Thursday 31 March 2016

Pride and Visibility

- (originally posted on the Stonewall UK Blog - -

Last year I wrote a quick article about Transgender Day of Visibility.  I was sat in a bar in a hotel in Chicago at the time, visiting for a few days while doing a bit of engagement work for the trans movement.  I love traveling and exploring in general, so spent a day before and after the meetings seeing a bit of the city, feeling incredibly lucky to be there at all.  Actually, I’m often amazed just where the work I do with the trans community takes me, the places I never thought I’d end up and the variety of amazing people I never expected to meet or call friends.  I was also relishing the fact of simply living in the world at all and enjoying the beautiful details around me (large and small - the sunlight reflecting from a skyscraper, or the melting snow on the shoreline of Lake Michigan) which I often missed in the darkest times of my own gender dysphoria before I finally came out.

Hooking up with trans advocates in the US and hearing first hand about the battles they have fought, the incredible steps toward success they have had and witnessing the momentum that has built up in the fight for trans visibility, inclusion and respect, echoed the successes made in the UK and other parts of Europe by so many true trailblazers in the past 10-15 years.  Both there and here, I am always impressed by the talent and passion of those I meet and even those I haven’t and the work they do.  Great articles.  Great speeches.  Leaders, teachers, vloggers, writers, media celebs, artists, soldiers, firefighters, doctors… No one, surely, can argue that these people are in any way a drain on society.  It would take a work of defiant and determined ignorance to avoid seeing such glaring and wonderful humanity.  Or to believe that they made some sort of social choice to be trans, given the all too common backstory of pain and anguish so many experienced to finally be who they’ve always known themselves to be.  After all that, you’d expect the world to say, “Bloody well done,” and have utmost respect for their integrity, honesty, resilience and commitment.

I’ve agonised for days over what to write for TDoV.  I feel there’s so much to say, but that it’s all been said, somewhere, by someone and probably far more eloquently.  There are so many incredible and diverse role models out there that I wonder what extra I could add.  The successes the trans community have had though, have come about because of the number and variety of voices being heard.  From the mutual support and allies that generates.  I keep launching into great paragraphs of explanation and nuance, but ultimately it comes down to a pretty simple concept.

Life works beautifully when people have pride being themselves.

All the additional nonsense derives from how we either enable, or block, that simple thing from happening.  It’s why events like TDoV are so wonderful, amid a storm of negativity and serious concern about the future for trans people, which varies intensely from country to country and state to state and knowing that young trans people growing up now are playing a lottery as to whether they are surrounded by loving support and empowering messages leading to a happy and full life; or a daily drip-feed of crushingly dehumanising language and alienation, leading to a life that should have been.

The choice is our’s as a society, which option we’re going to make a reality.  It is that stark.

This is where visibility is critical and the sharing of confidence and honesty inherent with that act.  It smashes taboos, it provides language and a framework to what is possible.  What I would love to see, is moving that visibility ‘beyond trans’.  Seeing that gender identity is just a facet of humanity.  If you are able to, be proud of being or knowing someone trans, talk about it, and then talk about all the other things that make you and them amazing.  We all role model for those around us, including allies, many of who we as a trans community owe an impossible amount to for the changes they’ve helped enable.  Trans visibility and trans pride not only empowers other trans people, in particular the younger generation, but the friends and colleagues around them.

I gave a talk recently to the workers of a fantastic social housing organization in Hertfordshire.  Afterwards, a burly looking tradesman came to chat with me and said the biggest hurdle for him being an ally for any diversity element, is the feeling of treading on eggshells around these topics.  While being an absolute ally at heart, he felt uncertain being so proactively.  Someone who could naturally be a great great ally, is unnecessarily restricted.

If you’ve done any reading about gender identity or listened to someone try to explain it to you, you’ll know it can quickly become a tangle of terminology and caveats.  It turns out, this is because humans are a pretty diverse bunch who won’t fit neatly into labeled boxes.  Faced with a potentially daunting array of opportunities to get it wrong, most people I meet elect to avoid the detail and move straight to the simpler humanising solution – “She’s just doing her thing and that’s right for her…” etc.  That’s great for individuals.  They, as allies may even pass that on to a close friend or colleague and remember the experience next time they meet a trans person.  But, they’ll not have the confidence to discuss it any further.  In my experience, they’ll not often have the confidence to stand and challenge conversation or banter that perpetuates harmful and alienating stereotypes.  Their heart may well be in the right place, but they’ll not know what to do about it, or even if they need to.

Our greatest collective responsibility is in the simple daily actions to normalise and de-stigmatise – to build bridges.

I’ve benefited first-hand from the effects of positive visibility and the quiet effect this has on perceptions.  Within the UK military before 1999, being trans would have been the sole reason for discharge.  After European legislation and UK military policy changed around that time, trans people found themselves able to continue serving.  The genuine trailblazers of that time (note that they are not the new-wave ‘firsts’ – self included – the media so gleefully but incorrectly refer to over a decade later) set the standard, recognised as professional and equal to their peers.  They wonderfully and without undue fuss, humanised the entire experience.  By the time I came out, it was not a scary unknown and I found genuine and consistent support from military peers young and old (and old and bold!).  Frankly, we just wanted to get on with our role and didn’t need to make a big deal of this.  Perfect!

TDoV and the continuing work throughout the trans community is making that message heard by all that still need to.  Not just heard, but believed.  The message of pride and positivity needs embedding in our culture so that it’s there and ready to be heard by anyone who needs it.  We are all, whatever your gender identity, responsible for enabling that.

Relish your innate pride and that of those around you, then share it.  It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.

1 comment:

  1. Positive message, persuasively and engagingly delivered....