Tuesday 31 March 2015

Transgender Day of Visibility

There's a good possibility you noticed this on your Facebook or Twitter feed this week – Today is Transgender Day of Visibility.

As it's possible you might have missed it though (Did you know that the start of March saw British Pie Week?  How did I miss that?) I thought I'd help highlight the significance of this movement, naturally close to my heart, beyond this one day.

In the wake of a turbulent year where in too many parts of the world, slight and hard-won progress is so incredibly fragile that even now, any progress made could be taken away (need the loo while on holiday in Florida, Texas, Canada?). I’m proud to belong to a nation leading the way and showing just what is possible, both socially and economically, when diversity is embraced.

In particular, I've been mindful recently of a dramatic shift around the world in just the past couple of years in mutual support which TDOV highlights for me.  It leaves me immensely proud to stand next to the many trans men and women who at last have the confidence and the mutual support to be open and honest about that part of themselves.  Most importantly, I've been struck by the diverse backgrounds and talents that these people possess and how impressive they are as individuals.  They exemplify to me not just the history that’s led us to where we are now but represent a strong future.  So many of them standing as role models and excellent representations of what being trans means in the 21st century.

Almost exactly 10 years ago, following years of grueling work and lobbying by a very small but determined band of individuals, the UK put into place the Gender Recognition Act (documented in Christine Burns' books, Pressing Matters).  The foundations this groundbreaking act provided in the UK can’t be underestimated and the years of people served by it – with the world not coming to a crashing end, but instead adding true value and texture to society – stand as an example to encourage other nations in following suit.

It also made my life possible, and I am indebted for that!

Just five years ago, when I came out myself, the done thing was to hide your gender history from the world, at all costs.  This is a significant element of the Gender Recognition Act in fact – secrecy being enshrined in law.  It is innate to the process and was established for very sound reasons of avoiding often-violent discrimination.  Sadly, in many areas of the world, this is still the case, but in the UK at least there is a definite tipping point as trans people are becoming viewed for more than just their gender identity and that itself not being seen as a millstone around your neck.  They are competent, they are professionals; they love and they are loved; they don't just demand inclusion in society, they are society.  Increasingly, the idea of a need for secrecy around this only serves to highlight a type of shame, which is certainly not justified.

I spent a long time agonising over whether to hide my being trans, as the GRA and most of my trans friends effectively demanded; or to refuse to feel shame for the path I took in finally being myself with the world and being content to discuss that, if appropriate.  Clearly, I chose the latter.  Many of my close friends at the time chose option one and still do live quietly in their affirmed gender – quite rightly for them.  The constant ‘coming out’ you have to do otherwise can be draining, I admit, and the spectre of discrimination (subconscious or otherwise) always hovers.  Avoiding that entirely makes a lot of sense.

But little change takes place in the world if the driver of change is kept locked away.  I reasoned that, if I happened to be fortunate enough in my genetics (aside from that annoying Y chromosome of course) to be able to continue my life without anyone ever knowing I was trans, then good for me… but did I have more entitlement to that than someone who was overtly trans and unable or unwilling to hide such a significant element of themselves? No.

I can't say how incredible it is to see so many people now content to highlight their positivity and unashamedness at being trans.  We are possibility models for each other and the snowball effect of that is incredible.  What can be recognized now, is that being trans is not something to be overcome, it is something to be embraced and an experience in self-awareness that adds true value to the individual.  Employers take note!

A real driver I believe, for providing the environment for TDOV to thrive today, is the significant shift in the past year or two in the media on trans subjects.  Arguably, they are collectively a little like overexcited kids with a new toy at the moment; where every current headline proclaims a ‘first’ or some other earth shattering revelation.  Each time I read these headlines I think of the many true firsts who bravely paved the way years ago without due credit and made todays ‘firsts’ even possible.  Overall though, I have to forgive the media it’s historical oversight for now and acknowledge the positive influence the actual content of their messaging and the language they are beginning to use, is now willing to invoke.

While the media go about seeking excitement and beauty to choose those they publicise, many of the most powerful advocates in the world, I feel, are those going about their lives without excessive fuss and noise.  With dignity.   They perhaps don't influence popular culture directly, which is by nature transient, but they do influence colleagues, peers, employers and families.  They create allies.

Allies in turn are brilliant for a number of reasons.  If you suspect you might be an ally (it’s okay to admit so!) I hope you know just how important you are.  It’s very obvious for someone like myself to stand up and advocate for trans people.  But the relationships the person has through their lives are just as important as the individual and a critical element of what being trans actually is.  Highlighting those positive relationships, be they professional, romantic or otherwise is a powerful statement.  By doing so, even in very small and casual ways, you're giving permission to others for it to be okay too and the power of this simple act can’t be undersold.

The end result of all this is where I get immense inspiration from now, in the form of the young people I see dealing with their gender identity with increased confidence at the beginning of their lives.  Long before the responsibilities of careers or families, the people I see more often now, get to live their lives from the beginning with honesty - that is a key enabler for anyone in life.  But it is the confidence with which they often do this that shines so brightly.  They are role models for me and for a world of others born just like them.

So a heartfelt thank you to those who incited this change. Thank you to those who paved the way putting that into real effect and proving themselves.  Thank you to those now standing proudly and highlighting their achievements and thank you to a new generation, who grasp with pride the opportunity given by all that’s gone before. 


  1. Beautiful Ayla. Well said for all of us xxx

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