top of page

Empowering Transgender Voices: How to Support and Honor Trans Day of Visibility


Every year, on March 31, the world celebrates Transgender Day of Visibility.


Trans issues have been extremely visible in the USA, the UK, and many other places in recent years. Right-wing conservatives have chosen trans issues as the current “wedge” issue, working together with trans-exclusionary radical feminists (also known as TERFs, or gender-critical feminists). Those fringe feminists and their far-right allies have succeeded in making it impossible for trans minors to access medical care, or even go by their preferred names, in much of the country; threatened parents with criminal sanctions for supporting their trans children; and made it unsafe for trans adults like me to live, work, or even travel in many places. Trans-affirming works are the primary targets of book-banning attempts in schools and libraries, and we face harassment and violence at obscene rates. Here's a summary of anti-trans legislation in the USA as of February 2024. In short, policy debates about the rights, liberty, and dignity of transgender people have probably never been so visible.


But what about trans people? By comparison, we’re still mostly invisible. Public debates about trans issues often don’t include any actual trans people. J.K. Rowling published a deranged story about a cross-dressing serial killer right on the heels of her transphobic essay, but few trans authors have received anywhere near as much attention (except in the form of book bans). Pundits stoke fears of trans athletes “stealing” trophies from cis athletes, but no one interviews the countless young trans girls who just want the experience of being on a team—or their cis teammates who want them there. (Cis is short for cisgender, and means people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, i.e., the opposite of transgender.) Cis actors—usually of the wrong gender—still play trans characters on TV, while only a small handful of trans actors have made it in Hollywood.


That’s why visibility matters. Until we’re given the platform to tell our own stories, the best we can hope for is an ally’s well-intentioned attempt, which more often than not misses the mark… but usually what we’ll get is more like Rowling’s work or a Fox News fever dream. Transgender Day of Visibility is a call for us to tell our stories, but more importantly, it’s a call for you to listen.


On that note, here’s a little piece of my story.


I’m a non-binary trans woman. What does that mean? Non-binary means I don’t identify with the gender binary. Unlike many people—both cis and trans—I don’t have any innate feeling of gender, or an inner voice telling me “you are a woman” or “you are a man.” Then how can I also be a trans woman? Well, since coming out as non-binary, I’ve found presenting in feminine ways, finding community with other women, and being seen as a feminine person, all feel incomparably more natural and affirming than any of the thirty-plus years I tried to fit in as a man. The gender binary is a social construct I don’t subscribe to, but in a world that’s governed by it, I know which side I’d rather be on—even if it means signing up for the double whammy of both transphobia and misogyny, with all their social and economic costs.


I wasn’t out—to myself or others—when I entered the profession. I knew I didn’t quite jive with identifying as a man, and I might share that in a particularly intimate conversation with a trusted friend now and then, but living as one felt like the best option for a long time. I even went through a bit of a cringey “gym bro” phase, trying my best to perform a script in a language I couldn’t speak. I finally came out in 2019, spurred on by an extraordinarily affirming chosen family and social circle outside the profession. It was hard, at first: I remember days I was misgendered so pervasively that I didn’t have the energy to stay a full day at the office. I wasn’t sure if it was really worth it, but it was too late to go back.


But then the pandemic came, and its silver lining was more space and freedom to experiment with my aesthetic. I came back a very different person, on the outside and the inside. My fellow lawyers began to recognize me more easily for who I was, and it gave me the confidence to change my name, start hormones, and other big steps. I still struggle with opposing counsel misgendering me, but I now feel seen, loved, and supported by my coworkers and other allies in the profession in a way I never thought possible.


Being visibly, openly trans in a conservative field like the law—even in a liberal state like Colorado—means I’m often the first trans person a fellow lawyer has met (that they know of). That can put pressure on me to make a good impression on behalf of all trans people; something members of many minority groups can relate to. But I also love the opportunity to educate people, help build a more open and inclusive future, and learn from others in the process.


Being trans has allowed me to build close, trusting, empowering relationships with other women and non-binary people; deeper and richer relationships than I ever had when I was cosplaying as a man. It’s made me stressed out, late for meetings, or physically uncomfortable as I’ve tried to find a gender-neutral restroom, debated which gendered restroom I’m less likely to be confronted or assaulted in, or tried to avoid being seen by others. It’s helped me connect with greater empathy with colleagues and clients who are marginalized in other ways. It’s meant spending an inordinate amount of time wondering what the safest way is to dress when I travel through conservative parts of the state; something few white cis men have to think about and is real but different for cis women. It’s gotten me a seat at some tables; and it’s also meant being seen as combative, entitled, or unappreciative when I ask for bare-minimum inclusivity measures at those tables.


My own experiences are not a monolith: there are days I feel ecstatic and days I feel defeated. Nor are trans people a monolith: I speak for myself and no one else. This article can only tell you about my trans experience, not the trans experience. Take this opportunity to seek out more voices and more experiences; broaden your understanding and deepen your empathy. (With the important caveat that not every trans person has the time, energy, or inclination to share; respect our boundaries, and look for published works before asking personal questions of casual acquaintances.)


Some well-meaning allies will hear of our struggles and think “wow, being trans is hard.” It’s not. Being trans is wonderful, beautiful, and liberating. What’s hard is living in a transphobic society. Cis people are the ones with the power to decide whether it gets harder or easier. If you’ve sat on the sidelines or in the opposing camp before today, it’s never too late to start using your power for good.

 

River Sedaka (they/she) hails from Toronto, where they studied intersectional social justice movements at the University of Toronto. River attended law school at Northwestern University, where the 2014 police murder of Michael Brown opened their eyes to the racial and economic injustices at the heart of the criminal legal system. A career in public defense quickly became River’s goal, and they were proud to accept a position at the Appellate Division of the Colorado State Public Defender when they graduated from law school. River has practiced in Colorado’s appellate courts for seven years. They also volunteer their time on a variety of EDI and social justice initiatives within the Public Defender’s Office and the larger community. River is an active member of the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the newly-formed Colorado Disability Bar Association, and the Colorado LGBT Bar Association.

368 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page