In order to illustrate transgender invisibility and the pain that can accompany coming out, I told the following story to participants in a meeting of an international advocacy group for LGBTQIA people.
My wife and I were visiting with a cisgender heterosexual couple, and our conversation began to focus on personal relationships. Because we wanted to be authentic about our life experiences, we came out to them as a couple, and I came out as a trans* woman. Almost immediately, both of them said, “That doesn’t matter to us.” The intent of their statement was to be affirming, but the statement’s impact on me was profoundly different. Though it’s important to know that people respect and accept you, it’s also important that they honor the lifelong struggle that you have faced as a trans* person.
When my story ended, some of the participants at our meeting found it difficult to understand why my immediate reaction to the statement was negative. After all, aren’t trans* people looking for acceptance? Aren’t we longing for welcome and inclusion? It was at this point that one of the participants, an African-American woman, spoke out. She exclaimed that when people say, “I don’t see color,” they are deluding themselves. Furthermore, they erase a history of oppression, slavery and Jim Crow laws and ignore the burgeoning gap in wealth and the huge disparity in incarceration rates between black and white people. They erase the work of Dr. King and all the struggles for civil rights in our country. They ignore the presence of systemic oppression that affects everyone in society, because we are all part of those systems, oppressed and oppressors alike.
Of course, the couple who said that the fact that I’m trans* doesn’t matter to them probably intended to be accepting, or they may not have wanted to talk about it, get into a disagreement, sound uninformed or say something wrong. I tell this story because the impact of the statement on me was to make my trans* identity invisible. It’s important that people recognize the lifelong struggle that you have faced as a person whose birth-assigned sex and gender identity are not the same.