I was recently asked the question, “Why do you transgender and LGBT people need special days and parades to honor yourself? It all seems really self-centered.” That is indeed a great question, a question I intend to address in this post, but first–a bit of introduction.
Ten years ago, my life looked very different than it does now. I was pastoring a conservative evangelical church, happily married and the father of a beautiful child adopted from Guatemala. I knew something was different about me at a young age, but out of fear and shame, either ignored it or self-medicated the feelings. You see, I never really felt like a guy. Deep down in my soul, I wanted to look and act like the girls when I was growing up. I would often put on my mom and sister’s clothes and thought I looked pretty just like them. I had no words to even describe what I was feeling at the time and dared not share any of these feelings with anyone. Google had not been invented yet, so I couldn’t even research the feelings I was having. So I hid in secrecy, silence, and shame thinking something was terribly wrong with me.
Fast-forward several decades: I am a happily married, middle-aged man with a beautiful family living in suburbia. Yet, the years of hiding and self-medicating gender dysphoria had taken an emotional toll. Through a series of events that were the hardest and, yet, most life-affirming thing I’ve ever done, I publicly came out as transgender. I won’t go into the details in this post, but like many of us, I lost everything except my own soul. Today, I live a wonderfully messy, beautiful and–yes–sometimes painful life as my authentic self.
So back to my friend’s question: Why do you need a special day for transgender visibility? Why is that important or even necessary? There are two annual days on the calendar we have for transgender people. The first is the Transgender Day of Remembrance where we memorialize those who have fallen victim to hate and the countless who die daily through despair. The second is the Transgender Day of Visibility where we celebrate, honor, and call attention to transgender people in the public realm.
We have these special days for several reasons. First, to educate the public and to make them aware of the lives and struggles of the trans community. The fact is, many don’t know the discrimination and assaults on personhood that trans people face daily. They have no idea about job losses, housing discrimination, family rejection, and violence directed against our community. Also, many have never knowingly met a trans person. This is all a relatively new experience for us as well as cis people. People can argue and debate an abstract issue, but when they come into contact with a living and breathing human who is full of life and joy living their authentic self, that can cut through a lot of theological and social baggage. We also have these days to empower and lift the lives of trans people, many of whom face daily assaults on their very person.
So these days are much like the special liturgical days of the Christian calendar. They mark events that are so important and crucial that they need to be brought front and center on a regular basis. They call us to self-reflection, soul work, repentance, and a greater commitment to advance the beautiful cause of justice and inclusion.
So on this Day of Transgender Visibility, I am visible. I am visible not out of a sense of hubris or needing to be seen, as my friend suggested. I am visible primarily for those who can’t be visible, for those who are still closeted. Today, I am visible for the trans teenager in the rural South who lives in constant fear and hiding. Today, I am visible for the young elementary school kid who wants to play with dolls and wear their mom’s clothes, but feels intense shame and guilt. Today, I am visible for the middle-aged pastor who wrestles with his own authenticity and identity under the weight of a lifetime of religious shame. Today, I am visible for my trans brothers and sisters for whom the despair of life was so great that they just couldn’t take it anymore. Today, I am visible and unite my heart with all of humanity, and simply say we can and must do better.
Today, and every day, I am visible.