Original article from Kent Live
Transgender Day of Visibility is a moment for trans and nonbinary people to take centre stage, relaying their experiences, achievements and journey to realising their true selves.
Although statistics and figures are useful when making news, the reality is that there is no true substitute for talking to, and hearing from the real people at the heart of an issue, and all too often, the lives of LGBTQ+ people are viewed through a lens of struggle and pain – but that is never the whole story.
The recognition of Transgender Day of Visibility, started in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, is a deliberately uplifting one, as it was created in response to the fact that the only other day that specifically focused transgender identities was Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place on 20 November each year.
Prior to 2009, the only public recognition of trans lived experiences in the cultural calendar focused not on lives, but death; the observation of Transgender Day of Visibility, then, is a counter to the idea that trans lives are defined by pain or discrimination, instead choosing to celebrate the diversity and joy that the transgender community is full of.
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Each person's coming out story is different.
Ron, 27, from Canterbury, recounted his mixed experience, realising he was trans in his late teenage years, and then beginning his transition at 20.
"My mum was amazing," he reflects, "my aunt has also been amazing… though I lost pretty much all my family other than my mum, my aunt and my two brothers."
"Other than that, yeah, I lost everyone"
Coming out as transgender or nonbinary, though more accepted now than it has been in the past, can still cause alienation from loved ones and friends, and is one of the many discriminatory issues faced by trans people, young and old.
"I think one of my friends turned round and said, 'oh, it's about time,'" a smile spreading across his face as he looks back.
Jay, 21, from Sittingbourne, who realised he was not the gender he was assigned at birth when he was about seven years old, began his transition in his late teens.
"I wanted to come out in secondary school, but the people there weren't very accepting."
"Then, when I got to sixth form, I decided to come out, and everyone was great with it – my teachers were great, my parents too – the most negativity I'd get was someone on the street going 'oh are you a boy or a girl', but I'd just ignore them."
Overwhelmingly though, each interviewee lit up when they recounted moments where they had been accepted and welcomed with open arms.
Being transgender or nonbinary is often seen in terms of 'dysphoria', or how uncomfortable an individual is with the gender they were assigned at birth, but these expressions of joy show that the opposite is just as much a part of transgender people's experiences – euphoria.
Being queer in public
Matthias, 24, from Medway, had a "mostly positive" experience coming out as nonbinary, presenting in a more masculine way having been assigned female at birth.
Uncomfortable with the gender binary, as many nonbinary and genderqueer people are, Matthias has found it difficult to not be placed into one group or the other:
"I've had experiences where I've been kicked out of bathrooms in pubs and clubs – one bad one was before I'd had top surgery," they explain.
Top surgery, for those not aware, is usually a shorthand for gender affirming surgery that removes the breasts of trans and nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth, but wish to appear more masculine or androgynous.
"I took my hoodie off to accentuate my chest, and went into the women's toilet with a female friend, and was grabbed from behind by a bouncer and thrown out of the toilets."
"I wheeled on him, and was like 'what're you doing?' and he was like 'oh, OK,' after seeing my chest."
Without gender neutral or mixed facilities, nonbinary people often find themselves forced to choose between two options, neither of which quite fit them.
This awkward choice can often lead to harassment or uncomfortable questioning, due to other members of the public believing they do not belong in bathrooms, changing rooms or even just in otherwise non-gendered public spaces.
A colleague at their place of work has made a habit of intentionally referring to Matthias, who goes by they/them/theirs, as 'she' in front of customers, in spite of their polite requests to be called by the correct name and pronouns.
"With the whole 'Snowflakes' thing, people that don't get it are far more open about how they don't agree."
"You don't have to do that, you could just let them [the customers] get on with it," they note, continuing that, "it would be far less awkward for everyone involved – but they just make a point of getting it wrong."
Is Kent becoming more accepting?
Though nearly every trans or nonbinary person has some negative experiences, this is by no means the rule, and those we spoke to all noted improvements in inclusion and acceptance of queer people their local communities.
Ron moved away from Kent a few years ago with his partner, returning more recently, and was pleasantly surprised by the progress he noticed in his local community: "Even from the time when… we went back to Kent, it had changed – beforehand, we were getting negative comments on the street."
"When we came back we've had nothing but people being really supportive, not caring that we are both transgender parents."
Regulars at Canterbury Pride, Ron and his partner spoke similarly positively of Kent's pride protest culture, noting that, "It's more true to what the protests really were, we even prefer it to Brighton or London Pride."
Beginning as a protest, and spawned in large part by the Stonewall riots of 1969 that took place in New York, Pride events have morphed from true displays of rejection of discrimination, to more laid-back parades and celebrations of queer identities.
Kent has embraced pride – but there's more to do
Kent, for instance, has seen a number of Pride protests and celebrations launch in the last handful of years, something that simply didn't exist even a decade ago.
Canterbury Pride launched in 2016, as did Dover Pride in 2019, whilst Margate, Folkestone, Tunbridge Wells and other smaller protests-come-parades also take place across the county.
Jay described attending his first Pride, in one word, as, "surreal," a chuckle accompanying this fond recollection of finding his community in Kent.
"It felt weird, just being around people who were like me, with no judgement; there were obviously the protesters who were against it, but you compare that to how many people that were there, but them being there felt like nothing."
Matthias similarly said that they had noticed an increase in genderqueer people in their community being, "openly queer about their gender… I feel like it's more socially acceptable for 'guys' to wear nail polish and for 'girls to have short hair, for instance."
"It's far more socially acceptable now than when I was a kid, even a teenager."
Matthias did reflect that they felt that pride hadn't quite made it's mark in Kent yet, however, in spite of the progress they had experienced.
"Last year was supposed to be the first Medway pride, but obviously corona meant that didn't happen – I can't speak for the whole of Kent, but there's nothing pride-centric here."
Jay mentioned that though there was a huge surge in local support groups and facilities for young people, he'd experienced slightly older trans and nonbinary people struggling to find the resources they needed.
"I know of lots of people who've come out later on in life, who want support, and there's nothing for them, and they feel trapped."
Though there are still areas in which Kent can improve, it's important to reflect that the general message from those we interviewed was positive; Kent had made progress, they had received more support than they had negativity, and events like Pride and Glitterbomb in the Park, a queer-oriented festival in Maidstone, showed signs that this was set to continue.
This day, however, is about Trans people and their experiences, their visibility, their lives, and most importantly, accepting people for who they are and giving them the space and freedom to express themselves.
Hopefully Kent can continue to learn from our trans and queer population, and can expand the culture of acceptance we can see the beginnings of today.
For any readers who are trans, nonbinary or gender-questioning, Kent Pride Community is a Facebook group, run by local organisation Kent Pride that can provide a safe space online for people in Kent to discuss and seek support on trans issues.