March 31 marks International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to focus on the positive aspects of trans and gender diverse people, writes Sally Goldner.
Visibility is an important factor in creating and increasing connection for anyone who may feel like they are “the only one” undergoing a particular experience. This certainly includes trans and gender diverse (TGD) people who, despite increasing public discussion can still feel the opposite of connected, namely, isolated.
Since 2009, March 31 each year has been marked as International Transgender Day of Visibility. The brainchild of Rachel Crandall, a day to focus on the positive aspects of TGD is certainly just one way to achieve greater visibility. It needs noting that this day is separate to Trans Day of Remembrance, which is November 20. While that day it is important and will sadly always need to be noted, it does raise an issue in that it doesn’t clearly acknowledge those TGD people who are alive, nor does it acknowledge the amazing positive achievements, contributions and perspectives of TGD people.
TGD visibility is necessary at all levels. Starting at the grass roots, it can still be difficult to start the journey to being authentic regarding one’s gender identity. This can be tougher for those regional and rural areas compared to metropolitan areas (this is also possible with outer vs inner metropolitan). Tougher for younger people who may face unsupportive home and/or school environments, for trans people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and even for seniors feeling depleted after seeing a lifetime largely overshadowed by negative attitudes.
Having visible role models gives a boost to those people struggling to be themselves. Anecdotal evidence from a few years ago: when Paige Phoenix appeared on Australia’s X-Factor and Chaz Bono on the US version of 'Dancing with the Stars', calls to support services skyrocketed with people thinking “wow, if they can be themselves, maybe I can too.” Isolated TGD people saw other TGD people publicly being themselves with contentment and confidence. This was especially important as in these situations, Chaz and Paige, two trans men (recorded female at birth and identifying as male) provided visibility for a part of the TGD population that generally is less visible than trans women.
It’s important that visibility exists across society overall for reasons of policy formulation and inclusiveness. While increasingly Australia has seen greater positivity towards TGD people and issues (acknowledging strongly there is still a long way to go), often people making decisions “don’t know what they don’t know.” When TGD perspectives are put on the table, they can then incorporate those ideas into a decision, be aware of the broader issues in the future for other decisions and perhaps alert others in their organisation or area of expertise as well. The ripples of visibility need to keep spreading.
Most of all, visibility that discusses what TGD people can offer when able to be themselves and given opportunities is a winner for everyone. Society wins, the economy wins, TGD people, their families and partners win - and humanity wins. So let’s increase TGD visibility today and every day, and keep racking up the wins, gains and victories that result from just being plain visible.
Sally Goldner is Executive Director of Transgender Victoria.