Why Transgender Day of Visibility matters

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by Cal Russell-Thompson, Project Officer, FBL

Transgender Day of Visibility takes place on 31st March. It was founded in 2009 by transgender activist Rachel Crandall to celebrate transgender and nonbinary people – and mark their struggle for civil rights around the world.

What is being transgender?

Gender identity is who you are, your self-perception, and how you would describe yourself.

Most people feel comfortable with the gender assigned to them at birth based on their primary sexual characteristics (cisgender).

Some people are transgender (trans). Trans women are typically presumed to be male at birth, but actually feel feminine, and would much rather live as women. Meanwhile, trans men are typically presumed to be female at birth, but actually feel masculine, and would much rather live as men.

In addition, some people are nonbinary, meaning they don’t see themselves as strictly “male” or “female”.

Each trans and nonbinary person is unique, and the community is as diverse as any other. Being trans and nonbinary is not a “new” phenomenon; gender fluidity has a documented history spanning thousands of years, and is likely as old as human society.

What’s it like being trans in the UK?

It would be amazing for Transgender Day of Visibility to be a simple day of celebration. But while public attitudes are broadly positive, two thirds of British trans people still hide their identity, fearing that others might react negatively.

Many things motivate this fear. 25% of British trans people have experienced homelessness, while 28% have faced domestic abuse from a partner. Transphobic hate crime is also increasing, with trans people in England and Wales currently twice as likely to suffer crime. There’s also been an increase in negative coverage of trans people in British media over the last decade.

This is complicated further by legal barriers to recognition. You still can’t legally self-define your gender outside of the “male” and “female” binary; and if you’re a trans man or woman, you still can’t legally change your gender without medical permission.

Sadly, these system-wide factors have exacerbated poor mental health outcomes for many trans and nonbinary people in the UK.

What does the future look like?

There are glimmers of hope. Social attitudes are changing, and this is beginning to have an impact. A recent employment tribunal ruling extended protection against workplace discrimination to nonbinary and genderfluid people. Eventually, medical barriers to gender recognition will likely disappear altogether, as in countries like Norway, Brazil, France, India, and Ireland. And as trans and nonbinary voices become more prominent in the media, the world will start to feel like a safer place to come out.

So, there does appear to be a better future for trans and nonbinary people. But it can only be realised if progress continues to be made in how society represents, treats, and understands us.

It is for this reason that we celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility: as a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.

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