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Aoife Martin: 'Trans people have existed since the first organism crawled out of the primordial soup'

On International Transgender Day of Visibility, our columnist highlights how vital that increased visibility is for trans kids.

Aoife Martin

TODAY, IN CASE you didn’t know, and, let’s be honest, you probably didn’t, is International Transgender Day of Visibility.

You might have seen it mentioned while scrolling Twitter or perusing your Facebook feed but chances are you didn’t or, if you did, it barely registered on your consciousness. Maybe it did register, albeit briefly, causing you to roll your eyes and think it’s yet another one of those made-up Internet day things that seem to happen on a regular basis.

It’s true that you won’t find a Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility card in your local Hallmark, or even one that says Thinking of You on This International Transgender Day of Visibility, not least because that’s an awful lot of words to put on the front of a card.

Awareness trumps shame

And yet, card or no card, today is an important day for the transgender community all around the world. It is a day in which we raise awareness of the discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide, as well as celebrating their contributions to society.

In my last column I wrote a little bit about some of the discrimination that transgender people face so today I’d like to put aside my naturally melancholic disposition and focus on some of the positive things about being trans and, more specifically, being visibly trans in the world today.

Like many other trans people, I have a complicated relationship with Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV). It’s easy to look at a day like today and to look around at all the events being held and all the articles being written (ahem) and think that everything is just fine for trans people when clearly it is not.

There are 364 other days in the year and it’s important to remember that the fight for trans rights and trans visibility is an ongoing struggle.

So why do I think it’s important to be visible? The answer is simple. I think representation is important. When I was growing up the vast majority of trans women I saw on television and in films were either victims or people to poke fun at. Being trans, it seemed to me, was something shameful and it was that shame that kept me in the closet for as long as it did.

Acceptance

Whether people like it or not, trans people exist in society and have done so since the first organism crawled out of the primordial soup onto land and thought, hey, this solid ground thing beneath my feet seems like a good idea. Well, maybe not as early as that, but you get my drift.

Trans people exist and, therefore, trans kids exist and it’s important that those kids see positive representation. It’s important that they know that that there are trans people are out there living their lives and contributing to society in the same way that cisgender people do.

It’s important because it tells them that they are not alone, that they are not the only ones who feel the way they do and that, someday, it will get better. But it’s also important for the rest of society to see us too. The more trans people we see around us every day the less remarkable and remarked upon, it becomes.

According to a GLAAD study, 84% of Americans (and I have no reason to believe the numbers aren’t similar in Ireland and elsewhere) don’t know someone who is transgender and so most of their impressions of trans people come from the media and from how transgender people are represented in movies and on TV. 

Being visible, however, is a double-edged sword. It opens you up to attack, not just on an individual level but on a governmental level too. In the US, the State of Arkansas just passed a bill banning lifesaving healthcare for trans kids. At least 18 other states have considered similar proposals this year alone. 

On a day like today, it’s also easy to forget that there are trans people out there who aren’t visible and that today can be a difficult day for them. Maybe they’re living in stealth, going about their day to day lives with no one around them realising that they are trans.

Or maybe they’re still in the closet, afraid to be their true selves. A recent study showed that 65% of trans people believe it is necessary to keep their identity secret from their work colleagues.

I’m lucky to work for a company that not only accepted my transition but were hugely supportive of it too. Indeed, when a colleague in one of our US offices read about my transition it gave her the courage to come out and transition too. This is just one small example of why visibility is important.  

Rereading what I have written above I see that I have indeed fallen prey to my more lugubrious tendencies. So, let me end with a list of 10 trans people who have inspired me and who I continue to learn from.

This is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many more I could have included but if you want to read about some amazing trans people and the work they have done and, in many cases, continue to do then the below is a good starting point. 

Wendy Carlos – musician and composer.

Jan Morris – historian, author and travel writer.

Laverne Cox – actress and LGBTQ+ advocate.

Lynn Conway – computer scientist, electrical engineer and transgender activist.

Roz Kaveney – writer, critic, poet.

Katelyn Burns – journalist. 

Paris Lees – journalist, presenter, transgender rights activist, author.

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Janet Mock – writer, television host, director, producer and transgender rights activist.

Freddy McConnell – journalist.

Sara R Philips – Chair of TENI, human rights activist, legend. 

Aoife Martin is a trans woman and activist. In her spare time, she likes reading, going to the cinema and practising card tricks. 

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Aoife Martin

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