Challenging Visiblity: Transgender Day of Visibility 2019

There’s been a meme going around – particularly earlier this year saying “it’s 2k19, what should we give up?” Today is Transgender day of Visibility. Resisting the dominant narratives in transgender discourse, I’ve reached the conclusion that visibility plays into the hands of cis-normative white-supremacy, and perhaps this is the year to let it go.

Visibility is the gift of whiteness, of passing, and of wealth. When those who are not white, do not pass and do not have money attempt to pay for visibility, the cost is an ever-rising death count across the USA and in the global south.  White supremacy, and it’s close relatives colonialism and the gender binary are deeply intertwined in the lived realities of gender in the United States – and any attempt to confront gender-based oppression must acknowledge the settler-colonial state in which we live, and the ways in which settler-colonialism has and continues to shape and influence the lived realities of people of color in this country.

It’s 2k19. It’s time to give up the unawareness of the ways in which racism, white supremacy, transphobia and cisnormativity are intertwined and interdependent.

Recognizing that visibility is a gift of whiteness, it is important that visibility becomes one of the gifts I am most aware of possessing, so I can interrogate how I use it and how it impacts and influences me. I recognize that often, visibility looks like people stopping me on the street or in the hallways and introduce themselves to me, expecting that I know them.

When I walk down the street I often get catcalled, not just with misogyny but with transphobia too. That is, with transmisogyny.
Visibility means I take extra care to protect my privacy online and in public – often my social media presence and my physical space presentation are offset by a few weeks or months – just to give myself a bit of time to hold off recognition made by significant changes to my appearance.

Visibility also means that when someone wants to transition or explore their gender, I’m frequently one of the stops they make along their way. When someone has questions or wants a workshop on gender, they ask me.

Visibility is a gift, because I’ve learned to make it one. When I first began exploring my gender, I did so in the quiet corners of my bedroom, hidden for away from anything that could be tied to me in public.

These are gifts, because we learn in community with the person catcalling on the street, the person who expects that I know them – the me I hide from public exposure and the social media presence I carefully curate.

Visibility as a transgender person means I am subject to public scrutiny and that means I must use my visibilty to open up spaces for those more marginalized than I am. The sex-working trans people, the trans people of color, the disabled and the incarcerated trans people.

Using gifts to transform the conversation from one about visibility to who is systematically excluded from participation in society provides a means of using visibility for positive outcomes. Inviting the systematically removed to the conversation, even if it means giving up your seat has the possibility to change the world and to leave the community transformed. That’s what I want for visibility, every day.

On Being Bisexual+

This year for Bisexual+ Visibility Week, I came out, again. I’ve become much more intentional about claiming space within the bisexual umbrella. You see, for a long time I understood bisexuality to denote attraction to cisgender and transgender binary men and women.  As I have made clear, I don’t understand myself as functioning within the binary. I have facial hair, lipstick, a large chest, body hair, dresses, and pants. I blend and break down all of the aspects of gender which function to make me easily categorical, even as I claim the label trans-femme for myself.

Thin waning and waxing moons in the bisexual pride colors.
Thin waning and waxing moons in the bisexual pride colors.

Femme is a complicated term and one that I’ll probably use a few times. It originated in women who love women spaces, for people who engaged in and celebrated sapphic love. I use it both as a person who loves women, sexually and non-sexually, and as a person whose gender expression lives firmly on the feminine of center side of things.

For so long, my queerness was tied up in my transness. In many ways, it still is. No matter who I have a relationship with, it’ll be a queer relationship. My bi+sexuality adds another layer to that; my relationships will be queer, no matter what, because I am bisexual+.

Bisexual is another complicated term, with different definitions spread every which way depending on who you ask, or the mood of the answerer. Robyn Ochs put forth a definition of bisexuality that encompasses most of what I understand bisexuality for me to mean. She says “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

My name is River. I’m a consultant and educator. A graduate student and a student of religion, especially Christianity. I am bisexual+, and transgender. I am fat. I am me.

Coming out, no matter how many times you have done it, no matter how many ways you have done it, no matter what is a terrifying experience. Often, because transgender people are desexualized, the thought of having any romantic or sexual entanglement is beyond comprehension.  The thought of being open to more than one specific kind of sexual/romantic shocks many people. 

Screaming with Jesus: Transgender Day of Remembrance 2018

Special thanks for editorial assistance to Rev. Emily E. Ewing.

