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The Importance of Visibility: Really Seeing Transgender People

A transfeminine non-binary person and transmasculine gender-nonconforming person looking at a phone and laughing
Photo: Broadly | Some rights reserved

by Joel McDonald

Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), a day described by its organizers as being “dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and victories of transgender & gender non-conforming people while raising awareness of the work that is still needed to save trans lives.” The Human Rights Campaign describes the day as “a time to celebrate transgender people around the globe and the courage it takes to live openly and authentically, while also raising awareness around the discrimination trans people still face.”

The Importance of Visibility

“It isn’t easy being different. It isn’t pleasant being watched by judgmental eyes. To know people are whispering about who I was before I transitioned. I am Transgender, yes. But there is so much more to my identity. I am a musician, hiker, artist, brother, son, grandson, uncle, and Christian. And that’s just scratching the surface. I am a PERSON, just like anyone else. And there are so many people in this world who, like me, feel different. Unique. We have this in common….. We deserve to live, breathe, love, and experience life to the fullest.” – Emmett Claren

Last October, The New York Times published the article What Being Transgender Looks Like, According to Stock Photography where they reported, “Stock photographs — which appear in ads, brochures and magazines, and are supposed to seem familiar and inviting — are one measure of how a society sees itself. Transgender people exist, the photographs seem to say, but at a distance — not as full-fledged people, leading individual lives and interacting in the world.”

If available stock photography is an indicator, society has an issue truly seeing transgender people for the unique and complex individuals that they are. Maybe it’s because we, cisgender people, in particular, are largely uninformed. Maybe it’s because we’re uncomfortable with that which we haven’t taken the effort to understand. Nobody can argue that we, as a society, tend to ignore and distance ourselves from that which makes us uncomfortable. But we must do better. We have to be better informed. We have to make the effort to understand. We have to see transgender individuals for the beautiful people they are and recognize their contributions to society and our own lives.

In response to the lack of authentic representation of the transgender community in stock photography, Broadly recently launched their Gender Spectrum Collection: Stock Photos Beyond the Binary, a “stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models that go beyond the clichés” which aims to “help media better represent members of these communities as people not necessarily defined by their gender identities—people with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and home lives.”

Of course, stock photography doesn’t solve the lack of real transgender visibility, but it’s a start.

Affirmation’s Commitment to Transgender Visibility

Late last year, Affirmation released a statement affirming our commitment to our worldwide mission to work for the understanding, acceptance, and self-determination of individuals with diverse gender identities and expressions, and affirms our trans, queer, and intersex siblings as seen, needed and loved. We also reached out to transgender members of the Affirmation community to share their thoughts in response to efforts in the United States to eliminate recognition of transgender people.

“In response to any political agenda, public or religious policy which results in the negation of individual self-determination, I assert that personal lived experience, including personal revelation, are the sole qualified methods for determining individual identity and expression. Gender identity is a personal, inherent characteristic of each and every one of us; not open to legislation or interpretation by others.” –  Laurie Lee Hall, Affirmation Senior Vice President

“We won’t be erased. We will survive this, because that is what we do. We fought with ourselves to accept our identity. Then we fought with family and friends to convince them of our truth. Now is the time to fight on a larger stage for our rights as a community. And when we win what is ours, the world will be a better place for everyone. Diversity is our strength as a human race. God made us in such a wondrous variety that it is a shame on us when we dismiss any one populace.” – Annabel Jensen

“Transgender people are all around you, and most of them want nothing more than to just blend in and have the same basic rights as everyone – a right to feel safe and a right to be happy with themselves. To deny these basic human rights to anyone is inhumane.” – Augustus Crosby

“Standing up to anti-trans and intersex policies, practices, and hatred is so very important. Walking this Earth as a trans person is difficult enough without the president of your country openly declaring war on your identity and existence. Limiting gender to a binary definition ignores the fact, in both science and law, that trans people do exist and that their gender identity is just as ingrained within them as it is for a cisgender person.” – Bobbee Trans Mooremon

In 2014, Affirmation launched a number of Affinity Groups to create opportunities for people with common experiences or identities to gather together both in person at Affirmation conferences and events as well as online. One such group created was Affirmation Trans* Mormons, Families, and Friends, a space of support for Transgender Mormons, family, friends, and allies to share experiences and learn together about trans* issues.

Affirmation will continue to provide a place of safety and support for transgender, queer, and intersex people. We support this space where you can be fully authentic in your sexual, gender and spiritual diversity.

One thought on “The Importance of Visibility: Really Seeing Transgender People

  1. One issue that trans people who are not out have is difficulty in social media participation. Many sites and platforms require participants to use their legal names or use a third party login from a platform that does. This is a trend that admirably addresses many types of problematic posts, but creates barriers – and risk – for people like me. Most are sensitive to the nature of the issue for any in the LGBTQ+ community, but may not appreciate the elevated risk for trans people, especially for employment implications, as many who are outed never work again at the same level, if at all.

    I raised the concern to Affirmation, including my offer to disclose my identity to the leadership if needed (but not tie it to any sort of account), and the organization rapidly came to a solution. I am SO grateful to be able to post here and it is SO important that we be heard directly. Allies are critical, yet is is also true that trans people are often badly misunderstood by others even within in the LGBTQ+ community. “Beyond queer” as someone once aptly said.

    What can I say but thank you.

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