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The purpose of Trans Day of Visibility is to highlight how society needs to be changed

The purpose of Trans Day of Visibility is to highlight how society needs to be changed

Trans Pride 2015

It’s Trans Day of Visibility once again.

I must admit, I struggle with the concept. While it’s useful for trans people to have role models, people who have gone through their own particular struggle and come out successfully on the other side, I worry that it creates a pressure for lots of trans people to be visible.

In the current press environment, where we seem to have a piece critiquing trans identities on a weekly basis, visibility could well be feared rather than welcomed.

That ‘debate’ is persistent. There’s nothing new in these opinion pieces that hasn’t been said for at least 40 years – and found wanting.

But it’s an interesting sort of ‘debate’ where you only hear from one side. As a writer recently put it, when reporting on Dame Jenni Murray’s piece in the Sunday Times last month, you can’t find any trans people with damehoods and national radio programmes who have been given space for their opinions in Sunday national papers.

If we were allowed to move past the ‘am, am not, am, am not’ style of playground bullying that these pieces generate, it might be interesting to consider the kinds of issues that would be covered.

For example, our authorities like to strongly gender everything, from employers’ annual returns to driving licenses. Arguing that employers shouldn’t have to notify HMRC each and every year about the sex of their employees should be (and is) straightforward. Similarly for driving licenses.

Yet government repeatedly tries to defend their position, usually on the grounds of security and assisting biometric identification. However, this argument relies on treating identification as some glorified game of Guess Who? More than that, this identification would appear to be put at risk simply by an individual choosing to dress differently. I would hope our security services don’t really rely on gendered appearance as an initial filter.

The reasoning behind gender markers on driving licenses is even more incomprehensible, when you consider there has never been any legal distinction between male drivers and female ones.

What trans people often do is throw the assumptions behind our gendered society into sharp relief. Realising yourself as one, rather than the other which has always been assumed, often causes many problems with systems. NHS records get condensed and added to new records as notes. Companies demand to see, and sometimes lose, original copies of key identity documents. Officials suddenly feel empowered to ask incredibly personal questions about your medical history. All to change one letter on a computer record, which probably doesn’t even need to be there.

To my mind, that is the hidden purpose of visibility – to highlight things that need changing in our society that benefit all of us.

Helen Belcher works with Trans Media Watch to fight for better representations of transgender people on TV, radio and in the news. You can find her on Twitter.