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Trans representation is matter of life and death

Transgender Day of Visibility, coined TDOV, is celebrated on the 31st of March each year in order to celebrate trans+ identities and raise awareness of trans-antagonistic violence and discrimination. It is a day of which few people outside of TLGBQ+ communities are aware, but to many people it can mean the world.

Growing up, I had no idea what it meant to be “transgender.” I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay until kids started to call me homophobic slurs on the playground and I asked my mom what those words meant.

A few years later when I started watching “Degrassi” and was introduced to trans teen Adam Torres during season 10, something struck a chord with my adolescent self. To even have an openly transgender character on a teen show at that time without him being the butt of a joke was, frankly, groundbreaking.

Three years after I was introduced to Adam, he was killed off in a car accident. This was my first experience with Hollywood’s infatuation with trans suffering. From “Degrassi” to “The Danish Girl” (2015), it seems filmmakers and television producers only ever care about trans representation if it means killing the character off – a decision that may increase ratings, but is often done at the expense of viewers who are transgender, non-binary (not identifying within the gender binary of “man” or “woman”) or questioning their gender identity. The fact of the matter is that hotshot filmmakers don’t care about telling the many success stories of historical trans people, such as American actress Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen was made famous for being the first documented woman to undergo gender confirmation surgery (commonly known as sex reassignment surgery). Happy stories don’t sell unless cisgender, heterosexual faces are involved. So I was forced to learn the bulk of my knowledge of gender identity and gender theory from the internet.

My high school years were spent in a Catholic school that, while relatively liberal for a Catholic institution, was not accepting of trans students. There was a trans woman I met my freshman year named Maria, who was not allowed to wear the girl’s uniform. She was allowed to wear makeup and nail polish, but it was heavily restricted, deemed “too much” by administration.

Then in 2013 came the first season of “Orange is the New Black” (OITNB). Trans actress Laverne Cox’s newfound stardom marked a huge step for the greater trans community. Since OITNB, she has used her platform to advocate for trans rights. Asia Kate Dillon joined the show in 2016, and became one of the first, if not the first, non-binary-identifying actor to be cast in a major television show. A year later they played the first non-binary character in mainstream television for their role in “Billions.”

Representation matters. It showcases the diverse spectrum of gender, uplifts trans and non-binary individuals and educates cisgender people who were never taught anything outside of the gender binary. Under a presidential administration that has barred trans people from serving in the military and prevented transgender children and teens from using the bathrooms they feel comfortable using, it is vital that trans and non-binary youth and questioning individuals be made aware that our identities are not “abnormal.” And until trans and non-binary representation becomes mainstream, many people will still feel “othered,” and be “othered” socially.

I look forward to TDOV each year; it’s a day where my social media feeds are flooded with selfies, coming out stories and other content all posted by people like me. TDOV is not only a celebration of trans and non-binary identities, it is also an act of defiance against a society that tells us that we are not normal and a danger to society. In this sociopolitical climate, visibility and representation can be a matter of life and death.


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