On Visibility | Video & Transcript

I wanted to do something special for Trans Day of Visibility this year (March 31st) – and I didn’t realise it was coming up so I didn’t have a lot of time to work on it. I wanted to make a video rather than a blog post, because, y’know, it’s about visibility.

You can watch it via YouTube here or I’ve got the full transcript below if you’d rather read. I may do more videos similar or not so similar to this, so if you have any suggestions get in touch. If you think it’s a good video, please share it somewhere, leave a like or comment, etc., it would be really helpful. Thanks for watching/reading!


Video transcript:

On Visibility

I’ve been thinking, for, well, obvious reasons, [text on screen: March 31st is Trans Day of Visibility] about this concept of visibility, and I’ve got quite a few thoughts, so let’s just see how we go.

Part 1: Awareness

When I was young, I didn’t know anything about trans people. If I knew anything it was only based on them being the butt of a rude joke, or this vague, ridiculous idea of people who aren’t what they say they are. Your typical childish transphobic content. At no point were trans people ever real live human beings with interests and hobbies and lives you could relate to. People you could meet and have a conversation with. When I got older I learned a lot more about LGB people, but it never really caught up for trans people.

I’d had experiences which in hindsight could or should have been opportunities to question my gender, times when I’d look in the mirror and think this body is not who I’m supposed to be. It was only in 2015, when LGBT issues were in the spotlight with marriage equality being legalised in the United States, that I began to question my gender. It’s not that having awareness of trans people made me trans, that’s ridiculous, and I know that my gendery experiences predated me knowing anything about trans people.

Even then as I began to question my gender, it wasn’t as straightforward as being like “hey, I’m a woman now”. I had a kind of gut-wrenching reaction. With the amount of awareness I had of trans people, it wasn’t really something you got to be. It was something people were afflicted with, and I thought “no, I’m normal” – this wouldn’t happen to me, it was like being diagnosed with a one-in-a-million terminal illness. This can’t happen to me… right?

It took some time and serious effort researching and learning and listening to the experiences of trans people before I could change that pattern of thinking in myself. And it was only then that I could actually accept myself.

So that’s one side of awareness, whether or not we as a society know about trans people, and to what extent we actually get what they’re going through. And then, when you come out you see this different side, and you worry about people being aware of you.

I first went out in public dressed in female-coded clothing on October 31st of that year. I remember it so clearly because it was the National Novel Writing [Month] group launch of that year, which is in November, and it was such a positive experience because everyone just treated me normally, and… that’s kinda just what you want, right?

On the flip side, I also remember with vivid intensity these stares I’ve gotten while out in public, and this sense from a complete stranger that they would want you dead. Aside from stares and other moderately uncomfortable experiences, I’ve been lucky not to have been personally accosted in public. However, in early 2016 I remember this time when I was out at the shopping centre with my friend and some guy came up to them and was like, “you know that’s a tr*nny, right?” I don’t need to spell out to you how unsafe you feel when someone decides that they need to confront the people around you, in broad daylight when you’re just trying to get groceries… and that’s a huge cost of visibility.

I had my little bits of bravery with going out when I was early in transition and I didn’t even remotely pass, but for the most part I was a homebody, I pretty much stayed safe at home, not going out in public, especially not at night and just completely avoiding any situation where I might have been likely to get caught out. But it’s no wonder why so many people wait to socially transition until they feel they can pass. There’s this incredible pressure to remain hidden, invisible, because of the safety it grants. Your own visibility as a trans person is something to fear. While it’s your right to live with as much visibility as you want, we can’t really do that yet. We still have a long way to go to make sure that people can go out at any stage of transition, presenting however they want, and they can feel safe and comfortable. And that’s not even to say anything of the people who just won’t feel safe, because of their family, or the culture and place that they live in.

Part 2: Representation

Since I came out in 2015, I feel like we’ve come a huge way in terms of trans representation in the media, and by the media I’m referring to both news media and fictional portrayals. Even then, I feel like representation falls into this dichotomy, these two opposing sides, rather than really representing the full spectrum of trans experiences.

On one side of this dichotomy is the negative and the harmful portrayals. I’m talking about shows that just put a cis man in a dress. Or people who “have a surprise in their pants” and try to “trap” cis people, whether that’s the butt of a joke or straight-up horror. Trans people as predators. Trans people only ever as sex workers, which is an issue when your entire view of sex workers is a negative one, which is often the case. In the news, when there’s a portrayal of a trans person it’s often accompanied by an unflattering or pre-transition picture of them. They’re often misgendered or deadnamed. It’s used as a way to undermine people. Trans people die, and either that’s victory and something to be happy about, or martyrdom, and we should be pitied and looked down upon. Either way, trans people are so frequently prone to ridicule, mockery and hate.

On the other side, there’s a lot of representation – visibility – for the trans people that fit the mold of what trans people “should” be. They are models, actors or otherwise very privileged people. They’ve had surgeries – usually multiple, but at the very least the surgery. They’ve won the genetic lottery, either by naturally being androgynous or unlike their sex assigned at birth or by having had a good response to hormonal replacement therapy. Most are heterosexual. They’re conventionally attractive for their gender, which is of course binary, so the men are masc and the women are femme. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful for them to be living successful lives. I’m glad we’re accepting more and more trans people in these spaces. They’re not full.

