Invisibility is a trans blessing because it hands back control
Sitting down to write this piece, I tried to think of what my favourite parts of being transgender were. I struggled. Not because I have nothing to say, but because, when I think of the last year, of my favourite moments and my proudest achievements, being trans has nothing to do with them.
Between speaking at an international conference, somehow convincing people to buy art I made and being kissed on top of a church tower, I forgot I managed to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, the last big milestone.
I remember years ago when I started this journey, I cared about these milestones so deeply. I can still tell you what the date of my first gender identity clinic appointment was because, at the time, it was so important to me. My past self would have been shocked by the indifference to which I now give this part of my life. The greatest gift that transitioning has given me is the ability to stop thinking about transition.
But this gift was fought hard for, and the hyperfocus on transition was just vigilance. The price of transitioning was public visibility, strangers in the street saw me as trans – and the price of visibility was public harassment. On one of the first nights I wore a dress in public, I was followed back to college. I had men stop their cars to shout at me in the street. It’s not surprising people early in transition have it form a big part of their identity, because we really aren’t given a choice. That identity was imposed by a society that viewed me as “other”.
Years later, the need for that vigilance has softened, and slowly but surely, being trans has become a less and less important part of my life. In all honesty, that’s been the best part of the journey. Not the initial excitement when I was prescribed hormones or when someone first referred to me as their girlfriend. Instead, it’s been the gradual shift from a place of worry and fear, to somewhere where I can move on with my life.
The greatest gift that transitioning has given me is the ability to stop thinking about transition
The reason I am concerned about anti-trans laws being passed is that many of the proposed bills seek to “out” trans people. By banning them from the bathroom or changing room, by handing out special identification, or by removing recognition of their identity in law, each of these things would require me, and thousands of others, to have to put back up those walls of vigilance and insecurity and take us back to that place of anxiety.
Some of you might find it surprising then that I am writing this. Isn’t it contradictory to opine on the benefits of invisibility, while putting my name in a byline of a “Transgender Awareness Week” article? I’ve been called brave for doing this, but I don’t agree. The important distinction between the public visibility I shun and any visibility I gain from this is in the control of the narrative.
A problem with the general trend of trans invisibility, where trans people become less and less recognised as they are further in transition, is that it pushes the narrative onto those early in transition – many of whom will be like I was. It presents one side of the equation.
When we talk publicly about our own experiences, we get to choose our own framing, and present a different side of the story than the one projected onto us. This is when awareness is valuable, when we get talked to, rather than talked about.
None of this is to hold anything against those who still do get excited about their first suit, first hormones, the first time they look in the mirror and like what they see. But to all those people, these things will someday become mundane, and I don’t think you’ll miss the time when they weren’t. And if you are struggling, please know that it will get better.
The last few years have been a media firestorm around trans rights. And it has been a lesson in the negative impact of visibility. Invisibility can be a blessing because it puts control back in your hands. It lets you decide, even if only slightly, how you are seen.
Transgender Awareness Week runs from 13-19 November
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