I wrote this for Trans Day of Visibility 2016. I am bringing this back now as a reminder to myself to reread this and prepare new reflections on visibility and resistance for TDoV 2017. These thoughts haven’t changed, but I’ve learned a lot in the past year and I’ve been working a lot with the question of visbility and invisibility in my choreographic practice recently and I’d like to add more to what I already have.
So Trans Day of Visibility happened. And it stirred up a lot of emotions for me this year. So I want to write up some of my thoughts on visibility for trans people.
Currently, very few of my dance teachers know me as trans (only the ones at the queer/gender neutral studio!), nor do my tutors at uni. One of my tutors this year actually informed me that “gender is a social construction, which, of course, has major consequences for transsexual people”. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from informing him exactly how aware I am of that (and that Judith Butler, while she may have a good idea or two, is not an all-knowing god, the way I’ve found many sociologists and gender theorists think).
I haven’t necessarily been “stealth” or “closeted”, I simply have been quiet at just the right moments. Instead of defending myself against microaggressions, particularly misgendering and that painful assumption that because I dress “feminine”, I’m OBVIOUSLY female, I let them pass through me. But, even if I let that pain go, it’s been inside of me enough to leave a mark. Everything that goes through leaves a trace. It builds up. It hurts.
Even when I attended a dance program, scratched out the gender options and wrote “no gender” angrily on top of the registration form, they conveniently forgot that little detail, looked at my name, and put me in the girls’ housing. Because I am so easily (mis)gendered, I am safe from the violence and discrimination that fills many trans narratives.
The violence I face is internal – I question my choices at every turn. Does this shirt make me look too feminine to enter a trans space? Don’t I want to go into a trans space looking feminine as a fuck you to any of the elitists that think I might not be “trans enough”? But what if I’m not really trans, I mean, I do dress as my assigned sex? Who do I think I am, calling myself trans? Isn’t it my own fault that people misgender me?
I convince myself that I don’t matter. That I am so barely trans, that the only thing I can do as a trans person is raise the voices of those that are “more trans” than me. I am the first person denying my identity, forcing myself to fit imperfect boxes.
Except that’s not true. Every time I hurt myself, it is because of messages I’ve internalized from society. It’s what I’ve been told about transness, about gender, about femininity. It stems from femmephobia and that patriarchal assumption that the only position a person, especially a FAAB trans person, who has the “liberty” to “break gender norms”, would want to hold is that of the male, the masculine.
This is the price of invisibility.
The question I am constantly facing is not – am I trans if I am FAAB but not transmasculine? The question I am facing is a lot simpler – how can a nonbinary person that is both FAAB and femme be visible?
And, of course, the more telling question – do I want to be visible?
Trans Day of Visibility had the annual discussion of the benefits of visibility v. the dangers of hypervisibility. From my facebook page, it looks like it got to a larger audience this year, which makes me beyond pleased, but it is still the same discussion every year. Invisible nonbinary identities want more visibility and recognition while hypervisible trans women are wary of a day that celebrates this harmful form of visibility.
But what actually is nonbinary visibility? We’re not actually invisible to begin with, we are outside the realms of what society understands. We are incomprehensible. We don’t need visibility, we need an entire shift in societal comprehension of gender (NOT the destruction of gender, a reworking of it). We can’t actually be visible until this happens. What we consider “visible” nonbinary existence is important, it’s part of what is (hopefully) changing socially enforced gender, but it’s not truly visible, because that is not a possibility in current western society.
On one hand, I crave any kind of visibility, true or not. I long for one single day in which I am not misgendered. I wish for a day in which I do not have to prove or justify my transness.
On the other hand, my invisibility gives me power. As someone that is read as cis, the most dangerous transphobic people are incapable of seeing me as trans, even when I shout it in their faces (and I have). I am weird, and often treated as a token, but I am safe. I am able to enter spaces “visible” trans people can’t. I am able to challenge cis people and force them to listen, because I am less threatening than the Big Scary Trans Breaking Down Gender Norms (even if I’m exactly the same thing).
In daily life, invisibility might be power, but when I dance, I am visible. When I perform, I am a body underneath a spotlight, seen by my entire audience.
Someone once told me that, because it is done through one’s own body, it is impossible to lie through dance. As a trans person, I know how wrong this is. I know how easy it is to lie with my body and how much my body lies for me without my permission. Physical honesty, like any other form of honesty, is an act of hard work.
Being visible as a dancer, for me, requires visibility as a trans person in order to be honest. It is a necessity.
But that is hard work. I am constantly choosing between the exhaustion from the work of visibility and the exhaustion from the struggles of erasure and invisibility. And I don’t think either is necessarily bad or wrong or better than the other.
Trans day of visibility is about celebrating the moments when visibility is empowering, when it creates greater understanding and makes a positive impact on our lives. It is not (or should not) be about negating the importance of invisibility, the ways it keeps us safe and makes our community stronger. And, of course, I hope we can all recognize, as we discuss the oppositions of invisibility v. visibility, that hardly ever is one person either one or the other. These concepts manifest in a huge variety of ways, both from conscious choice and or forced on us by society and others. And we end up navigating with these with our own methods. No method is the same, every method is valid.