could use would be if you could turn back time or fundamentally change how the universe is arranged. I held on to that secret for 35 years; I had to, I was in a profession that still has little tolerance for difference. I had a life and family that this profession supported, and even if I could come out in my private life, there’s no way I could express it in the 8-10 hours a day six days a week that I was at work. Also, it’s a difficult thing to tell someone; I’m not just a little bit trans, and it was a stark contrast to the face I presented to the world. It’s not something you can unsay. So I was trans, but I remained invisible.
This is a dynamic that plays out across the world every day. A job, a spouse, a mentor, a parent, a preacher, a culture, a thousand good reasons to stay invisible, a thousand good reasons to fight yourself on behalf of the world instead of fighting the world on behalf of yourself. Even if you have a community around you that is accepting, you are eventually going to have to leave that community and possibly face hostility, possibly face people that mean you real harm. So there you are. Dragging that stone. Day in and day out. The horrible invisibility is your shield. Many, many of us have no choice; we must stay invisible.
There is no easy fix for this, and one thing I do know is, Trans people can’t fix it alone. We are a small (but growing) part of the population, and we have lives to live just like everyone else. Survival as a trans person can be a scramble and this doesn’t leave us a lot of time for activism. More visibility sometimes doesn’t help this problem, sometimes we don’t want to have our differences highlighted, and sometimes we just want to get through our day without having to think about how we are different. So how does this square with the Trans Day of Visibility?
Well, maybe the TDOV is not our time to be more visible. Maybe it’s time for those who quietly support us to become more visible4. If I confront someone who is full of hate, all I’m going to do is reinforce that hate. They need to hear it from their neighbor, their boss, their kids, their spouses, from their preachers. They aren’t going to hear it from me because as soon as I start talking their ears and hearts close. So maybe that’s what the Transgender Day of Visibility is; it’s the day where you, the cis person, make that extra step; to lean out over the plate, to get some skin in the game, or whatever your preferred metaphor. (Even further, I dream that TDOV becomes the day all the Cis folks show up to work in Drag; it will quickly evolve from TDOV to National Laugh Until We Fall Over Day.)
So, to our Allies, don’t just acknowledge Transfolk, but dwell for a while in the thought of dragging that stone, of a life, lived in perpetual pain and fear. Don’t just hang out a flag during Pride Month and tell yourself how good you are, meet the hate where it lives. The Trans Day of Visibility is your day.
1)Presidential Proclamation on Trans Day of Visibility
2)Rachel Crandall-Crocker’s statement on TDOV
3)An Example of Macro Aggression