Recently, the trans community celebrated one of our very few annual holidays, the International Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s a day to recognize and celebrate trans people and raise awareness of anti-trans discrimination. It’s important to understand, however, that visibility can be a double-edged sword for trans people.
When I came out twenty years ago, coming out publicly as trans and starting to transition was tantamount to willingly putting an end to your career or at least your current job, almost as a matter of course. Strong marriages, families, and romantic relationships ended. Responsible tenants were evicted. Good students were expelled. In many cases, the start of a new life in a new gender role meant the immediate and complete end of the old one.
Things are different now. Employers are more supportive of their trans employees, families are more likely to stay together after a family member transitions, and trans students are more likely to continue to be welcome and accepted at their schools. About half of the population of the U.S. lives in jurisdictions where trans people are protected by law against discrimination. All of this progress is a direct result of the increased visibility and acceptance of trans people in modern American culture.
At the same time, increased visibility and acceptance also makes trans people bigger and more attractive targets to those who hate us and oppose our right to be seen as equals by our fellow citizens.
Violence against trans people is on the rise, particularly against trans women of color. It seems like every red state in the country wants to deny us the use of a public bathroom, and despite his campaign promises not to, President Trump doesn’t seem to have met an Obama-era regulation or executive order protecting trans people that he doesn’t want to weaken or repeal (if he hasn’t already).
While a political solution may still be years or even decades away, there’s an effective social solution to the problems which come with being a member of the minority group that’s the current right-wing political, and all too often literal, punching bag. The problem is that not all trans people can take advantage of it.
We used to call it “woodworking” back in the day, and for those who of us can pull it off, it’s pretty easy to do. All that’s required is for a trans person who isn’t visibly trans to shut up, live their life quietly as the person they are, and not do or say anything which would identify them as trans.
I’ll admit to finding the prospect tempting. Years ago, as a newly-out trans woman, I looked pretty good and rarely got hassled. As time, age, and the inability to consistently afford Premarin caught up with me, my masculine physical traits resurfaced, and hence, I became more visible as a trans woman.
Job opportunities dried up. I became the target of jokes and casual mistreatment. I was noticed more and welcomed less in public spaces. Life became more of a struggle just in general.
After several years, I was able to get back on estrogen, this time on much more effective injectable estradiol. When I had gender confirmation surgery a couple of years ago, the hormones became even more effective.
Sometime between then and now, I noticed something interesting: I’ve become invisible as a trans woman.
It was the little things that first clued me in. I no longer experience harassment in places I once expected to. Without exception, people now refer to me as “she” and “her” without having to be prompted. Men hold doors open for me. “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Thank you, ma’am.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that I love it.
I’m also fully conscious that I’m very lucky in many respects. I’m just a hair over 5’10” – slightly tall for the average woman but not enough to raise any eyebrows. I’m overweight, which helps to soften my facial features. I’m in my mid-50’s, no longer the object of sexual interest I once was. I probably have more estrogen in my body than most natal women my age, and that helps too. I’m also white, and I know that makes a difference in how I’m perceived as well.
It would be so easy. I could do it, and yet, I know I never will. There’s still too much to fight for, too much to do.
I’ll never hide who or what I am, but at least the people I interact with in the course of my daily life treat me like a lady. In the end, that’s really all I’ve ever wanted.