Visible Today, Tomorrow, and Forever
This day of visibility asks us to recognize and affirm the existence of transgender and gender non-conforming people. This year, may cisgender people choose compassion over culture-wars.
Today, Friday, March 31, 2023, marks the fourteenth International Transgender Day of Visibility. This day is a chance for transgender and gender non-conforming people to celebrate their lives and to show us that they have always been, and will always be, a part of our society. We know from studying history that gender and sex have been expressed in many ways.
The need to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility has never felt more poignant. As attacks and bans across the nation continue to target our most vulnerable neighbors, cisgender people have a duty to speak up and push back against the reactionary and hostile ideologues who use transgender and gender non-conforming people as scapegoats in an ever-raging culture war. If we allow our society to be run by fear-mongers we soon will find ourselves the target of the next witch hunt. As German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller so eloquently spoke in 1946, later transcribed into poetry:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
To understand transgender and gender non-conforming people you must first reflect on your own childhood. From a young age children begin to express gender– instinctually and/or based on their environment. Our culture is saturated with gendered toys, clothes, games, etc. Children –born unaware of society’s preconceived beliefs– naturally gravitate towards things that bring them joy. For me, this was the normal “boy” things like Hot Wheels and dinosaurs, but also a fascination for stuffed bears and my sister’s dolls.
And, while toys and clothes are not necessarily indicative of a person’s gender, they can become preludes to feelings felt during puberty. During this time, as we all know, our bodies change physically and emotionally. Hormones, hair, fatty-tissue, sweat, smells, menstruation, and so on. For the majority of people during this period of great change –while still anxiety-ridden and awkward– their gender assigned at birth and expressed during puberty remains the gender they most identify with, so much so they likely don’t think about it.
However, for some of our friends, family, classmates, and neighbors, the physical and emotional expressions of gender can cause them great anguish and emotional pain. The person they know themselves to be inside may no longer look or feel the same. Due in large part to our modern society’s imposition of a dichotomous understanding of gender, these feelings of gender dysphoria can become magnified.
There is nothing wrong with someone feeling gender dysphoria. The problem arises when people around those young people, and society at-large, refuses to listen to them, or worse, ostracizes them leaving the young person isolated in an already stressful part of life.
Some would suggest that being transgender is a new phenomenon– this is bogus. We know cultures throughout human history have had individuals who we may describe today as gender nonconforming, transgender, or non-binary. Because of depictions in art and literature, oral history passed down by generations, written records and testimonies, and laws restricting what we now describe as gender non-conforming behaviors, we know without a doubt that there have always been people living outside of our modern concept of male and female. The only thing that has changed is access to stories and literature told by and about transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Some would speculate that something in our society is turning people towards being transgender or gender nonconforming- again, this is bogus. Speaking as a gay man: no one told me to be gay; I didn’t choose to be gay; in fact I often wished I wasn’t gay. LGBTQ+ people experience higher rates of bullying, ostracization, assault, homicide, and death by suicide. Think to yourself (cisgender and heterosexual people), what person in their right mind would choose a life defined by fear of retribution and harm from your family, friends, and community? Who would wish to be “different” from what is perceived “normal,” so much so that laws are crafted to target you simply because you exist? The cards have been dealt, the only choice LGBTQ+ people make is how to play them.
There is, however, a group that does have a choice: cisgender people. Those who experience and express gender as they were assigned at birth have a choice to listen to transgender people, to hear their experiences with life, and to act compassionately; or, we choose to be destructive. Throughout all of human history in nearly every society, and continuing to the present day, we have unfortunately chosen destruction.
In just the last decade our nation has chosen to legislate bathrooms, life-saving treatments, and sports participation; all while allowing and inviting the most reactionary, repressive ghouls in our society to call for the eradication of transgenderism– which is, plainly, calling for the genocide of transgender people. Fox News regularly broadcasts segments attacking transgender kids, adults, and athletes, misgendering transgender people, and encouraging their viewers to “fight back” against what they call “groomers” or the “woke mob.” Ultimately, they’re targeting normal people who happen to have a different experience with life than what we often hear in society.
Social media has been the newest front of the culture war against transgender and gender non-conforming people. Fake news stories of teachers forced to recognize kids identifying as cats who are using litter boxes in school spread like wildfire, to the point my own friends were sharing the story in bewilderment. [AGAIN, fake news story. It has been disputed and debunked every time a person has called out a school for allegedly doing this. This was an absolutely disgusting and demeaning fake story.]
Social media accounts whose entire goal online is to publicly name, shame, and degrade transgender and gender non-conforming people, often leading to threats of violence targeting schools, libraries, drag events, LGBTQ+ spaces, and even children’s hospitals. Online there are spaces dedicated to dead-naming, harassing, and threatening transgender and gender non-conforming people. As a cisgender person it is absolutely gut wrenching to see; I can only imagine the pain those receiving the attacks feel.
As we enter another election cycle and the reactionary demagogues begin ramping up their campaigns of fear we are likely to see more harmful rhetoric being spread and more bills or calls for legislation directed at, and restricting, transgender and gender non-conforming people. Again, the only group with a choice is the group inflicting the pain: cisgender society.
My hope is we begin choosing love and compassion over fear and division. We begin to recognize and appreciate the existence of transgender and gender non-conforming people –of all ages– and we allow these folks the chance to live full, meaningful lives. My hope is our society ditches the culture war that scapegoats vulnerable people as the cause of our “problems,” and we take those folks who propagate and proliferate these petty attacks and defrock and depose them from all positions of power.
Transgender people have always –and will always– exist. Gender non-conforming people have always –and will always– exist. Today these folks are posting selfies, artwork, and messages of support showing us that they are –and will always be– here. And I am so, so glad to share this planet with them.
May cisgender folks remember and affirm –today, tomorrow, and forever– the fact that transgender and gender nonconforming people have a right to exist, survive, and thrive. Speak out, be proud, protect yourself, protect each other.
Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility,