I’m taking stock of what it means to be seen, and by whom I wish to be seen, and wondering what it even means to be seen, fully.
My transness is a currency I am reluctant to exchange, too often spent on my validation rather than my liberation. Too often extracted from me without the proper pin, accessed like an overworked ATM. I am continually left with little to invest, in myself.
The cost of visibility when you’re trans+ is inflated, complicated to supply when the cis demand is for both your transparency and your secrecy. To non-disclose is to deceive, but to share is to invite speculation.
I balk at the notion that a day dedicated to visibility of trans+ folk is an outlet for coming out because we are not swiftly & suddenly exiting our normative constrictions when we enter into public view, we are colliding with them. I reject the notion that bright coloured signs held on street corners and temporary social media filters will fulfill the need for trans+ folk to be centered. The objective of our existence is not to be seen, but to be secure. When the meek gestures go away we do not. But you’ll conjure us back up the next time you need to retrieve your tokens.
Visibility means conditioning onlookers to expect me to be immediately forthcoming with my transness, to untangle their gendered confusion as they take in my presentation and their mind becomes busy trying to categorize me in a way that seems more marketable because you can’t buy a product that doesn’t exist.
There is major risk in being forthcoming when we are not protected from visceral reactions rooted in universally warped understandings of the body. Panic is a pandemic trans+ folk are well-versed in but it is not our panic that is prioritized when cis people’s fragile frameworks of biology are interrupted, when their weak theories of essentialism are excavated, when their corrupt enforcement of determinism is incapacitated. Cis panic is rewarded with more options for objecting to non-normativity, trans panic is resorted to more ramifications.
Visibility means being expected to integrate into a capitalist continuum that doesn’t accommodate for your particular gradient, doesn’t value your version of productivity, and doesn’t honor your caliber of contributions. But yet, expects all of the above while simultaneously exerting every measure possible to erase you from the public sphere.
It is not possible for cis people to see me for they do not have the vernacular to understand what they have witnessed. Cis people see us performing gender, practicing preservation, and enacting safeguards. Only TGNC people can truly see me because (hopefully) they can see some semblance of themselves in me and resonate with that struggle, that journey, that perpetual grapple with justifying ourselves. This cue is not given by flags, buttons or banners, but through catching each other’s darting eyes in crowded places, jokes about just getting by, and expressive, yet silent, headshakes at cis nonsense. These cues are encrypted, impossible to hack unless you already have the code.
It is not the onus of trans+ people to deconstruct the limitations on our opportunity to be unabashedly ourselves. It is not our responsibility to pay our way into the public sphere for mass consumption using allocations of our self. It is not our job to divvy out uncompensated labour for the continued accrual of cis capital. We cannot be bought, but we demand to benefit. We must divest from cisness.
My visibility is a means of subversive communication with those who have the ability to see me. And that communication is free, because it frees me.
Roze R.B. Brooks is the director of operations of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.