Transgender Visibility Isn’t Just For a Day, It’s For a Lifetime!
Saturday 31st March saw the international celebration of Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), and Sunday 1st April 2018 was the 100th Birthday of the Royal Air Force (RAF), the world’s first independent Air Force. You may not think they are related, but of course they are. For TDOV this year, the RAF Museum at Hendon presented its first ever talk revealing transgender role models from within the RAF’s Centenary history. Transgender people, as we know the term now, served in the military long before open service became permitted, though in fear of the consequences of being ‘outed’ and dismissed from service, regardless of rank, record, or ability. I have spoken and written much about my transition in the Armed Forces in 1999, a year before the bar on gay service was also finally lifted, and the challenges I faced to prove myself on the frontline as a transgender woman, against the malicious fabrications of narrow-minded people that publicly declared me ‘unfit for service’ or ‘a danger to military operations’. Staying visible, meant I could show them how wrong they were, help others to understand, and inspire those who were to follow.
TDOV is a wonderful opportunity for people to unite under one banner and proudly ‘out’ themselves publicly, as transgender, or as supportive friends, family, or allies; to show the world that we exist in all roles within the community, that we lead successful lives given the chance, that we are people, we have hopes and ambitions, and all that we desire in life is to live our own lives, equally, freely, and without prejudice, the same as anyone.
I often hear people ask: ‘Why do you need to stand out or stand up?’ ‘Modern day society gets you’, ‘You have your equal rights now get on with life!’ And if that were all true, the world would indeed be a wonderful place in which to just do that. But it isn’t. All around the world, trans people are still persecuted, isolated, discriminated against, jailed, assaulted, and murdered, for no other reason than being themselves. Visibility allows the world to see why this is inhumanely wrong, because without seeing there can be no understanding, and without that, how can there be respect –– without respect how can there be protection, acceptance, and inclusion?
The road to positive change is rarely a safe one, and never an easy one. It relies firstly on the few who stand up to be seen, those who consciously become the focus of anger, ridicule, and hate, standing up to show the pain they face, the truth of their lives, that they aren’t a threat, the reality of what it means to be them, to rise above fear and persecution; inspiring others and giving hope, through determination, and daring. Proving that they are just people, with a difference, like all people have a difference. But being strong and standing out doesn’t work on its own. Aggressors argue ‘You’re only saying that because you are one!’ If no-one speaks out in positive support, if support is just nodding gestures and quiet admiration, then only the prejudice gets heard, and its perpetrators feed off that. Allies who challenge, add a strength that must never be taken for granted or underestimated.
In the USA, the White House continues its attack on trans personnel in its military, reaffirming its intolerance by fielding its own ‘experts’, to counter the Pentagon’s acceptance based on a more comprehensive report commissioned by the Department of Defense, and despite the UK’s nearly twenty years of positively proven operational experience with openly serving trans personnel. The latest arguments are entrenched in the bigoted rumour and fantasy of the administration’s previous attempt, clearly signposted as such and currently blocked by Federal Court Judges, standing as allies, confirming basic human rights included in America’s own constitution. Without that support, declaring transgender people a risk to your own country’s defence opens the doors of misunderstanding, and transphobia, to all, and not just in America.
In the UK too, people who have absolutely no idea what it means to be transgender still engage in similar maliciously transphobic rumour, attacking the validity of transgender people, and the actions of parents, guardians, or organisations that exist to help. Newspapers even join in the assault by misreporting facts, and sensationalising stories. Church of England guidance updates on bullying prevention for schools, became claims that ‘boys were being encouraged to wear skirts to school’! The guidance never said that, but even so, the papers still focused on what clothes children might wear to school, whilst completely ignoring the tragic reality behind the guidance: the evidence that transgender children are harming or even killing themselves, because they see or hear nothing but hate and misunderstanding, people judging them against their own self-identity. There is of course, still, the ‘I never experienced that, so you can’t be’ crowd. Strangers angrily tell people how to live their own lives, how they should feel, who they must be, who they can’t be! Parents who love and support their child, are exposed to extremes of hate, when they know more than anyone what that child is going through. As someone who was a transgender child, I can tell you it is life-threateningly distressing and depressing to be told you aren’t who you absolutely know you are. I was never ‘encouraged’ or ‘cajoled’ to identify as I did, quite the opposite in fact. I wasn’t ‘going through a phase’, it wasn’t ‘a choice’, and it never ‘goes away’. But I had to hide who I was, in fear of discovery, until I eventually gained the strength as an adult to realise that it was my life, and I had every right to be me, to stand up against this unwarranted prejudice.
This is why we still have to speak up, this is why visibility for many isn’t just for a day, but for a lifetime!
BBC Radio Lincolnshire interview recorded for RAF100 and TDOV (00’00” to 00’40” timeline): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p060h3mr#playt=00h11m20s
Daily Mirror feature on TDOV_The Changing Face of the RAF: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/im-proud-raf-won-battle-12280671
Caroline Paige. True Colours: My Life as the First Openly Transgender Officer in the British Armed Forces: https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/true-colours