By Naomi Cantley
Since 2009, March 31st has been Transgender Day of Visibility. Not to be confused with Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Day of Visibility is a day to empower transgender people, raise awareness and give them the recognition they deserve. Despite the fact that ‘transgender’ is a word people generally are now well acquainted with, there are still plenty of misconceptions about what transgenderism actually entails.
When one’s gender identity, i.e. the gender with which one personally identifies with, differs from their biological sex, one may choose to describe oneself as transgender. Transgender is an umbrella term, encompassing many different terms people may ascribe to themselves. Transsexual, genderqueer or
non-binary, bigender and agender are all common descriptors used by the transgender community, all of which mean slightly different things. Transsexual often carries connotations of hormonal or surgical transition from male to female, or vice versa. Genderqueer and non-binary refer to individuals who don’t identify with either binary gender (male or female), while bigender people identify with both binary genders and agender people with neither.
Given the list of terminology, which is far more expansive than the few terms listed above, it’s easy to see how you could get a little confused. Often people worry about causing offence by using the wrong terms or pronouns when they meet person who isn’t cisgender, but these worries are often based on the idea that you can tell if someone is transgender just by looking at them. If you want to be supportive the worst mistake you can make is to make assumptions. Instead, listen to the terms people use to describe themselves and respect their choice of descriptor. If you’re not sure of what pronoun to use to refer to someone listen to what other people call them, or, if you’re still unsure, ask respectfully – don’t perpetuate the taboo by avoiding a necessary issue entirely!Speaking of assumptions, don’t make assumptions about a transgender person’s sexual orientation. After all, sexual orientation is about attraction, which is not something that is tied to gender.
Despite the growing acceptance of transgender people there, still remains a very long way to go. Legal gender recognition and increasing numbers of gender neutral bathrooms may be steps forward that have been made, but the very limited access of NHS services and the lack of recognition of non-binary people are among the many issues left to tackle. These concrete problems, although they cause many difficulties in the lives of transgender people, are not the biggest. Negative attitudes are the cause of problems from petty teasing to full blown attacks. Transgender Day of Visibility is not to be recognised by transgender people alone. To make the world a fairer, safer place, everyone needs to play a part. Being sensitive, open-minded and non-judgemental are great ways to start, but if you want to do more, get yourself down to the Belfast Trans Resource Centre’s open day to see what they do and show your support!