This is a spoken-word piece I first performed when hosting the University of Michigan’s Transgender Day of Visibility Speak-Out event on March 31st, 2017.
They told us visibility would save us.
We were told for so long that if we could just get people to see us, if we only took off our invisibility cloaks and let people get a good long look at who we really are, that we’d finally have a place in the world.
After all, it worked for gay people. Kind of. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks came out in massive waves and suddenly it seemed a lot harder to hate the gays because they were your next door neighbors, your tax account, your school principal. They starred your movies, wrote your TV shows, and produced your Broadway musicals. It should be the same for trans people, right?
Except it wasn’t like that.
They saw us, and they immediately hated us even more.
They saw the way we undermined the system that hold so close to their hearts, to the notion that is so intrinsic to their being that even looking at us makes them want to hurt us…the immutable, inviolable, absolute binaries of sex and gender.
And the idea that we had been quietly moving among them for years without anyone so much as noticing, that we had been next to them at the grocery store, sitting in the same movie theater, eating the same restaurants, attending the same schools, working in the same offices…
WE HAD BEEN PISSING RIGHT NEXT TO THEM IN THEIR BATHROOMS FOR YEARS AND THEY NEVER EVEN KNEW WE WERE THERE.
They saw us and and they panicked, unable to cope with a new vision of the world where one can no longer know how a person’s genitals and chromosomes are shaped at a simple glance. They didn’t shift their worldview to find a space for us. They decided to make the world fit what they needed, by killing us through violence, discrimination, marginalization, and neglect.
Visibility has failed us.
Yup. There, I said it.
Visibility has failed trans people.
It failed us because it’s based on the false assumption that we could somehow turn ourselves into something palatable and consumable by cisgender people, that we could have the agency to turn visibility into a way of setting our narrative, that we could make transness “normal”, that we could prove to cis people that we are just like them.
For many of us, visibility was never a choice anyway. The visibility narrative is based on the idea that all trans people can choose to fade into the crowd if we so choose, and so that visibility becomes a thing for empowerment and self-definition.
But for so many of us, visibility isn’t a choice. Those can’t or won’t assume cisnormative appearances and behavior will always be marked. For those without access to the shields of whiteness, of affluence, of ability, visibility is an everyday reality…and the sudden rising paranoia about our mere existence has painted a target on their backs that is is too indelible to scrub off.
Visibility as a mechanism for our liberation never had any hope for anyone but the whitest, wealthiest, and most cisnormative looking trans people, and it left the rest of us in the dust.
And so, I’m here to reclaim my visibility for myself and for my trans siblings.
I’m putting cis people on notice. My transness isn’t something constructed for your consumption, and my outness doesn’t exist for your education, your edification, or your self-congratulatory allyhood.
I am not your object of fascination,
I am not your walking fetish,
I am not your ticket to progressive credibility,
and I am definitely not your free fount of information on all things trans.
I am not for you to stare at. (And believe me, we feel it when you stare.)
My visibility isn’t for you.
My visibility is for every trans woman whose only experience with transness is in daytime talk-shows, right-wing propaganda, dead girls on Law & Order:SVU, and bad porn.
My visibility is for the 16 year trans girl still desperately trying to find a way to tell her parents that the lurching forward of her testosterone-fueled puberty makes her want to die.
My visibility is for the fat trans girl who thinks that she’s the only chubby trans girl in the whole world and that she can’t ever be beautiful in her own skin.
My visibility is for my black trans sisters who feel like not one single voice in the media has their back or cares whether they live or die.
My visibility is for the middle-aged trans woman who is still in the closet, who needs to hear my story, to find some piece of it that resonates with her so that her journey to herself can finally begin.
My visibility is for every college-age trans girl who is terrified that there’s no life after college, that no one from our community ever finds success and happiness.
My visibility is for the trans lesbian who’s struggling with the validity of her sexuality because lesbian culture still equates being a dyke with having a vagina.
My visibility is for the neurodivergent trans girls, the disabled trans girls, the chronically ill trans girls who are wondering if transition and disability are things that can coexist.
My visibility is for every single baby trans girl who I’ve mentored over the last half-decade, who needed a mother-figure or a big sister to make a big hateful world seem a little less cold and dark.
My visibility for every trans girl who has taken her own life because the world just seemed too terrible and dangerous and unwelcoming.
My visibility is for me, for scared, lost 18 year old me, who would have given anything in the world to see a pretty young trans woman in real life, to meet even one person like her, to have someone tell her about the journey to being herself, to make it seem like something that was truly achievable instead of some impossible mountain to climb.