Or: Clear and Present Transgender
by Suzy Wrong
Visibility for many trans people is a conundrum. Unlike our genderqueer compatriots, we often work for ideas of gender that seem to be about, above all, conformity and normality, which in turn implies a certain ordinariness and social invisibility. In early stages of our individual transitions, we are especially obsessed with achieving a gendered regularness, turning ourselves unexceptional, which for many remains a genuine priority in daily life. For others, we evolve in a different direction. We abandon the fear of notoriety, of sticking out like a sore thumb, and embrace this unique experience and, indeed, identity of being transgender.
I am a woman who does not wish to forget that I am also transgender. I value the strangeness that has been my idiosyncratic journey and honour the parallels between my understanding of the world, and those of my trans sisters and brothers. I respect our infinite differences, but recognise the one element that keeps us connected. It is a special bond that does not surmount every conflict, but our rivalries are partnered by a deep and instinctual union, like siblings of a different nature.
Some of us choose to live unassuming lives, and shun every bit of limelight that draws attention to their trans herstories. Others want to be part of this spectacular conversation that is under way in more dazzling fashion than ever before. In recent years, developed countries have suddenly become conscious of the transness that is an intrinsic part of humanity. Predictably, we have entered this discourse from a perspective of discrimination and struggles, adopting paradigms from the feminist movement, gay rights activism and racial politics. We talk about the pain and suffering, all the challenges and injustices that we face, urging our greater communities to dismantle systems of hatred that target yet another constructed notion of difference that keeps people separate and that insists on our subjugation.
November 20 of every year marks Transgender Day of Remembrance, in which we mourn all the lives lost to transphobia around the globe. As the world changes, we come to realise that a different approach to bringing trans issues to the fore is necessary, and March 31 has become a day to celebrate those who have and are in transition. International Transgender Day of Visibility is dedicated to raising awareness, and presents an opportunity for a positive focus on trans lives, in order that we may conceive of our identities beyond familiar stories of darkness. Being visible connotes not only personal coming out processes, but is also an appeal for our presence in more public domains.
Trans personalities and characters are beginning to appear on American and European screens, with Australia slowly following suit. Admittedly, we are often portrayed as objects of oddity or of tokenism, but this is a necessary stage in the short term that will lead to better modes of inclusion and representation. Transness is by and large absent from the rest of the world’s media, except on occasions of tragedy and ridicule. Although difficulties are faced by trans people everywhere, we must not diminish the severity of discrimination in places where progress in this realm may not even be in its infancy, where murder based on gender and sexuality is routine and tolerated. Getting our faces on TV will not liberate all, but insisting that our voices no longer be ignored is the most important step in our current trajectory towards protection, acceptance and equality.
Like our lesbian and gay allies, coming out and using our voice is fundamentally political, and now inevitable. It is both a selfish and selfless act. It demands that our humanity and our rights be respected, and that all our potentials are given room to flourish. It also encourages others to live with authenticity and courage. It demonstrates that fear is the only real enemy, and it is the job of civilisations to work for its eradication. To be visible is to represent with resilience and honesty, without fear and shame, so that every shred of hate is turned into its opposite.
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Suzy Wrong is an Australian transwoman of colour. She is Sydney’s most prolific theatre reviewer, publishing independently at suzygoessee.com