tl;dr Trans Day of Visibility was created as a celebration, but it has always been complex. We need to talk about visibility outside of celebration and question what viisbility is necessary for trans people. I’m not sure if the visibility we need this year is a celebration.
[cw: mentions of transphobia and gun violence]
(this ended up more convoluted than even TSER’s theme explanation, but maybe that’s the point. TDoV has always been a convoluted day, there’s no reason to stop now)
I have to admit that my stomach clenched a bit when I saw that TSER’s theme for Trans Day of Visibility this year was “Surviving, Thriving”. First off, I wasn’t even aware that TDoV had a theme. Secondly, TDoV is complex enough to begin with.
But really, as I looked at that theme, the only thought that crossed my mind was simply, “But we’re not.”
In the statement about the theme (which personally, I found a little convoluted, but maybe I was tired when I read it), TSER states, “We are not only surviving the Trump regime but we are making strides to transform how people think about gender around the world.”
Yes. We have had some exciting “wins” this year. We have trans people in office. We have more people who know what the word means (correctly). In the dance world, Sean Dorsey is about the present at the FUCKING JOYCE (for anyone who doesn’t quite understand the US dance scene, the Joyce is a Very Big Deal).
But the fact is, for the majority of trans people, we are barely surviving, let alone thriving. And actually, sometimes it is visibility that is harming us. Trans Day of Visibility has always been a day stuck in that constant balance between the necessities and dangers of visibility, and the fact that the world continues to not Listen even when they do See (and nowadays, there’s a lot more Consuming too).
And, if we look at the environment trans people are forced to live in every day – from a president that literally hates us and then keeps appointing more people that hate us into positions of power, to the fact that our right to use the bathroom has become acceptable dinner conversation (a lot of the cis people in my life still haven’t figured out that I really do not like casually talking about going to the bathroom at the drop of a hat), we are living an everyday reality of fear. We are dehumanized and challenged every day.
And we are not surviving. We are dying. People are murdering us. Some are straight up burning us in our homes. Some of us are victims of poor medical treatment because doctors can’t look beyond the word “trans” to treat any other medical condition we may have. Some of us are taking our own lives because the completely hostile world we live in turns us on ourselves.
Even as a “well off” trans person – white, invisible, has enough money to survive, I even have a job in a trans-friendly work place, I feel this. I feel the way the world around me is unable to care about or see me. I feel the way that I have to fight in order to gain respect.
And then I remember that not everyone is in a position to fight the way I can, and my heart breaks. And I remember that while I am well off enough to take care of myself, I’m not in a place to help every trans person that needs help (yet. I dream of the day that I can), and it hurts so much to see how much my community ISN’T surviving or thriving.
I mean, it’s hard to talk about tragedy. Especially when we’re trying to make a successful social media campaign. I recently had to create a social media campaign about queer history in Boston and I almost didn’t include the origin of Trans Day of Remembrance. Even though that is literal Queer Boston History. It’s hard to include something as sombre and sobering as the continued murder of trans women when you want to hype people up and get them excited about Boston.
But, I ended up including TDoR history. It’s important to show the true Boston history, not the nice one. Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett deserve better than one single day. We can afford one incredibly emotional post in the middle of exciting fun facts about epic queer action. It’s important. It’s not something we can erase or ignore in the name of hype.
So, when I see a theme like “Surviving, Thriving” for something that’s already so wrought as TDoV, I can’t help but wonder, “is this really what you want to make visible about trans people?”
Yes, TDoV started as a celebration of beautiful trans visibility. But it has always been a day that has alienated groups of trans people. And it’s gained traction and political meaning beyond celebration and visibility. In Boston this year, there will be folks canvassing against the bathroom bill that’s showing up on Massachusetts’ 2018 ballot. TDoV is a day that we can exploit to make cis people listen. Sounds like a great idea to me!
Do we really want cis people that are willing to listen to think that we are surviving? Maybe even thriving?
Or do we want them to understand the reality, in which even trans people with support systems have to fight and expend too much emotional energy to simply exist?
A month ago, there was a shooting at a trans bar that was barely reported. Where was our visibility then?
Is getting shot when we simply want to go out and have a nice night out really surviving?
So, let’s end with something I recently wrote in a creative reflection:
“For trans people, our currency is visibility. We earn it through entertainment. But trans people like me don’t make for good entertainment”
So yeah, maybe “Surviving, Thriving” is good entertainment. Maybe it is the visibility trans people currently have. But it is not our reality and we cannot let ourselves be blinded by the quantity of visibility certian trans folks currently have. Trans people are not surviving, we are hurting, we are struggling. And people need to see that too, entertaining or not.