On Transgender Day of Visibility we try to amplify the stories of trans people in the United States. Our greatest barrier to being heard? Men.
Photo by Matthew Seger
There was a time when men in dresses and women in suits were classified as criminals in this country because of their clothing. Back in those days, I've been told, there wasn't any word "transgender." But there were "crossdressers," who toyed with the dressings of their sex, and there were "transsexuals," who hid and lived in the shadow of the nation, invisible to the public. In the 21st century, we have the Transgender Day of Visibility, a modern effort to illuminate one of America's most oppressed minority populations.
Today, cities and townships across the United States have found the issue of trans rights suddenly hoisted into public discourse. The trans movement made unprecedented legal achievements under the Obama Administration. To conservative and ignorant people in states like Texas, the equal rights of transgender Americans have been resisted with retaliatory legislation. The federal guidance that the Obama administration issued to protect trans Americans has been viewed as intrusive and unlawful. Of course, one of the first things that the Department of Justice did under the authority of Donald Trump was to revoke that guidance.
Transgender Americans and our allies want to amplify stories of transgender people so that families, school systems, and local governments from rural America to our country's greatest cities begin to perceive us as human. Unfortunately, many people in this country casually disregard the humanity of transgender people. There are plenty of examples of this, but you only have to look at the way that men continue to literally destroy transgender women or the astronomical suicide rate among trans people. These are ugly and tragic examples—but there are far more deceptively civil ways that our humanity is denied.
Transgender people and our advocates are in the thick of battle for federal legal recognition and protection, and because of that, our opponents have become politically engaged. So we fight for the right of transgender Americans to have our medical care covered by insurance, and to be protected against discrimination on the basis of sex, because we know that the way trans people are treated throughout our lives has a major impact on the likelihood of our survival.
Sad, but true: The most vulnerable people in the transgender population have been caught in the crosshairs of history. Trans children today find their humanity up for debate as they are demonized by legislators across the country through targeted bills that attempt to restrict the civil rights that we demand to be enforced or granted.
The most vulnerable people in the transgender population have been caught in the crosshairs of history.
Visibility matters; it is good and it is helpful to have transgender people on television and in the movies. This kind of visibility serves as cultural education and has the power to humanize transgender people to those who would otherwise never have challenged the stereotypes and assumptions they'd inherited about them. But we know that visibility also takes a toll, which why it is important that visibility extend beyond celebrity or consumerism.
Like hydrogen peroxide poured over a wound, the attempt to eliminate discrimination against transgender people in this country has exposed the disease in an expanding political froth. Subsequently, kids like Gavin Grimm in Gloucester Virginia get called freaks at public school board meetings, and states like North Carolina pass laws that force transgender children out of bathrooms, making it difficult or impossible for trans people to live real, public lives.
Like the crossdressing laws of the 20th century, anti-transgender bathroom legislation is but another attempt by the government to push transgender Americans back into the nation's shadows. When we are visible—when we are equal under the law—our existence, our normalcy, and our humanity are more difficult to deny. And that is dangerous.
If the status quo cannot deny our existence, the foundation of gender as society understands it becomes vulnerable. We live in a country that is ruled by men, whose president has inferred that his penis isn't small, perhaps in order to protect his ego or to assure the public of his strength as a man. In a nation like this, the normalization or acceptance of transgender citizens is threatening because if men accept that gender isn't pinned to one's genitalia, then they risk losing the superiority that they are taught is inherent to their sex.
When we are visible—when we are equal under the law—our existence, our normalcy, and our humanity are more difficult to deny.
Today we see conservative keepers of political office resist the legal recognition and protection of transgender people en masse. To recognize and protect trans Americans as human and equal under the law would would mean that men in America would be forced to see transgender people as human. That's a tall order, as the liberation of transgender people also means the destruction of gender stereotypes that many Americans still believe are real.
By making transgender people and our rightful demand for justice visible, we have transitioned power away from the stronghold of binary sex that allows men to rule over women—and if we know anything, it is how badly men want to keep that power.
Photo by Matt Seger.