Opinion Piece: Transgender Day of Visibility

Illustration by Jan Broekhuizen of Jupiter Illustraties

Authors: Savannah Fischer (She/Her), VP Fischer Solutions | Sophie Jeckmans (She/Her), Board member & Trans+@WP community lead at Workplace Pride , Manager at ING | Marjolein Verkouter (She/Her) Head of Technical Operations and R&D at Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC.

Transgender Day of Visibility, or TDoV for short, was founded in 2009. Last Sunday, March 31st, we celebrated Easter and Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV). Easter dates vary each year, while TDoV is always March 31st. In its relatively short existence, TDoV has overlapped with Easter twice: in 2013 and 2024. It will not do so again until 2086.

Why care about such accidents on the calendar? It provides an exciting example of how visibility is a double-edged sword. TDoV is a celebration of living transgender people. It’s the counterpart to Transgender Day of Remembrance, which was started in 1999 as a memorial to several black transgender women who were murdered.

Transgender visibility has gone through several phases over the last three decades. For example, in the 1990s era, the mainstream sensibility around transgender people being visible was one of disgust. See the horrible representation in films like the successful 1994 comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the mainstream conversation started to shift. LGBTIQ+ rights were beginning to improve: gay marriage is being recognised in more and more countries, and it feels like transgender people might be deserving of respect. TDoV started in 2009.

By the late 2010s, more and more 100% visible transgender people were flourishing in the public eye. By the early 2020s, the cat’s really out of the bag: more and more people feel comfortable expressing gender and identity in ever more flexible ways. The space that has opened up has let people thrive and have confidence in who they are in unprecedented ways. There has been a tremendous positive cycle of visibility, but there has also been a terrible negative cycle of visibility. We will examine both.

The Positive Cycle of Visibility -> Into the Workplace

Someone courageous comes out of the closet and starts living their truth. They advocate for themself. They flourish, and the world doesn’t seem to mind. It is a better place. 

They become role models for others. Because of them, other people come out of the closet themselves. Other people become allies because they get to know them, and now they are better friends, parents, and colleagues for transgender or gender non-conforming people they encounter down the road.

Organisations that want to foster inclusive and welcoming spaces publicly celebrate TDoV. For instance, the American National Women’s Soccer League, the NWSL, last Sunday published a post on Instagram celebrating TDoV, broadcasting to over 600 thousand followers that this professional sports league officially accepts and celebrates transgender people.

You don’t attract a lot of hate if you are successfully invisible. For this reason, the LGBTIQ+ community has a long history with the closet, and the transgender community has a long history of “stealth” as a transition goal. To be “stealth” is to transition and not be visibly transgender and not to disclose you are transgender. Generally, this is not by accident but very intentionally, specifically to protect yourself, because people would not want to be in a community with you and quite likely would actively hate you if they knew you were transgender. Of course, being able to be stealthy may be a positive goal, too, since it can be very gender-affirming. What is essential to know, though, is that for their safety, many transgender people make enormous sacrifices to better their chances of achieving stealth. For example, this could mean undergoing medical procedures they’d otherwise not want or years of vocal practice to change their speech patterns. All this is to make others treat them respectfully and find inclusion and acceptance.

As discussed previously, the last decade has seen a renaissance in transgender visibility. The increased level of general education about trans issues and the increasing acceptance transgender people feel by their communities has resulted in the priority of achieving “stealth” shrinking dramatically. Changing gender norms, and in particular, the increase in non-binary visibility has fundamentally shifted the environment for many people. We are transgender, we aren’t going anywhere, and we are visible.

The Negative Cycle of Visibility -> Into the Workplace

This brings me back to that NWSL post and Easter. Suppose you look at the comments on that Instagram post, of which thousands have been deleted via moderation. Over a thousand comments remain which mainly express shock and outrage that the NWSL would celebrate TDoV on Easter. Indeed, the comments express that the NWSL should have an Easter celebration post instead. Of course, the NWSL does have an Easter celebration post as well. A typical sort of comment on the TDoV post:

Women’s soccer: Our ratings can’t get much lower.

NWSL: hold my bud light.

For transgender people, this is the other side of the success our visibility brings to our community. Our existence and visibility have become centered in a political culture war in many countries. It’s a tragedy. It means we must have much more courage to show up and be visible and public about our identities. It means our allies take more significant risks when speaking up for us. Acknowledging transgender people, even in corporate workplaces, runs the risk of inciting extreme feelings generated from these political culture wars. In general, the last three years have seen a significant retreat in visible support from corporations for the trans+ community. They feel it’s too risky, and for some companies, it might be a risk for their business (see Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney).

Getting to the Other Side

The LGBTIQ+ community is no stranger to this dynamic. It feels a little new and raw for many in the trans+ community because the LGBTIQ+ culture wars of previous decades primarily revolved around gay men and women. But as the wider LGBTIQ+ community went through a similar process, it seems to be our turn now, magnified by social media and the anonymity of the internet.

We in the trans+ community and our allies need to stand firm. We need to keep creating more spaces where visibility is normal and doesn’t come at the cost of inclusion or community. For businesses that are value-driven and can take the risk, any official and explicit support of the trans+ community is a powerful signal to everyone that love, acceptance, and inclusion are greater than hate, coercion, and fear.

To become a part of Trans+ @ Workplace Pride, feel free to contact Sophie Jeckmans, the community lead, at [email protected]. Alternatively, you can find more details by visiting our webpage at https://workplacepride.org/transwp/.