There has been a flurry of trans visibility in the last year.
On “UnReal,” when the find a moving story about a closeted lesbian, the executive producer grumbles “Fine, but it is transgender that is trendy now!”
The problem with trans visibility in many ways is that it masks the truth about transpeople: mostly, we are invisible. And we like it that way.
My sister reports that there are a few people she takes to have a trans history working at the large department store where she is a senior manager. Does she know that they are trans? Nope. And she won’t bring the subject up, because to her, they are just good employees doing their job.
These are not the people who go to trans events in the area, standing up and being visible to support political causes. They have their lives and they just can’t see how being more visible, more labelled as trans helps them in any way. It doesn’t bring lovers or promotions or anything concrete.
Instead, being visible as trans just marks them as curiosities, as abject, as freaks, as broken. Being visible and identified as trans sets them apart lumps them in a weird group and has no real benefits.
They are able to make their way in the world in the best way that they know how, just doing the work in front of them. Sure, intimates know their story, and others may have some suspicion, but as long as it is rude to out someone, they can just stay focused on their lives and not let their history or biology get in the way.
Support groups are mostly a quagmire of people who are still wrestling with their own trans issues, places more of sickness and struggle more than healing and affirmation, so they have learned not to bother with them. When you have your own issues to deal with, becoming a target of those who are still thrashing about may be service, but at a cost and not at a real benefit.
For every transperson who has emerged and chosen to not be a transgender flag bearer, not wear that label, staying away from trans groups and public trans identification. there are many more who have trans feelings but choose to manage them in a less than public way.
They may have an intermittent transgender expression, weekends, church, conferences or whatever, balancing family, work and freedom. They may only have a virtual trans life, on the internet and in their sexual fantasies. They may eve have a denied trans life, fighting their damnedest to keep their trans nature locked away, sealed and out of sight.
This legion of those with a trans nature who choose to remain less than visible, just doing their work, not being a “professional tranny,” an activist, a standard bearer, are the real majority of transpeople in the world.
If you are gay or lesbian, you usually need to identify as such to find a partner, need to be able to have a public identity to meet potential mates. If you are trans, there is no such drive, no such component. Often your very transness gets in the way of developing relationships rather than fosters it.
Nobody is only trans in the moments they choose to be visible as trans. We are all trans through our lifetimes, no matter how much we expose that nature, how much we choose to lead and be explicit about our transness.
Ari Istar Lev talks about transgender emergence rather than transgender transition, trying to explain that while our expression may change over time, our nature doesn’t. We were trans as kids, as teens, in these clothes or that, trans until we die.
That does not mean that we want our primary identification to be as trans.
Most of us adamantly and vehemently want to be seen as full humans first, want to be marked by our passions, our precision, our love, our accomplishments, seen as complete and nuanced, not just to be surfaced as “a transgender.” We are people first, and trans is just one of the many, many things we are.
This is hard to explain to people who believe that transgender is something about what clothes you wear, what surgery you have, what you call yourself and so on. Those are ways we express ourselves, yes, but they are NOT our transgender.
Our trans is something deep inside of us, something that pulls us to what we love, even if that means crossing boundaries others see as hard and fast, transgressing convention and expectation to claim all of us.
How do we want to talk about trans? Like it is a normal part of the human experience (1997).
The language to do that doesn’t exist yet because trans is still seen as a red flag, weird, freaky thing only done by people who deserve pity. These people think it makes sense to try and cut trans down to size, putting nice boundaries on it, only having to deal with it when it is visible, when it becomes a curiosity.
Transgender is not the visible choices we make as we struggle to express our nature in a binary, heterosexist world.
No matter how we struggle to keep our trans nature visible, often even to ourselves, our transgender threads through our experience from the first moment when we are told that people with our biology and history are not allowed to make that choice our heart wants to the last day we share our shimmering story with someone who cares for us.
Pointing to a visible transperson is never pointing to transgender. That person was trans from when they knew themselves to be, and is trans when they are made invisible by age and polish.
The translucent people, the ones for whom trans isn’t everything but is for whom trans is still an important, underlying bit of their lives really reveal the scope and power of transgender in the world.
You just have to look close, with respect and openness, to see that glow.