By Atlas C. Portal
The ambivalent politics of trans visibility
The last few years have recorded an explosion in the representation of trans people in popular culture and mainstream media. But as we are now presented with a plethora of marginalized bodies and subjectivities that are more diverse and organic than ever, we can also see rising rates of violence and discrimination against them. Unfortunately then, as Gosset, Stanley, and Burton explain in their introduction to Trap Door (2017), such visibility comes at a high cost: that of growing hostility. In fact, the trans authors write that:
Visibility is a ‘trap’ that “offers—or, more accurately, it is frequently offered to us as—the primary path through which trans people might have access to livable lives. Representation is said to remedy broader acute social crises ranging from poverty to murder to police violence, particularly when representation is taken up as a ‘teaching tool’ that allows those outside our immediate social worlds and identities to glimpse some notion of shared humanity.”
Representation, a process that heightens visibility, ultimately grants little to no support and/or protection to many, if not the majority of trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people, particularly those who are marginalized several times over. Yet, those low-income, disabled, and/or non-White trans folks are the very people whose existence serves as the basis for such representation, a figuration of visibility.
Showcasing trans politicians and activists
In the tradition of the 1966 San Francisco Compton’s Cafeteria and 1969 NYC Stonewall Riot, more and more trans people actively resist marginalization and refuse to dwell on the sidelines. As such, a precarious yet growing number of openly transgender individuals have managed to take on prominent roles at the local, national, and/or international levels. And they have done so in many areas: sports, entertainment, arts and culture, including acting, music, and fashion, and so on. But while it is important to celebrate trans people for their achievements, it is also important to remain critical of the limits of representation, for some of them have chosen to close the door behind them and leave untouched the many oppressive dimensions of White-supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchal capitalism. Still, all of us benefit from trans struggles of the past and present for equal rights, legal protection, accessible and affordable resources, inclusion, decolonization, equity as well as acceptance, and respect. Because of safety concerns, I have chosen not to name the many trans activists who relentlessly work on the ground in, for, and around trans communities. But they still deserve immense recognition, celebration, and support. Instead, I offer a non-exhaustive list of some of the few openly trans individuals who have made it into the different sectors of ‘formal’ politics, and I invite you to check their enterprises, as well as the histories of how some of us have gotten to be where we have been yesterday and/or are today.
- Erika Hilton (Councilor to the Municipal Chamber of São Paulo, Brazil, 2021-present)
- Maria Clemente Garcia Moreno (Member of the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico, 2021-present)
- Emilia Schneider (Member of the Chamber of Deputies, Chile, 2022-present)
- Diane Marie Rodriguez Zambrano (Alternate member of the National Assembly, Ecuador, 2017-2021)
- Tamara Adrián (Member of the National Assembly, Venezuela, 2015-present)
- Luisa Revilla Urcia (Provincial mayor of Trujillo, Peru, 2015-2018)
- Leo Kret (City councilor, Salvador, Brazil, 2008)
- Erica Malunguinho (São Paulo State Deputy, Brazil, 2018-present)
- Michelle Suárez (Senator, Uruguay, 2014-2017)
- Alba Rueda (Undersecretary of Diversity Policies, Argentina, 2019-present)
- Kátia Tapety (City councilor, Colônia do Piauí, Brazil, 1992)
- Tessa Ganserer (MP, Germany, 2013-present)
- Nyke Slawik (MP, Germany, 2021-present)
- Vladimir Luxuria (MP, Italy, 2006-2008)
- Marie Cau (Mayor of Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes, France)
- Lina Axelsson Khilblom (Cabinet member of the Minister of Education and Research, Sweden, 2021-present)
- Antonella Lerca (Trans and Human Rights activist, Romania)
- Petra de Sutter (Deputy Prime Minister, Belgium, 2020-present)
- Lisa van Ginneken (Member of Parliament, Netherlands, 2021-present)
- Jenny Bailey (Mayor of Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2007-2008)
- Anna Grodzka (MP, Poland, 2011-2015)
- Sarah Brown (Cambridge City Councilor, United Kingdom, 2010-2014)
