Each year, we mark Transgender Day of Visibility with a reflection that captures the nuance of what it means to be trans in the US today. Yes, we want visibility for our trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive siblings, but visibility can be double-edged demand.
Right now, the attacks on transgender youth are nearing a fever pitch, as violence against trans and queer bodies at the hands of our family, friends, and legislators alike means that there are regularly stories of harm and loss. Sometimes these stories are covered in the news, and often they are not. In this context, and in several states around the country, visibility is dangerous. It can result in family separation and criminalization of the parents, caregivers, and health care providers who support trans kids in their lives.
Visibility lives on the double edge.
For Black trans women and femmes, visibility can make us vulnerable to transmisogynoir (the combination of transmisogyny and misogynoir).
Rachel Crandall-Crocker, the creator of International Transgender Day of Visibility, wanted trans people to have the chance to revel in their beauty, power, and joy. One day, exhausted from organizing and attending funerals of the trans people in her community, she made a Facebook post encouraging people to organize festivities in their hometowns to celebrate trans people.
So, an important part of the vision behind Trans Day of Visibility is for trans people to have the chance to revel in their beauty, power, and joy. This is also Black Feminisms Month, which is M4BL’s take on Women’s History Month.
Given that we are celebrating visibility at a time when visibility for Black trans women and femmes can be profoundly dangerous, how can we celebrate both TDOV and Black Feminisms Month in a way that both celebrates and honors the Black trans women who are at the frontlines of our movements?
Kiara Spencer — Healer, Artist, Performance Ritualist, and Witch — wants us to dwell in these complicated intersections and imagine a new way forward:
“What about a trans day of safety? Or a trans day of security? Or a trans day of protection? Or a trans day of unity?,” she asks, seeking a way to celebrate without erasing the depth of harm that Black trans women and femmes face everyday from people, as well as from their government. She notes that “visibility often has to do with the public eye. And we know that the public eye is not always so gracious.”
She takes safety as an example, that could help us reframe the day, to move from visibility to action, to collective care. “Safety might be access to trans health care, safety might be access to housing stability, safety might be about food security. Safety might be about having access to surgeries you need. There are so many things that we need to feel safe.”
The safety to feel that visibility would not bring danger.
The safety to express a range of trans identity. Black trans femmes are not a monolith of course, and on this year’s trans day of visibility. We assert together that we want safety with our visibility.
We want to be seen and to be safe.
We want to have our basic human needs respected, and honored.
We want to be safe in our homes, in our schools, in our workplaces, walking down the street and anywhere else we exist.
We want access to equitable, affirming, accessible and high quality housing, employment, healthcare, social services and education for all trans, non-binary, and gender expansive people.
To live with dignity and self determination, we must protect each other. We must know each other, Kiara Spencer says, “in order to care for someone, you have to know them. In order to care for someone you have to really understand them. Because if you don’t understand them, how can you really provide care for them or adequately meet their needs?”
This knowing means that we value the full range of trans identity, not merely those that affirm a limited concept of the gender binary. To know Black trans women and femmes is to understand the social and structural effects of misogynoir, and to undermine it at every chance we get.
To center Black trans women and femmes means to call for the end of profiling and criminalization, police and prison violence that they face — to defund and dismantle these harmful systems and to build up systems of safety and protection in their place.
This includes tackling the issues of workplace discrimination, providing real, meaningful, and equitable health care. It means ensuring that Black trans women and femmes have access to social services, counseling, community centers, and shelters that affirm them every step of the way.
To ensure that we never separate visibility from safety, we must affirm gender self-determination in all aspects of life from birth.
So here’s to Trans Day of Visibility, Safety, Protection, Love and Unity.
Ryann is the author. bio: Ryann Holmes (they/them) is the TGNCI narrative power builder for M4BL, co-founder of bklyn boihood, a queer and trans community collective based in Brooklyn; and Lucid Haus, an artist run independent record label.