Trans Visibility Day is for the invisible, too

As they release their debut album, Body Building, writer and performance artist Tom Rasmussen reflects on what trans visibility means to them, after years of being torn between asserting their identity and self-preservation.

About seven years ago, I started dressing like a man.

For 25 years I dressed like a girl, or as much of a girl as I could dress. And I was punished for it, honestly, every single day. It might have been my mother telling me I couldn’t wear sparkly skinny jeans. My schoolmates hocking up phlegmy logies and landing them perfectly on my back. My boss at my first hospitality job refusing to ban someone who called me a tranny in front of everyone on the shop floor.

I learned that, in order to exist in the world as I wished, I would be punished.

I’m not here, on Trans Day of Visibility, to write a sad story about all the times it was hard to be trans in public. I no longer, these days, believe that using my trauma for an op-ed in a culture magazine is useful to any leftwing movement, nor to myself as an individual. Humanisation begins with the good feelings, not with the pain. Hyper-visibility, baring all, hasn’t been the most effective way to process what it means to be trans and visible, or trans and invisible.

Being trans is the best thing in my life. It has shaped my adult psyche to the point where I ask a question of everything – even to the point where a question is also asked of how we ask questions. It asks how we are living, why we are living as we are, how we want to live. It is the greatest source of hope, of excitement, of proper real life. It has taught me solidarity, empathy, power. And it has taught me to love.

But being visibly trans was too hard for me. I have a lot to say and, when I dressed as a girl, a friend pulled me aside and told me that, if I kept saying it in the way I was saying it, I could end up battered, dead. Another friend told me they felt sorry for me in the way I presented now, after I indeed ended up battered and started dressing like a man.

Trans people see each other. Trans people know the insides of transness”

To the outside eye, my transness is invisible. I couldn’t take it anymore, so now I wear vests and boots and have a big beard. And instead I write about it, talk about it, make music about it, nurture my trans family, ask questions about cisness.

I know that I am lucky that I have a choice, that I am lucky in my ability to disappear, to diminish the effect being trans has on my outsides. On many days I feel like a cheat or a phoney, like the trans police are going to come along and revoke my trans card because I don’t look how I used to look.

But then I remember that trans people aren’t cops. Only cops are cops. Trans people see each other. Trans people know the insides of transness.

Today is Tans Day of Visibility. It’s a complicated day because visibility is so important, and yet visibility has attracted so much panic and vitriol against the trans community over the last 10 years. None of that is our fault. And so these celebratory days – which can often feel hollow or trite if you are a member of the community apparently being given your day to be seen – remain important.

But it’s also important as a trans person to express that, for many of us, visibility isn’t the end. Invisibility is okay. Self-protection is necessary. Rights, licences and liberation are what’s important. Autonomy over our bodies and our presentation is a must. So if your transness exists only behind closed doors, or only in your head and your heart, then today is for you, too.

I spend so much time punishing myself for not looking the way I used to look when I dressed like I felt inside, but when I did I was punished for that, too. All I’ve known is punishment. I ask myself today if I have grown accustomed to punishing myself for any way I might look because that’s how I learned it all back then.

I’m sick of that punishment. So I’ll stop letting the attempt at perfection ruin the presence of so much good. Happy Trans Day of Visibility – to the visible, the invisible and everyone in between.

Listen to Tom Rasmussen’s debut album,
Body Building, here.

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