The Power of Visibility

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Today, on the International Transgender Day of Visibility, I give thanks to all of my trans siblings and elders whose visibility has given me the strength, courage, and space to exist. Their acts of being have given me the audacity to believe that I too have a right to be. Plainly put, without the visibility of other trans folks, I would not be here today.

Athletics have always been an important part of my life, as has my queer gender. For over 25 years, however, I believed that my gender did not belong in sport, or anywhere for that matter. I believed this because it was preached to me, beaten and bullied into me, that athletes are not queer and that trans people are not athletes. And so, for much of my athletic life, I kept my queerness and my gender hidden and focused on the sportsing. Because the sportsing is so great.

As I got older, however, I couldn’t keep my queerness and my gender tucked away, and I began to embrace myself for who I am. But as I came to grips openly with my gender, I feared that I would never again be an athlete, because athletes are not queer and trans people are not athletes. And so I stepped away from sportsing. It was a heartbreaking but necessary decision, or so I thought.

But something magical happened as my second puberty was getting underway, when roller derby skated into my life. I was at a gathering of some queer folks when a transguy I know named T-Devil was talking about joining the new men’s derby team in town.

Wait, wait, wait. What?

Trans folks can be athletes? And what’s this “roller derby” thing?

In that one moment, my entire world changed.

Photo by Danforth Johnson.

Photo by Danforth Johnson.

I obviously went and looked up all I could on the interwebs about trans folks and roller derby, which led me to an incredibly powerful article written by Lenore Gore about trans policies and openness and the importance of visible community. Maybe I didn’t have to give up being an athlete after all?

Later that year, as I was struggling to learn how to actually roller skate, the Vagine Regime launched their Kickstarter campaign that eventually led to the documentary In The Turn. The video for their campaign featured Fifi Nomenon and spoke very candidly about the importance of acceptance and inclusion. Trans skaters were not just simply existing, but competing at a very high level, and doing so openly. I knew from the moment I saw that clip that I had finally found my sportsing home, where I could be an open and visible trans athlete.

The visibility of these amazing folks showed me a world in which I could actually exist as a trans athlete, and gave me the motivation to make that possible. To them, and to all the visible trans athletes that have helped pave the way, I say “Thank you so so much for being yourselves openly and honestly.”

In the joyous moments, when others reach out to me about my visibility, I feel like I am continuing the work that gave me life, and I hope that I can help create spaces and opportunities for others. Because at the same time we celebrate the positive momentum of trans visibility, we must also remember that so much work remains to be done.

Ms. Dr. Joseph L Simonis was recently featured on the Trans 100 list for actively working to improve the lives of trans people. Among many other things, Josie founded the Trans, Gender-Non-Conforming, and Intersex Athlete Network, which connects TGI atheltes and promotes inclusion in sports. 

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