Transgender individuals have been fighting for visibility in our cultural discourse for decades. Yet, while other issues in the LGBTQ+ community have become much more commonplace in the last ten years, transgender individuals are still excluded in our communities and in our laws. Even in the media, both pop cultural and the news, transgender people are vilified or erased.
For example, transgender individuals are still used as jokes or are portrayed predators, prostitutes, or murder victims. Rarely are transgender individuals shown as successful members of society, nor are transgender actors given many high profile opportunities. In the news transgender individuals are often misgendered or referred two by pejoratives (e.g., transgendered, transgenders). Indeed, many of the victims of anti-transgender violence in 2015 and 2016 were misgendered in initial reports made about their deaths in the media.
Don’t let these portrayals fool you. In reality, there are many transgender individuals who live high-profile and successful lives. Some prime examples are Chaz Bono (activist), Balian Buschbaum (Olympian), Aydian Dowling (Blogger and Entrepreneur), Petra de Sutter (Belgian politician), Luverne Cox (actress), and Jenna Talakova (Miss Congeniality, Miss Universe Canada competition). They have been trailblazers for our community, and they have inspired countless transgender youth in their transitions.
When transgender folk choose to be visible they accomplish two things: first, they inspire transgender individuals of all ages to live open and affirming lives. Second, they counter the horrible stereotypes and misinformation which are perpetuated about our community.
Coming out is the process of living an open and affirming life. There is not a specific process or plan for coming out. Many people start by telling close friends and family who they know will be supportive. Then, they branch out and tell other people who may or may not be supportive. Whatever your plan, be sure to have a reliable support network to help you navigate your process. For more information about coming out, click here.
Many transgender people hope to one day be “stealth,” or at minimum, “passible.” These two concepts refer to the extent to which a person “does not look transgender.” These concepts are problematic for several reasons. First, they stem from the notion, prevalent in our culture, that transgender people are not valuable, or indeed human beings, if they do not “look like the gender” with which they identify. Secondly, they play upon the fear that many transgender people feel in our culture. Fear that they will be rejected. Fear that they are not worthy. This is problematic because we should not be living a life of fear but rather a life of courage. Finally, they imply that there is something shameful about being transgender. Shame is the internal feeling of disappointment or embarrassment about oneself. There is nothing shameful or unnatural about being transgender. By not being visible, transgender individuals are excluded from our cultural discourse, and the result is high rates of violence, suicide, mental health issues, and discrimination against transgender individuals. While no one should feel pressured to come out, the best way to live a fulfilling life is to surround yourself with open and affirming people so that your personal journey is one that is open and affirming.