- Carla Antonelli (Member of the Assembly of Madrid, Spain, 2011-2021)
- Nikki Sinclaire (Member of the European Parliament, United Kingdom, 2009-2014)
Asia and Pacific Region:
- Audrey Tang (Digital Minister, Taiwan, 2016-present)
- Kim Coco Iwamoto (Lieutenant Governor of Hawai’i, USA, 2018-present)
- Nazrul Islam Ritu (Union Parishad Chairperson, Bangladesh, 2021-present)
- Tomoya Osoda (Member of Iruma City Council, Japan, 2017-2021)
- Georgina Beyer (MP, New Zealand, 1999-2007)
- Aya Kamikawa (Municipal Official of Tokyo City Council, Japan, 2003-2011)
- Shabnam Mausi (Member of the Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly, India, 1998-2003)
- Geraldine Roman (Member of the House of Representatives, Philippines, 2016-present)
- Rachel Levine (Assistant secretary for health, USA, 2021-present)
- Danica Roem (Virginia State Representative, USA, 2018-present)
- Sarah McBride (Member of the Delaware Senate, USA, 2021-present)
- Lisa Middleton (Member of the Palm Springs City Council, USA, 2017-present)
- Taylor Small (Member of the Vermont House of Representatives, USA, 2021-present)
- Amanda Simpson (Presidential appointee for the Bureau of Industry and Security , USA, 2009-2017)
- Joanne Conte (First openly transgender person elected to a city council (Arvada, Colorado) in the USA, 1991-1995)
- Micheline Montreuil (Member of Quebec’s Administrative Justice Council, Canada, 2006-2007)
- Lisa Bunker (Member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, USA, 2018-present)
- Brianna Titone (Member of the Colorado House of Representatives, USA, 2019-present)
- Stephanie Byers (Member of the Kansas House of Representatives, USA, 2021-present)
- Brianna Westbrook (Vice-chair and executive committee member of the Arizona Democratic Party, USA,
- Mauree Turner (Member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, USA, 2021-present)
Further reflection: Towards a Cisgender-Ally Day of Action?
As discussed earlier, visibility brings little when it comes to the improvement of the lives of gender and sexual minorities like transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people. What if, then, instead of celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility—where many surely stand by merely reading about trans issues and passively watching the death toll inflicted upon trans communities—we celebrated trans people and committed to doing one (at least) concrete action like actively fighting transphobia. Things one can do include:
- Reading about, and doing research on, trans issues discussed by informed voices, specifically trans advocates and other organic resources proposed by legitimate actors (like Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice (2021))
- Donating to trans-based organizations, or to a trans person in need
- Writing to law-makers and politicians to defend health, education, and overall wellbeing as well as legal/political protections for trans youth and folks in general
- Talk to our friends and family about trans identities and rights
In short, it is time we stop merely being allies and actually start doing allyship. But allyship cannot be confined to one day alone. It needs to happen all year round, otherwise, the initiative would be too simply performative, inauthentic, and (dis)interested. Not only on this day but also every day, give trans people, who for the last few years have been repeatedly scapegoated, vilified, and ostracized, some invisibility. That is, let trans people out of biased arguments and inflammatory rhetorics like reactionary debates and cis-hetero normative statements.
- Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley & Johanna Burton (2017).
- Carolina Pulice. “Latin America’s trans politicians gain ground in a dangerous region.” Reuters. March 10, 2022. Last consulted on March 30, 2022.
- Trans Politicians. them. Last consulted on March 30, 2022. https://www.them.us/tags/trans-politicians
- “Collection: Trans Community.” Rankers. https://www.ranker.com/collections/transgender-community?ref=collection_header
- Rachel Savage and Tom Haynes. “4 Openly Trans Politicians and Government Officials Making History Around the World.” Global Citizens. Originally published on Reuters. March 31, 2021. Last consulted on March 30, 2022.
- “Two transgender women win seats in German parliament.” Reporting by Riham Alkousaa. Editing by Gareth Jones. Reuters. September 28, 2021. Last consulted on March 30, 2022.
Atlas C. Portal (they/he/she) is a neuroqueer nonbinary transfemme and research and communications intern at Gender at Work.
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