If you want to hear more about what I think trans people “should” be according to society, I did a blog post a while ago where I talk about this concept of the “cool trans” – kind of like the “cool girl” trope, but for trans people.

With this dichotomy I don’t feel like I get to see a representation of myself. When this latter “perfect” group of trans people are presented to me as the ideal standard to look up to I just feel lost – even though there are aspects of that life I subscribe to, like wanting to ‘pass’ as my gender. Now, before anyone says, “hey, cis people are told that they should look up to celebrities too” –  that’s definitely the case, but you cannot deny that there is a greater breadth of experiences for cis people to see themselves in that trans people just don’t get to.

I’m sure a lot of trans people, maybe even most, would agree with me, but I’ve never seen a representation that I’ve thought “that’s me!”. Either a set of experiences that I’ve been through myself, or an idealisation that I think I could see the person I want to be in. It’s an element of what drives me as a writer and a filmmaker, is to create new characters for more people to relate to and see themselves in. I think aspiring to that is something really special.

Part 3: Perception

I did not win the genetic lottery. I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy for over five years and I don’t really feel like it’s done as well as I’d hoped, even with some fairly conservative hopes. I don’t know if my body is… more feminine than masculine now? I don’t know. I still feel a lot of dysphoria about my face and my body. And what I’m talking about here is self-perception.

There’s an anecdotal yet somehow “conventional” wisdom that when you’re undergoing feminising hormonal transition, that you’ll reach one cup size less than your closest female relative. And… after five years, five plus years, of hormone therapy, I don’t even have an A-cup. So, compared to this “conventional wisdom” I feel kind of… broken.

In the public perception we are not often shown how painful transition can be, and I’m not talking about martyrdom, which is kind of another form of idealisation. I’m talking about physical pain here. For example, I’ve undergone many sessions of laser hair removal and electrolysis – and if you don’t know what electrolysis is, it’s when they stick an electrified needle into your hair follicle, and run the electricity through to kill it. It’s incredibly painful – for me at least, some people do better or worse than others. Yet, I still have to shave because what I’ve gone through is not yet enough, and there’s still more pain to go through.

I have had sex reassignment surgery, which is already a painful and stressful enough procedure, but I had postoperative complications. I won’t go into details because it’s a story I actually find kind of humourous in hindsight, but at the time really was going through ten out of ten scale pain and I really thought that I was going to die. The surgery itself carries risks, as all surgeries do, but it’s a risk I was willing to take. In the end the results were fine but don’t quite live up to what you were hoping for. It becomes this much longer process to be okay than just getting out of the operating room and going: done! great! I’m moving on with life. This is what you put your life on the line for, to make these big changes to your body but they don’t feel like achievements, they don’t feel inspiring, they just feel like they become part of this huge slog to get through to just keep on existing. And… nobody tells you this.

In public I feel like my visibility is always on display. While part of me always just wants to dress however I want, femininity tends to attract more attention, from others as well as myself. When I’m dressing more femininely, I’m more likely to pick apart my own appearance, which heightens dysphoria that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Within the community, when it comes to people of binary gender there’s a lot of pressure towards the extreme ends of gender performance. People who pass better get more attention and appreciation than those who don’t.

A lot of the time I’m in public I end up wearing a safe, less gendered outfit, and I can’t help but relate that to the kind of clothing worn by people who are not yet out, people who are hiding their body and straying away from gender performance on either side of the spectrum. Am I hiding in these clothes? I’ve been told I should dress more femininely before, as if you’re only validated by gender performance. I’m comfortable, so who does it matter to?

Online you see a lot of trans people say something like, “I want to look like this” and the image is of some celebrity, or even an anime character or something. You know, some unattainable body. I feel really disappointed by this because it’s so clear that there’s just a complete lack of visible trans people, especially for younger and earlier-transition people to look up to.

Visibility & Me

In choosing whether or not to be open about being trans, either online or in the IRLs, there are a lot of factors that come into play. I’m quite insecure about passing, so I kind of expect that a lot of people will clock me and figure out me being trans without me needing to say anything. There’s also my public persona to deal with, that by engaging in activism or my career, that if I’m not out it’s something that could be used against me.

I’m sure a lot of other trans people have had experiences like mine, but I don’t think they get talked about enough. There’s this fear of being lumped in with this camp of trans people who don’t live up to what they ‘should’ be, and being put down for that. I’m partially open about being trans because I have a position of relative safety and privilege.

I really worry that trans people haven’t yet become visible enough to change the perception for people like me when I was young, who don’t know that trans people are real and valid and have lives and normalcy. I really want to work to have us gain that perception, because it’ll help so many people.

I hope that my visible life and my version of normalcy is of help to other people, whether it’s by changing the perception away from the dichotomy of two vastly different experiences, or by just being someone who’s had an experience that you’ve had. We’re all human beings, and we’re flawed but we’re usually good at heart, and I think we deserve to have people like ourselves around and visible in our world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s