Seeing trans people in our everyday lives is important, both for educating and encouraging those who don’t understand to accept that our world is beautiful and diverse, and to help provide courage to those who are scared to come out. Transgender Day of Visibility TDoV provides the perfect opportunity for us to celebrate all trans people.
“You can’t be what you can’t see” is a mantra originally coined in support of seeing more women in positions of power, however, it’s equally relevant to any minority group, and is particularly essential to the trans community.
The concept of trans visibility creates a strange conflict for many trans people; on the one hand, for those newly out, or those thinking about transitioning, it’s incredibly important to have trans icons and representation to look towards for inspiration, yet on the the flip side, the aim of many trans people is to ‘pass’ or just ‘fit in’ and to be as non-visible as possible in their everyday lives. With the current climate of trans hostility in the UK and around the globe, this approach is completely understandable.
On Trans Day of Visibility 2021 we would like to celebrate a few of the visible trans people who inspire us and act as beacons of hope to the trans community.
Trans visibility in Entertainment
Television, music or film is often one of the first points of visibility that the public – and those who are questioning their gender – have with trans people. Television in particular brings trans people directly into our homes, and has the ability to create familiarity, understanding and compassion. Apart from documentaries, soaps are often the first time trans people are seen as ‘everyday people’ and are an important step in breaking down barriers. While Coronation Street was the pioneer in 1998 with the introduction of trans character, Hayley Cropper, the role was played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, who isn’t trans – but it paved the way. Since then EastEnders cast Riley Carter Millington in the role of Kyle Slater, Hollyoaks brought us Sally St Claire, played by Annie Wallace and Emmerdale introduced Ash Palmisciano in the role of Matty Dingle. All of these roles have been played by trans actors, bringing much needed visibility of trans actors on screen.
In the US, there have been more recent breakthroughs of trans representation on the small screen with the appearance of Laverne Cox in the Netflix series ‘Orange is the new black’ and most recently the critically acclaimed HBO trans-led series ‘Pose’. It was, in fact, Laverne Cox’s visibility in the US mainstream media that led to her appearance on the cover of TIME magazine accompanied by the assertion that we had reached the “trans tipping point” – a call-to-arms to many trans people to come out of the closet and be more visible.
Film has been a harder space in which to be visible for trans people. There have been many discussions around trans actors taking trans roles, yet big-budget studios have yet to put their money behind trans people in leading roles in any significant way. That being said there are positive signs that this is set to change.
In the last few weeks Elliot Page has come out as trans, and like Laverne Cox before him, he has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. In coming out as trans, Elliot has catapulted himself into the position of being one of the most famous and visible trans people within the entertainment industry.
For Elliot to be able to come out, even he needed other trans people in film to pave the way by being visible themselves.
Actors such as Jamie Clayton, Nicole Maines, Alexis Arquette, and even UK actors like Jake Graf and Rebecca Root, have all been open and visible as trans people, helping create an environment where trans actors can be seen and be successful.
Trans musicians are often less immediately visible, as they may be part of a group, or let their music be the focal point, rather than themselves. Music can offer a wonderful space for trans people to be visible for their creative skills, rather than just for ‘being trans’. Kim Petras is one of the most high-profile trans musicians, but Teddy Geiger has been the mind behind some of pop’s biggest hits. Sometimes people might not even be aware that a particular artist is trans, knowing them only for their music. This was the case with the sad and untimely death of Sophie early in 2021, when many people announced that they hadn’t even been aware that she was trans.
For Trans Day of Visibility 2021 GenderGP is supporting the visibility of trans musician, Steph May.
From the 26th March, we are encouraging people to download her single ‘One Life’ with a target of achieving 8,000 downloads, by 31st March, so that she will secure a place in the UK charts on Trans Day of Visibility.
To join us in getting a trans musician in the UK charts on TDoV, please download Steph’s single from your favourite listening platform between 26th March – 31st March here:
Trans visibility in Sport
Trans people in sport has been turned into a contentious issue in recent times, especially the notion of trans women in sport. Unfortunately, sports are often made inaccessible to trans people due to many barriers, be it gendered changing rooms, gender segregated sporting categories, or an adherence to medication to even take part. Many young trans people give up physical activity due to such barriers, in addition to dysphoria, so miss out on the benefits of a healthy active lifestyle and social group sporting activities. In this space it has become even more important for trans people to be visible, to show the next generation of trans youth – yes you can!
The most visible trans person in sport is Chris Mosier, a trans man and US triathlete competing at Olympics level competition. Dr Veronica Ivy (formerly Rachel McKinnon) is a trans woman and cyclist, competing at national level, while also conducting research and educating on trans inclusion in sports. In the UK, racing car driver, Charlie Martin, has used her position to be a visible inspiration to trans people. Verity Smith is not only an inspirational visible trans man in rugby, but also as a representative of disabled sports; now playing wheelchair rugby after tragically suffering an injury.
Trans visibility in Journalism
Aside from the pictures we see of trans people living in the public eye, it is those who write the narratives of our lives that have the greatest impact. Journalists and writers help us shape our understanding of the world, and as such, are incredibly important as both narrators of the trans experience, as well as being visible icons that show ‘trans people can be journalists too’. One of the biggest complaints about reporting on trans stories, is that there is no representation of trans people within the newsroom, giving insight, experience and more inclusive input. When there isn’t someone in the room representing a minority, it becomes so much easier to ignore their humanity. This makes it more important than ever that trans writers are seen, heard and read.
