trans days

so today is the (International) Trans Day of Visibility (iTDoV). its timing follows the day after the 2nd edition of the U.S. Trans 100 ceremony (which played out last night in Chicago). iTDoV got its start sometime in 2009, while the Trans 100 first appeared in 2013. 

to be honest, i’m not entirely sure why the coincidence of the two, especially as there’s nothing very harmonized about their ends or means. at present, these events look past one another: one lacks focus; the other has focus, but it’s fraught with a geographic myopia which will require correction if it hopes to survive with substantive relevancy.

for either to have a substantive impact, to have something beyond symbolism, both would need to be global in scope and find ways to work themselves together with a sense of substantive, everyday purpose — an ability to answer boldly (and with a consensus of) why either is relevant to trans people (and di-gender-non-conforming people), writ large, no matter who one is or where one lives.

i understand that Rachel Crandall desired to come up with an iTDoV as a way to counterbalance what she calls the “negativity” of Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) every November. the TDoR is itself a day started by Gwendolyn Smith — also a white, middle-class American trans woman like Crandall. this is a paradox, given how most trans people named on each TDoR are disproportionately trans women of colour (twoc), disproportionately poor, disproportionately making a living via informal economies, and disproportionately not North American. in short, the roots of both TDoR and iTDoV were born from an intersectional blindness by people least aware of how intersectionality plays into this bigger picture of highlighting calendar hallmarks.

for iTDoV, this raises a question: who is celebrated as a visible trans person, and who is admonished implicitly (or coercively) for not being visible? and what does not being visible impute for such a day? shame? invisibility? a tacit nod to violence against trans people accused of “deceiving” cis people? and for whom are trans people meant to be visible: for each other, or for the convenience of cis people?

the iTDoV resolves none of these questions.

the TDoR, meanwhile, has emerged as problematic because it has imputed a greater symbolic value on dead twoc over the lives, works, and milestones of so many living twoc. several women — Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Monika MHz among them — have challenged this really screwed up perception of how twoc are worthy of representation in a very prescriptive way. the last two years alone have openly challenged this reductive commemoration — one suggestive of a war (i.e., “Remembrance Day”), not of an ad hoc resistance or desire to live.

what i do not understand is why these days — iTDoV and TDoR — are being reified less by consensus and more by a sense of imperative (and imperial) commemoration — a kind of mission without a purpose. (i mean, have you been to a TDoR ceremony which wasn’t mostly white trans guys doing nearly all the talking or an uninspired roll call of names without any fury and resoluteness behind why their names have to be spoken at all? if so, you’ve seen an exception, not the general rule.)

that is to say — neither was evolved by some organic consensus of community, out of an urgency of need beyond symbolism. neither speaks beyond a certain distinction which earns its place from repetition and rote ritual in the voices of trans people who, relatively speaking, have the very least to lose.

contrast these, meanwhile, to the Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice — a participatory event of visibility and resistance started in New York City by the Audre Lorde Project. the TDoA has brought agency, resistance, empowerment, and dimension to the living experiences of trans people, many of whom speak to a narrative as a trans person of colour.

what distinguishes the TDoA from days like the iTDoV and the TDoR is that principally it was started in 2004 by trans people of colour. the TDoA, most visible as a march in NYC’s streets, typically in June, preceded the founding of nearly every trans march which has since been born to rise. the TDoA echoes the black social justice actions of civil rights marches, perennial celebrations of Juneteenth, spacing sit-ins, and other acts of resistance which, despite shared American origins, have the power to reverberate well beyond the U.S. the TDoA ushers forward this participatory urgency for trans people — a defiance, a will to dare living, and an audacity to thrive collectively (and visibly) as trans people. there are no standouts in a marching crowd of action: the crowd is the standout action.

it heartens me that the Trans 100 (despite being confined to U.S. citizens who currently live in the U.S.) is organized and produced principally by trans people of colour — among whom, Toni D’Orsay, Angelica Ross, and Kortney Ziegler (jointly so with his community development project, Trans* H4CK). that said, the Trans 100 must move past the reductive bounds of stars and stripes, since this trans social justice phenomenon is happening not on account of the U.S., but on account of social media within the non-proprietary geography of the internet — most of it outside of the U.S.

i see a future in the TDoA as a deliberate way to resist, commingle, celebrate, and find one another as as trans people. i see TDoA as a way for us, the living, to claim and lift each other, whilst carrying the spirited memories of those we’ve lost to a cisnormative violence which wants us dead, neutralized, or controlled. a day of action can celebrate the lives of who is here today and who was with us yesterday and taken from us since.

in our defiance, our vivacity.

i also see a hopeful future in something like the Trans 100, but it must go so much further than just apple pie, and it must escape the tempting confines of mimicking an American-style awards show (in the footsteps of the Academy Awards or swanky galas put on by the Human Rights Campaign). otherwise, the Trans 100 will quickly lampoon into irrelevance and undermine its charter mandate. maybe it could be worthwhile to co-ordinate the Trans 100 with the Trans Day of Action — to celebrate our defiance to live, to thrive, and to celebrate each other’s hopes and successes. i don’t know. 

i do not, however, see a shiny future for the iTDoV — especially as its notion of visibility, and its grasp on what “visible” is intended to mean, are both vague. imperative calls for a visibility have in my own travels come disproportionately from people for whom the act of being visible as trans or living visibly as trans comes with relatively few surprises.

the act of visibility is itself a privilege: in the wrong hands, the charge of visibility can become dangerously self-righteous and an act of enforcement — sometimes endangering vulnerable trans people by forcibly disclosing them without their consent.

this is what happened to me in 2013 in my home town: the person wilfully doing my forcible disclosure — the person who felt in their world view that i had to be “out” in order to exist in theirs or to be heeded — wasn’t cis. she was trans — a white, middle-class trans woman who probably took agency over her life well into the last cisnormative corridor. she didn’t pause to consider my own intersectional experiences which have made living visibly much more complicated and fraught with material perils than her own. unfortunately, her intersectionally blind behaviour is not all that uncommon in our community.

what i will never understand is why she felt she could decide on the terms of my visibility for me. it goes back to that question of imperialism i raised earlier — in this case, an imperialism over the lives of peers in our community. i thought that kind of shit began to rot away when we began admonishing Dan Savage for his cultivation of white cis gay outings. i was wrong.

in short: forcible disclosure is a wilful act of harm, no matter its intent. trans people have even taken their own lives after a non-consensual forcible disclosure.

if you’re thinking about forcing someone out, don’t do it.

no one has any right to enforce a belief that all trans people must live visibly or that living visibly is any more proper or right than one who asserts their own discretion on a matter of autonomy, agency, and survival. the act of our own civility as trans people begins and ends with our ability to respect and yield to each other’s own personal life decisions (no matter what those decisions are and even if we would never make those personal decisions for ourselves).

any legitimacy of pressing ahead with a iTDoV walks the thinnest of ice right now. a much better, consensus-oriented case for its relevancy either has to happen organically or it has to be retired posthaste, lest it evolve as a method to intimidate trans people who cannot afford the placement of being outed forcibly.

while the iTDoV isn’t pushing forward with an objective of forcible disclosure, it’s nevertheless facilitating and enabling a culture of imperialism which is antithetical to our social justice as trans people. that is why as trans days go, “visibility” seems the least instructive of the lot.


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