The time of changing seasons often sits with me and grows me. I write anticipating the onset of Advent and the commemoration of the Reign of Christ. During these days, we commemorate transgender awareness month and transgender day of remembrance. These are my favorite days of the year – the days when we acknowledge the world as it is and anticipate the world as it could or should be. This is my favorite time of year for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the thin days of the beginning of the month have started giving way to the rich depths of early winter. The gifts of this time of shifting seasons provide an opportunity to know and name the points of tension within ourselves, and to process emotions and events which sit within us.

Image Reads: Pro Tip - Trans and nonbinary people often HAVE to share their pronouns to be identified correctly. As a cisgender person, sharing pronouns costs nothing and naturalizes this process.

About two years ago I wrote a piece, Jesus Sits with Us in Our Grief.  It was a powerful piece to write; it took much of my deep sadness and grief and transformed them into something consumable for others. It took my anger and grief and made them palatable. Today, I write with much the same purpose. I have deep sadness and grief and I need to metabolize them into something consumable for my cisgender friends and colleagues. This time though, I need you to hear and see my anger and rage. Over the time that I’ve composed this reflection, International Pronouns Day came and went, as did the news of the government’s proposed redefinition of gender, and the release of 369 of God’s beloveds who died this year because of their transgender status. International Pronouns Day Is the first ever day of its kind, celebrating the importance of pronouns in a transgender person’s transition. Pronouns are important, as they are the baseline of acknowledging the humanness of a trans person. Legal recognition of a transgender person’s gender is also important. Pronouns and legal recognition do not mitigate my anger.

Pronouns are not enough to liberate transgender people.

Legal protections are not the fullness of what we hope for in the reign of God.  

Correct names do not set us free.

They’re the first week of class; they’re the information that the professor assumes you have when you walk into class. Legal recognition is the basic level of dignity which I am entitled to because I am a human being.

Now, let me be clear – I am happy to explain the difference between gender and sexuality, the different ways in which gender and sexuality intertwine, and the ways in which we tease them apart.  and. And. And. I’m tired.  I’m tired of putting my liberation on hold because people need me to teach them transgender 101 and rudimentary respect. I’m happy to do these things, and I need my cisgender colleagues to do these things for each other; it’s exhausting to continually defend my humanity and dignity at the most basic of levels and to do so while the government continues its assault on the rights and dignity of transgender people.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, two transgender women of color have died in my city; including one just a few miles from where I live.  It is incredibly difficult to live with this reality, where I must continually defend my personhood and know there are people near me who want people who look like me dead.  

Image shows a night sky with an aqua green black light. Text reads "Transgender people deserve to live their best life." Image includes branding information for River Needham.

Dejanay Stanton deserved to live a full and fulfilling life. Instead, she was found shot in an alley a few miles from the school I attend. Similarly, Ciara  Minaj Carter Frazier deserved to live in dignity and to live even in the midst of a domestic disagreement. Even more so, the three-hundred-sixty-nine of God’s beloved’s who had their lives ended because of their transgender status between October 2017 and September of 2018. Name, Pronouns and legal protections do not bring back the unjustly killed. Names and pronouns do not remove the barriers faced in attempting to survive in a capitalistic society – nearly two-thirds of those killed this year worked in underground economies.  I see all of this and I need to scream. I need to rage. I need to see the world as it could be and soon.

Let me be clear; I fully believe that Jesus sits with me in my grief, and right now I need something different.  I need Jesus to join me in my living room, on the street, in boardrooms and circles of influence… I need Jesus to demand change in the world. I need Jesus to scream with me. I need to see Jesus raging with me.

When the memo leaked stating that the goal of the change in how the federal government defines gender was “to remove civil rights protections from those who should not have them,” my body responded viscerally. The essence of the message is that our understanding of who people are and how they interact with the world cannot progress through time. That once a society reaches an understanding it cannot change or alter that understanding – that new information cannot change the way we interact with each other.

Two years ago, another trans woman of color was killed in Chicago. Her name was Keke Collier, and she died just a few miles from my school. There was a march in downtown Chicago, as a collective community, transgender Chicagoans came out to proclaim that Black Trans Lives Matter.

The core of the conflict between these ways of looking at the world is eschatological. There is no hope for God to breakthrough into the world as it is to bring about the world as it could be without changing us in the process. God screams with us and for us, because They see the ways in which we harm our kindred and do not live into our calling as our kindred’s keeper.  They see the way in which we live into the world as it is instead of the world as it could be. God screams with us and for us, for a world as it could be.