In the UK there are no trans people working as journalists within the mainstream media, although some trans writers, on occasion, do get an article published. Four of the most visible trans writers in the journalism and literary field at the moment are; Paris Lees – Vogue columnist, Shon Faye – Guardian columnist, Juno Dawson – author, and Freddy McConnell – trans man and ex-Guardian journalist. Luckily the LGBT press offers opportunities to some trans journalists, Vic Parsons at Pink News is an exceptional non-binary journalist who also uses their first-hand knowledge to write about trans issues in the news.
This is not to say that there are not also many other trans people writing and publishing brilliant essays, commentaries and articles on paid and unpaid platforms, but unfortunately they are not currently being hired by the mainstream media platforms, and as such are struggling to be seen. The mainstream media MUST do better in hiring trans journalists, for without their visibility, and accountability, in newsrooms, the narrative is likely to continue to be hostile towards the trans community.
Trans visibility in Politics
Politicians are the ultimate decision-makers; they have the power to assign resources, and take them away, to direct legislation, and to alter the course of a country, ultimately deciding who is included, who has protection and power, and who doesn’t. In the UK we have no trans MPs. We also have no trans members of the House of Lords.
The absence of trans visibility was never more apparent in the House of Lords, than when at the end of February 2021 they debated a bill in the chamber that would cover the rights of any member of the house having a baby. The debate centered around purposefully replacing gender-neutral language with sex-specific language with the explicit intent to exclude trans men, or force them to describe themselves as ‘mothers’. Even in the wake of Freddy McConnell’s legal case for the right to be called the father of his child, the members of the House of Lords ruled against using gender-inclusive language. While the bill was specifically drafted with the sole intention of providing protection to one cis woman about to go on maternity leave, and has no direct impact on any trans person, it was notable that there was not one single trans person in the room when they discussed the bill. Had there been a visible trans member of the House of Lords in the chamber at the time – even if they didn’t speak – they may have offered an opportunity for reflection for those passing judgement. Visibility of trans people in spaces of power, not only allows trans voices and perspectives to be heard, but also forces others in those spaces to see trans people as real people, generating a level of accountability.
While there is yet to be a trans MP – even though there were a number who ran in the 2019 General Election – there are some political trans trail-blazers in the political sphere, both in the UK and abroad. While not currently in office, Nikki Sinclair was actually the first trans Parliamentarian in the UK. She was elected MEP in June 2009, as a UKIP candidate, before becoming an Independent and finally being voted out of office in 2014. More recently, Eddie Izzard, well known as a visible trans performer, is also a long-time Labour supporter and campaigner. Eddie is vying to be the first transgender MP in the UK. The US has more visible trans political office holders, the most notable being Sarah McBride who was voted in as Senator in the 2020 US elections. At her signing-in ceremony Sarah requested for two young trans people to hold the bible upon which she swore her oath. This was specifically so that trans young people could see up close that trans people can achieve – and that maybe ‘if they can see it, they can be it!’ There are a growing number of trans people getting involved in local politics and working their way up to more influential positions. Hopefully in the coming years we will witness our first ever trans MP and they will provide a much needed symbol of visibility and accountability within the British seat of power.
Trans visibility in Health
One of the most crucial areas that impact trans people is healthcare, this is why it is so important to have trans healthcare professionals involved in all areas of medical and psychological support. There is unique insight that only someone who has experienced it can appreciate, and healthcare is no different. Whether that is childbirth, cancer treatment, or even the common flu, first-hand experience provides compassion and a better quality of healthcare.
While the number of trans healthcare professionals in the NHS are growing, there is still an absence of representation at senior level. The @TransNHS campaign platform was launched specifically to address this issue under the hashtag #WhereAreTheEight; highlighting that with over 800 Executive Directors in the NHS, none of them are out as trans or non-binary, when it would be anticipated that there would be at least eight.
For a trans patient, having a visible trans doctor offers a level of reassurance that the doctor will uniquely understand certain things. For trans patients knowing that they won’t have to explain themselves, or field unwanted questions is a huge source of relief, particularly at a time when they may be unwell or at their most vulnerable.
There are a number of visible trans healthcare professionals within the UK who are leading the way in both trans healthcare, and more generally; Kamilla Kamaruddin, Kate Nambiar, and Sam Hall are three visible trans medical professionals working hard within the NHS to make it a more knowledgeable, compassionate and accepting healthcare service for trans people. While we at GenderGP have a number of trans and non binary staff members, perhaps the most ‘visible’ and well known is Marianne Oakes. As our head of therapy, and a trans woman herself, Marianne provides crucial insights and reassurance to those she supports and to the organisation as a whole.
For Trans Day of Visibility we have highlighted some of the reasons why being trans and visible is so important – especially in areas that specifically impact trans people – and have celebrated some of the trans superstars who are beacons of hope to the rest of the trans community. While we understand that not all trans people want to be visible, we hope that they embrace this opportunity to celebrate their gender-diversity.