The Power of Trans* Presence

I feel fortunate to have caught a glimpse of what the world looks like when people who have been traditionally marginalized represent themselves en masse, inserting their presence into historically restricted public spaces.
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Reflections on International Transgender Day of Visibility

The power of trans* presence made itself known to me in a profound way on this year's International Transgender Day of Visibility, which took place on March 31. This annual day of recognition is dedicated to celebrating transgender people worldwide and to raising awareness of discrimination against the trans* community. I belong to a closed Facebook group that is limited to parents and caregivers of transgender and gender creative children, one that numbers well over 3,000 members now. On the 31, after logged into Facebook, I saw that my feed was dominated by posts from this group, which was a little unusual. But the reason soon became clear, and I was quickly overwhelmed with amazement and with gratitude as I watched one incredible photo after another streaming across my computer screen. The photo stream continued throughout the day and into the night.

I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of each photo. Kids, teens, young adults and adults -- at play, at work, with their families, with their husbands, wives, partners. Yet it was the volume that grabbed my heart, moving me to tears. While we've seen a huge increase in trans* visibility over the past several years, the stories and images in the media tend to be isolated from one another, as are trans people all too often. Isolation is one cause of depression among the trans* community, fueled by social stigma and rejection, whether it be from family, friends, school, and employment. Witnessing this seemingly endless flow of trans* faces reinforced the power of visibility and the belief that community is integral to wellbeing -- for trans* people, and perhaps more importantly, for everyone else.

I wish we could all bear witness to this unforgettable collection, but for reasons of privacy and safety, the photos cannot be shared. However, a similar portfolio of members of the trans* community can be viewed here, published in 2014 in Huffington Post's what #WhatTransLooksLike campaign. Additional photo essays on trans* and agender identities can be found hereand here.

Looking back not even five years ago, I've seen how swiftly stigma can be diminished and replaced by acceptance. Kate Bornstein, the legendary trans community activist and writer recently spoke about the impact of increased visibility: "According to a new survey released today by the Human Rights Campaign, one in three people personally know or work with somebody transgender...That's twice what it was just two years ago."

Bornstein's work has immeasurably influenced "queer and trans people in the process of learning to live as their authentic selves" by insistently inserting trans* and other gendered identities into the public eye. While trans expression can be traced throughout history, " as society evolved toward the modern age that we know now, trans expression did not disappear, but did become far more subversive," and far more dangerous for those who dared to live openly.

A life lived outside of traditional gender norms has traditionally been viewed as a transgression against the unwritten social pact of heterosexuality and binary identities. Joy Ladin, a transgender poet and writer eloquently observes: Gender is a covenant, a promise that the maleness or femaleness we present in public represents both our genitalia and our gender identity, our private sense of whether we are male or female. People who visibly fail to keep this covenant, those we call "transgender," are subject to severe penalties: exile from family and friends, loss of employment, and verbal and physical abuse. Every week, one or two transgender Americans are killed, in a hate crime, for breaking the covenant of gender. Violence against transgender people disproportionally impacts women of color worldwide.

So I was also thrilled to see the Wells Fargo bank in North Carolina lit up in honor of Transgender Day of Visibility, "only a week after the governor of North Carolina signed House Bill 2, a law barring transgender people from accessing public facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, and eliminating all LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in the state." These public proclamation of support and solidarity make evident that visibility leads to understanding and acceptance.

I feel fortunate to have caught a glimpse of what the world looks like when people who have been traditionally marginalized represent themselves en masse, inserting their presence into historically restricted public spaces. It is essential to continue this momentum, to continue demanding rights for trans* community. I'll close with the words of LGBTQ activist and trans woman, Cece McDonald, "We have to keep fighting -- because the work isn't done until it's done."

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