How Transgender Visibility Is Creating Invisibility

Visibility; by Oxford dictionary definition, it's defined as 'the state of being able to see or be seen'. We think of visibility as clarity-how visually clear something is to the eye- such as a large object far away being more visible than a person far away. However, visibility can also be judged based on quantity-an increase in how much of something we can see- such as a gradual increase in the amount of seagulls loitering by a seaside front, showing a higher visibility of them.

The year 2015 was coined the year of 'transgender visibility'. Let us start with the increase in quantity of trans visibility; many new films were released surrounding the lives of transgender characters and some of these even included transgender actors in minor roles. Furthermore, there were trailblazers of the transgender community gaining media representation in Men's Health Magazine, as wax figures in Madame Tussaud's Museum, and airing their own reality TV shows. This quantity of visibility aided in the awareness of larger social injustices in the trans community-thus increasing the clarity of trans issues-that were and are still ongoing such as transgender discrimination, medical accessibility, and things as simple as access to gender toilets. It is absolutely fair to say 2015 was the year that transgender people 'made their mark'.

But let's stop and ponder for a second. What was actually visible in 2015 of transgender people? All the films including trans identities, such as The Danish Girl, only showed slim characters that were aesthetically pleasing and, more so, followed heteronormative values in society. Furthermore, the trailblazers that were gaining media fame were once again slim, in very good physical fitness, and followed heterosexual ideals such as having opposite sex relationships. This isn't to say the awareness that this minority of trans people started through their visibility should be ignored-in fact the opposite- but I now invite people to further examine what is being praised in our society.

Fact; the majority of trans people are not getting visibility. These are the ones that are suffering with anxiety and depression; the ones that feel, in their opinion and society's opinion, they don't 'pass' as male or female to be seen; the ones that don't feel they look skinny enough or pretty enough or have a daily struggle with facial acne; the ones that are too scared to go to the gym; the ones that fear for their safety if they make their identity known to the world; the ones that cannot access medical treatment; the ones that have no family support; and the ones that don't pursue heterosexual relationships. It is obvious that visibility is only for a minority of trans people. This minority that mostly 'looks cisgender', and thus are less threatening to the cisgender population, are the ones that are given visibility and praised by the media.

So what are the effects of this, both on transgender and cisgender people? For some trans people, there is a divide within the trans community with pressure to look like the visible ones in order to be accepted or desired by people either as individuals or in a relationship. Social media also aids this pressure with an abundance of Instagram photos of mostly trans people that are exuding cisgender looking bodies-the ones with the perfectly flowing hair and ripped abs. Thus the majority of trans people are seeing praise for 'cisgender perfection' and not the average everyday body struggles of trans people. Likewise, through this minority of visible trans people in the media, cisgender people are only seeing trans people that 'pass' perfectly in society. In other words, they see the 'cisgender looking' trans people and may think 'well that's not that threatening to my society, I mean they look like us right?' This reiterates a lot about society-just as most cisgender people feel the need to look perfect, so too now are transgender people under the same pressure, not only by the media but now indirectly by those of their own community.

I would like to strongly note that trans people who want to follow cisgender appearance expectations have the right to do so and in no way should their journey to being their authentic self be disregarded. What I urge people to look at however, is why transgender people need to have perfect looking bodies to begin with. No one is perfect either as a person or physically. We all should recognize every type of trans body and find a place in our society to give them visibility and praise. My need to express these opinions is largely based on the trans men in my life that are struggling with the pressure of having to look like the 'famous transmen' and as a result are not celebrating their transition as much as they damn well should be. Society as a whole should not give in to the false belief system that trans people all have perfect bodies, are heteronormative, and slowly becoming 'accepted' by everyone. There is still a great amount of work to be done to shift everyone's mindset on bodies and identities in society, and it cannot be done overnight or in one year for that matter. Everyone should take little steps in ensuring all trans people are visible in their everyday lives and stop fixating on media perfection.