I’ve been thinking all day about what I wanted to say today.
In some ways, TDOR was easier. There’s a framework there. There’s statistics to fall back on. There are other stories, so much more important than my own, to share. There are loved ones to lift up. There are people struggling Â who can be acknowledged, cared for. When all else fails? There’s anger. There’s so, so much anger. And sometimes that’s the fire that can keep you going in the absence of anything else.
But today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, the balance to the Day of Remembrance, that anchor in the other half of the calendar to remind the privileged that we exist outside of being victims, outside of being death tolls, outside of being horror stories we whisper to one another in the dark.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this word. “Visibility.” My friend, my mentor, Talia, has written her own insightful blog post about this. Who is visible? Who gets that option–to be seen when you want to be seen, but to fade into the background when you don’t?
I’ve been struggling with my words over this. This is the best that I can come up with. (And it comes with the caveat that as a white person in a relatively privileged position economically…. well, certainly there are others who face greater risks than I do.) But here goes.
Most days, I don’t have any choice about my visibility. I’ve taken to joking, when I open workshops, about how I’m a “semi-professional trans person.” Semi-professional because I do hours and hours and hours of education and training and safe-space explaining for no pay, because…. why? Because I don’t have “technical” qualifications. Because I have a vested, selfish interest in making the world a more accommodating place for people like me. Because in queer circles and church circles, we don’t pay for labour. Because I can’t say no when I think about that kid in the closet who might be in my audience, who needs to see someone like them, and know it’s okay.
I blog about my experiences. I post about them on facebook. I crowd-funded my attendance to a conference about transgender history. I’m thinking, more and more, that I want to write my masters in that field. I’ve made this bed. I know that.
And this is ironic, this is painfully, painfully ironic, because as much as IÂ can’t get awayÂ from my transness in professional and personal life, I still become invisible every single day.Â When I go through a checkout line and I am asked if I would like a bag,Â miss,Â and when I am dragging myself through the afternoon with another coffee andÂ Eliot’s an interesting name for a girl,Â says the barista, and in clothing stores with the,Â oh, these are men’s jeans, dearÂ and the cat-calls and the still having the wrong name on my school e-mail andÂ the list goes on.Â I am reminded, every day, without respite, that the world does not see me the way that I see myself. That it may never see me as myself.
These are both photos of me–but until I put them side by side, I couldn’t see myself in the first one at all. The one on the left is from Grade 12 — long (comparatively long, anyway) hair, a feminine wrap sweater, thin with cheekbones for days. And on the right is from my trip out west to a conference on transgender history — an undercut, a newspaper boy cap, a men’s button-down and a Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker.
In the photo on the left, I had no idea that I would become the person I am today. Grant, a friend I saw out west, met me during that period in my life and he remembers that I was deeply, deeply conflicted. I was struggling hard about the concept of gay marriage (that’s another story). And I wasn’t… I wasn’t really happy. Somehow in that photo I can just see that the smile doesn’t reach my eyes the way it does in the photo on the right.
When my grandparents came to visit me, last year, during the religious commemoration of my name change, we spent the day together after the church service. I don’t remember exactly when, if it was on our way to lunch together or during our walk through a local history museum, butÂ at some pointÂ my grandmother pulled me aside and said,
“You know, when you were young…. I worried about you, you know? You never looked happy. Not really. You never smiled all the way. But now I see you and…. you’re you. You’re really you, now.” She hesitated, and I could feel my throat seizing up with emotions. “I’m very proud of you.”
When I wrote this post the first time it was incredibly bitter. It was tired, and angry, and disappointed. But I am choosing–or doing my best to choose, anyway–to be brighter. I am choosing to go with the story about my smile.
What I am trying to say, in my roundabout way, to all my trans siblings out there:
No matter where you’re at–if you’re pre-HRT, post-op, middle of your journey or haven’t even realized you’re on one yet–wherever you are, I will try my best to see you as you are. Whether you’re an activist by day and misgendered by night, whether everyone knows or you’re the only one who does–I will see you. Today, on the Transgender Day of Visibility — I see you. You do not have to be alone.
I see you, and I am smiling. I hope that, wherever you are, that you can smile as well.