By Victoria Stanton, LCPC
Happy Pride! Pride is an important time to pay tribute to those who came before us in the fight for equality, become educated on how we can continue the fight against oppression, and celebrate the vibrant LGBTQ+ community. To celebrate is to honor, or hold up for public notice. We celebrate because there are still a lot of issues to address and we will not let them silence us. The more we celebrate, the more information we put out there, the greater chance we have at reducing stigmas that surround our community. One way to honor our community is visibility.
When we think of visibility in the queer community, we think of those who are open with their sexualities and gender identities. Visibility is so important for our community to gain support and recognition. It is important to give a voice to LGBTQ+ youth, those questioning their identities, and those who have not yet (or are not able to) come out. There is growing visibility of the trans* community in our culture as we have seen our transgender role models on the covers of magazines, starring in movies and television shows, and in the music industry. This type of visibility helps us honor the progress we have made as well as highlights the struggles we continue to face, on a larger scale; an illusion of equality, if you will.
Our stories of conflict, change, perseverance, and joy deserve to be heard.
Although these representations are extremely important, it is arguably just as important to have transgender and non-binary role models in our daily lives. We can start demonstrating to society that we are not just surviving, we are thriving and exist in every facet of the world. We are part of every culture, race, gender, ability, and religion. We come in all shapes, sizes, and all walks of life. Our stories of conflict, change, perseverance, and joy deserve to be heard. Sharing our stories is an opportunity to educate and create safe spaces for others. Visibility gives others a mirror in which they may see themselves, their friends, or family members.
A big part of the transgender community, a part that is less frequently discussed, do not identify with the trans/cis binary. But visibility in the non-binary community can be a bit trickier. Non-binary people don’t always have a way to put their gender identity on display, many of us succumbing to societal pressures to dress androgynously despite understanding that gender identity and gender expression are unrelated. Society will place their own labels on us, assume that we are cisgender, and we slide right under the radar. It’s the passing privilege; one that we use to evade hostile questions, judgments, violence, and harassment when using the public restroom of our preference. It is comfortable and safe.
Not everyone has the privilege of passing as cisgender. Many of our trans siblings, who paved the way and made room for non-binary identities, continue to struggle with acceptance in society. It is often difficult to navigate decisions and uncertainties that accompany being visibly transgender or non-binary. Being visible for some could mean risking losing jobs or housing with no legal recourse. Reactions could potentially be hostile, invasive of our privacy, and bring up painful aspects of our past that we are not ready to address. Some may take our visibility as an invitation for interrogation. Choosing visibility is choosing vulnerability. It is a big (personal) decision and therapy can provide a safe space to explore the implications of visibility, and help you develop the tools and skills to effectively navigate your experiences.
One of the most difficult things about being visibly trans is not knowing what reaction you will be presented with at that moment. It is important to note that not all of these interactions are hostile; often those that react poorly lack the information to understand the intricacies of identity and sometimes new things are scary. While it is easy to become defensive with common responses to expressing your gender identity, you may be the only trans person they (per their awareness) have ever met. Whether these interactions are happening face-to-face or online, judge each interaction on its own and gauge your level of safety before opening up a productive and educational dialogue. You may consider seeking therapy services to prepare you for difficult discussions, understanding and overcoming anxieties, and reflecting on your past experiences, particularly with a therapist who specializes in working with the trans community. Just be sure to travel at your own pace and honor the place in your process without judgment. Those that are able to shed light and help others understand are playing an important role in making the world a safer and more inclusive place for our trans community. We thank you.
For others that are not able to be visible, your identity is valid. Celebrate yourself despite stigmas and prejudice. In some phases of your journey, being visible and affirming to yourself is just as powerful and important. The parts of yourself that you give to the world are precious. You have allies in and outside of the community working to create a world where living authentically is encouraged and welcomed. Until then, we still see you and we celebrate you.
*trans refers to all gender identities under the transgender umbrella