I would like to talk about International Transgender Day of Visibility and what it has come to mean to me over the last few years. But first let's talk about its history and why we have it today. Transgender Day of Visibility is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society. It was initially founded by transgender activist Rachel Crandall back in 2009.
It came about out of frustration that the only well-known transgender-centered day was Transgender Day of Remembrance, they Day in which we mourn all the beautiful souls lost to violence the previous year for simply existing. Visibility as a transgender person is not a one-size-fits-all approach for people within the trans community. Some people may embrace visibility while others, for comfort, safety or other deeply personal reasons, may not feel comfortable being visibly trans.
I started my transition back in August of 2017 by simply seeking out help to figure out what all this internal turmoil and all these questions and feelings meant to me. To some, I immediately came out to. To others, they slowly found out. I only fully came out on social media in June of 2019. By then my inner circle already knew I was transgender, I just had yet to transition. My first Transgender Day of Visibility, I remember being asked to come out and stand with others down in Wilmington and I think I backed out or was simply unable to due to work.
Either way, I hadn't fully accepted myself yet and the thought of 'being visible' was terrifying to me. What if we were attacked or heckled? I just didn't have the courage to be visible that first time. Or even the 2nd Transgender Day of Visibility for me after coming out. I wasn't even out fulltime yet and I was still presenting as male in March of 2019 out of fear of the unknown. I was simply scared.
I mentioned that I transitioned socially in June of 2019, presenting full-time as me, as Lillie. It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. This huge weight was lifted off my shoulders as I finally shed that shell that I presented to the world for 43 years. At the same time, I was headed into the unknown. What was going to happen to me? Would I lose my family? Would I lose my kids? Would I lose my job or my friends? Hell, would I end up homeless? Would I end up the victim of a hate crime? Sexually assaulted or worse, killed? For Transgender Day of Visibility in 2020 I kind of giggled about it. I'm visible every day. I'm visibly trans, there is no mistaking me for anything other than a trans woman. Why did I need to do anything special for Transgender Day of Visibility?
Yet as I came to learn who I was and was finding out who I was as a woman and going through my own growing pains my perspective changed. As I began to experience discriminatory behavior in the form of misgendering, deadnaming (the act of using ones birth name instead of their preferred/new name) and blatant verbal attacks and threats of violence on my very own existence I began to internalize all those behaviors and comments. And I let it affect my mental health. It would fuel depression and suicidal ideations within myself. It led to a suicide attempt or 2.
We shouldn't care what others think about us and yet words can be so powerful as well. When someone gives you praise or a compliment it boosts your mental health, you feel good. And when someone talks down to you or berates you or even mocks your existence, that has a negative effect on you. This came true on the 20th of April in 2020 when my friend Emily was lost to suicide. She was disowned by her family, misgendered, deadnamed, lost her job. All because she was a transgender woman. That could very easily have been me that was lost so it really hit home to me. I think that was my turning point.
Knowing how I felt, what I went through and the challenges I faced in my own transition and losing my good friend, I didn't want others to go through that. So, I would start to advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. I would promote being kind to others. Just like at work, being in a position of leadership, we must lead by example. I try to use that in my personal life within my community as well with allies and anyone I meet in my day to day life. One thing I believe is that through education we can bring about change and acceptance. For many in my life I am the first trans person they have ever known. And knowing me as a person before and during my transition has helped to change their minds on the transgender community and to dispel their preconceived notions about us.
In 2020 there was a record number of anti LGBTQ, more specifically anti trans legislation introduced across this country. 79 bills were introduced. In 2021, it’s not even the end of March and there have been 82 anti-trans bills introduced across 30 states. The attack on this community is real and is filled with hatred and it is even disguised as religious freedom or freedom of speech. It's just legal discrimination and nothing more. People are allowed their own personal beliefs and opinions, but when you use those words to spread hate of which could potentially cause someone harm, then there is a problem.
Transgender Day of Visibility 2021 will be different for me. And I hope for those in my community. We must be visible; we must educate others. We must think of those still in the closet, scared to come out. We must be visible for them. We must be visible for those afraid to use their voices. We must be visible to normalize us. We've been around as long as there have been humans, you just didn't see us, or chose to see us. It's 2021 and it's beyond time this world moves past hate. It's time we move forward and make this world a better place for ourselves and for future generations.