On The Paradox of Trans Visibility
The curious thing about Transgender Visibility Day is that it is paradoxically at the same time, (1) an event that gives particular significance to a condition of life (transness) that is otherwise treated as insignificant, and (2) an event that generally obscures the real significance of this condition.
With (1), it is meant to bring attention to trans people, to not only celebrate our existence in the light of public awareness but to also bring a concerned focus to our plight. For too long we have been erased from the recorded history of humanity, defaced by those who seek to ridicule, denigrate and even murder us and misconstrued even by those who claim to be in support of us. Transgender Day of Visibility is a day to shine light on trans bodies, trans voices and trans minds—in short, trans excellence—for the first time on our own terms. No longer confined to the shadows of the margins, we rightfully bask in the glory of the center, even if for a moment.
With (2), by highlighting the existence of trans people as a specific mode of human existence, it obscures the fact that transness is part of our generic condition as human beings. The truth is that nobody is actually cis or trans because we are all phylogenetically (historically) and ontogenetically (individually) irreducible to the human conceptual constructs of binary sex, let alone gender, because we are all too unique to be classified in these ways even biologically¹. If transness is defined as the dissonance between one’s own felt sense of self and the one merely assigned to you by others, then arguably everyone is trans to varying degrees since no living-breathing person can ever embody a disembodied platonic idea. Cisness is an imaginary delusion that functions to exclude the universal fact of transness. Yet Trans Day of Visibility must at least grant the validity of cisness in order to constitute itself by way of oppositional contrast, and hence it is still bound to the terms drawn up by cisness in the same way that a rejection of a proposition is bound to the terms by which that proposition was expressed. So in an ironic way, Trans Day of Visibility subtly perpetuates the conditions for its own necessity, since we only need the Day because of the existence of cis people yet our Day is predicated on a maintained, albeit indirect, relationship to them.
Trans Day of Visibility is a paradoxical and contradictory event that holds space for both affirmation and negation. It holds space for the ecstatic joy in being seen, recognized and validated, and it holds space for the terrifying recognition that no matter how much visibility we get we keep dying at an increasing rate². It is simultaneously concealing while revealing, closing while disclosing, dispelling darkness while obstructing the light. Temporally it is a liminal event, marking the passage between worlds in which we have no real say: the past world where we were refused to be recognized and had no say, and the future world where would have gone beyond the need for recognition and thus no need to say.
Transness itself is just as empty, luminous and liminal as Trans Day of Visibility. It is at once a space of affirmation and negation, of rejoicing and suffering. It exists as an indeterminate liminal event marking the passage from one mode of existence to another. Individual trans people are recognized as embodying this principle, but only at the exclusion of people constituted as cis, but for justified reason: we point out the unique significance of our own condition in order to point out that something is not being included in the family of humanity. To the extent that the condition of transness is being ignored, suppressed, or violated, it is strategically convenient to temporarily obscure the universal condition of transness in order to highlight the particular problems faced by those who, for some reason or another, cannot help but exude their transness at a high degree. Eventually at some point, transness as a unique condition will lose its significance and this can only come about in one of two ways: through either enlightenment or extinction.
If we do not realize trans people as fully human, then we will have not overcome the conditions that support the suppression and erasure of trans life, which is simply life. A humanism which excludes trans people is an inverted, functionally anti-humanist humanism, one that misunderstands humanity’s place in nature or the wider cosmos and out of touch because it is out of touch with itself, leading it to cannibalize itself in the form of consuming the body and labor of parts of itself that it considers “other” than itself. This auto-cannibalism is self-destruction whose consequence is self-extinction, and transness would lose its significance only because humanity as a whole loses.
Alternatively, by realizing trans people are fully human, we would have understood our real condition: that we are empty or devoid of sex and gender and have been since the very beginning—that we already are and always have been so much more than the temporary, limited and limiting ways in which we ordinarily express ourselves through the discursive mediums of concepts, signs and symbols. We would collectively awaken to our primordially pure condition of never having ever been reducible to any one particular form of life, even if it seemed to be that way at some moment in time. At this point of awakening we may have even completely trans-cended and gone, gone, gone beyond, gone totally beyond³ the horizon of humanity, without necessarily leaving it behind. Enlightenment by means of self-realization also leads to the extinction of humanity but it is not an extinction that puts an end to life, but an extinction of a particular mode of life: a mode of life based on attachment, hatred, delusion, fear and exclusion. With the complete and utter extinction of that mode of life, we open up a great clearing, like when all the clouds disperse from the clear blue sky, allowing the sun of our real nature to radiantly shine forth like it always has, just temporarily obscured.
Transgender Day of Visibility is a day to dance, to laugh, to sing and to cry with joy; it is also a day to rage, to scream, to lament, and to weep in sorrow. It is a way of pointing to the fact that we’re going somewhere; it is also a way of pointing to the fact that we’re going nowhere. All in all, it’s a reminder that it doesn’t matter if we’re not “there yet,” since it’s just a moment-in-process that plays a role in an even greater moment-in-process. And how wonderful it is that I get to experience any of this at all, to be given the sacred opportunity to bear witness to the great unfolding of not only my own but everyone else’s self-liberation, in all of its boundless, limitless, miraculous sublimity!
² In this way the Transgender Day of Visibility ironically compliments the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
³ om gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā!