What does 'Trans Visibility' mean and why is it so important?
We caught up with Oli Fitzsimmons, JMSU Trans and Non-Binary Part- Time Officer, to hear from him what an inclusive LJMU community looks like
International Transgender Day of Visibility is recognised every March and is dedicated to celebrating transgender individuals and their contributions to society, here in the UK and worldwide. However in order to create safer and more inclusive spaces, it’s important we recognise trans issues all year round and understand there is still a long way to go, and that we all have a role to play...
Why is visibility so important?
Visibility is so important. Whether through people living authentically, education or media representation amongst other forms, visibility is a reminder to people of our existence. Visibility is incredibly important for trans people, for many reasons. It allows people to feel less alienated from the media they consume as their stories are represented in it instead. It's a reminder to our community that we have come a long way and a lot of progress has been made, but there is so much more progress that needs to be made and remaining visible means that our existence can't be forgotten. It's an act of protest and holds a lot of power. We live in a world that overwhelmingly tries to erase trans people. Governments are going back on progress that has been made and instead, devising new ways to retract the rights of trans people. There are so many attacks on trans people across the world, both institutionally and physically, it's hard to keep up. Existing as a trans youth is hard enough as they deal with discrimination from peers, adults and the government, constantly being told they aren't old enough to understand their identity. Visibility is important because, trans youth deserve to spend their childhood doing typical things children do, not fighting transphobic governments for their right to healthcare and fighting off transphobes. As little as 10 years ago there was little to no trans representation in the media, many trans people grew up unsure of their identity because it took them years to learn about it properly or because they didn't see other people similar to themselves and were made to believe they were alone for feeling how they did. Now more than ever we need visibility to remind trans youth that they are valid for feeling how they do about their gender identity. Most importantly, in recent years, we need visibility, so that not all trans related media is biased attacks on trans people but true representation of the individuality of transness and our collective experiences too.
How do you celebrate Trans Visibility on and following Trans Day of Visibility?
I celebrate trans visibility every day. I celebrate my trans body because even though it feels foreign to me, pre medically transitioning, its uniqueness forces me to learn how to love and embrace my differences. I celebrate my power and the power of my trans siblings for existing and striving through adversity, the challenges of institutional transphobia and a slowly increasing change in gender-based societal norms and expectations. I celebrate all the things being trans has taught me and how I can use that to educate cis people (a person whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same). Being trans has taught me so much, the freedom of not being confined by binaries and the peace it brings when you stop trying to fit into boxes and just exist. How to look at a person's appearance as an expression of themselves, not to take it at face value, as way to assume facts you do not know about them. I've learnt even more acceptance of diversity and how to evolve my thinking, to not assume things about people, even if they are a complete stranger.
Try making a conscious effort in your thoughts as you people watch or walk-through town. For example, don’t assume someone's gender and use gender neutral pronouns until you know, then you’ll begin to do it subconsciously in everyday conversation.
How can cisgender people better educate themselves and advocate for the trans, non-binary and gender-diverse community?
It's not hard to support trans people. We’re not asking everyone to fight our battles for us, we're asking for you to fight with us, to care enough about us that you take some of the load that falls on us every day, so we can share the weight instead. In its simplest form, allyship can be mistake for basic human decency, something so easy it makes transphobia appear like the more taxing approach. It can be displayed in the simplest of forms, 3 words "My pronouns are..." followed by another 3 words "What are yours?", so simple but it creates a space for trans people to share theirs. But why can't trans people just say their pronouns, you may ask? Well, we can and we often do to avoid being miss-gendered but sometimes we can't tell whether we're in an accepting place or whether sharing our pronouns will make a situation very uncomfortable or dangerous for us, so sharing your pronouns helps us to know we can share ours too; plus, it normalises the action of asking one's pronouns and not assuming them based on appearance. If you get someone's pronouns wrong, briefly, and quickly apologise and move on, don't make a huge deal out of it, because that ends up making us feel uncomfortable or like we need to apologise for your mistake. Allyship can be simple, small everyday actions that take pressure off trans people. Not long after I came out, one of my friend's showed me his allyship when, drunkenly, in our local corner shop in the middle of a flat party, he corrected a girl who misgendered me, so quickly in fact that I didn't have a chance for my usual internal debate about whether I have the confidence to do so myself. Allyship is about making space for trans people, giving us freedom to exist in ways that may be different to you, creating spaces that don't make us feel like our differences are a burden to you.
Allyship isn't hard. Yes, sometimes we may ask for you to do 'a lot', to question our government, fight for our rights, our healthcare, to stand up to transphobes, to educate others when they make mistakes, are being transphobic or spreading miss-information. BUT, we fight these battles every day, whether individually or collectively, personally or as a community, so why can't others help us carry the weight sometimes? Help lighten our load a little by educating yourselves and others, some simple ways to be an ally are:
- Learn about our stories, true, raw explanations of transness and what we go through everyday, what our journeys look like and how each trans journey is different, but we all share some similar experiences.
- Follow trans people on social media, listen to trans and queer related podcasts, watch films or TV shows that accurately represent trans experiences, read books by trans people, donate to trans charities or trans people's fundraisers, show support and learn in any way you can.
- Learn what you shouldn't ask trans people and what's okay to ask but remember that Google is free and we aren't here purely to educate cis people.
- Learn how our differences impact our lives and learn our language, the meanings of the words we use like 'deadname' and 'gender dysphoria'.
- Sign petitions, challenge figures like school bodies, hospitals, and governments, ask the gritty questions that they're afraid to answer and challenge why their support and acceptance of trans people and our rights may be lacking, why our happiness and existence is less important than cisgender people's feelings.
I love being trans, but it can be so tiring living in a world that doesn't think I belong. Constantly seeing news articles and posts across social media about people and governments that don't think people like me deserve the same basic rights as others, seeing members of my community across the world being beaten and killed for being themselves and the thought in the back of my mind that, one day, that could be me, I could be another name added to the growing list of transphobic attacks and trans killings each year. Show active allyship by intervening when someone is being transphobic because transphobes unfortunately are most likely to listen to a cis-het person over a trans person. I'm not saying take a literal bullet for us but a metaphorical one.
Following on from Trans Visibility Day, it is about the celebration of trans people, our individuality, our expression of our identities, our unity, resilience, and power. We must, however, remember that trans visibility doesn't equal trans liberation and we still have a long way to go for trans rights and acceptance.
We are human, we just want to live in a world that sees us as ourselves.
We have always existed and we will continue to exist.
We are visible.
If you have any questions please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier this year, we produced a video with LJMU staff titled “Understanding pronouns”, watch below.
JMSU LGBTQA+ Resources can be found here.
Respect Always! Above all else, we want everyone who studies here, works here and works with us, to feel respected, and to respect others at LJMU.