Visibility has been a powerful force in many critical movements throughout history— a force familiar to those in the LGBTQ+ community, as many have stared oppression in the face and embodied their authentic self in empowering and brave acts of resistance, simply by existing out in the open.
Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31, 2021) is a beautiful example of this resistance. It celebrates transgender and gender-expansive people while also calling attention to the discrimination and violence that many still face. As we recognize the transgender community, it is essential to understand that recognition only goes so far; we need to engage in education and advocacy and be sensitive to experiences outside our own.
In keeping with the spirit of respecting and celebrating transgender and gender expansive folks, it is important to use inclusive and respectful terminology and language regarding gender. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes gender identity as a person's internal sense of their gender and their gender expression as how a person communicates their gender identity.
Someone whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth is considered transgender (APA). Further, someone who is gender-expansive has a wider, more flexible range of gender identity or expression than the binary gender system according to the HRC (HRC). Learning and using inclusive rhetoric can help change how we, as a society, conceptualize gender while humanizing and honoring our transgender and gender-expansive fellows.
Societal norms and the tight grip of gender roles have persistently and relentlessly attempted to silence transgender and gender-expansive people's voices, often resulting in murder, violence, rejection, harassment, and inequitable treatment. Experiencing discrimination and rejection can have detrimental impacts on mental health, leading to a variety of psychological symptoms, substance abuse, homelessness, incarceration, or suicide.
A therapist who is an ally or who identifies as transgender or gender-expansive themselves can be a wonderful resource for these folks who are impacted by this form of societal oppression or discrimination. An informed, empathetic, and understanding therapist can join with clients to process the impacts of discrimination while also empowering their identities.
Therapy certainly is not contained to the office when working with transgender and gender-expansive folks, as advocacy must be aimed towards removing boundaries and denouncing the discrimination that impacts transgender and gender-expansive clients specifically. Above all, a therapist who is an ally must be self-aware about their values and attitudes that can influence the work and ensure that the client has a safe space to be who they are.
Since society unfortunately cannot evolve overnight, engaging in being an ally is an essential task for cisgender folks to support this community. The frequent reports of discrimination in our society can often be very discouraging and sometimes leads to feelings of hopelessness. As an ally, one must sit in the reality that we do not live in an equitable society and then use that knowledge to work to make a difference. Allies need to start with education.
The concept of gender has expanded from being understood as a binary to existing on a spectrum of constantly evolving identities. It's important to continue educating yourself as you work to be an ally. Once the wheels are turning, another step is to reflect on how gender is present in your own life and develop self-awareness about your own gender identity.
Then comes advocacy, informed by knowledge that aims to empower the transgender and gender-expansive community and fight oppressive forces that impact them. This can look like using gender-neutral language, attending rallies for transgender and gender-expansive rights, supporting protective legislation, or donating to transgender and gender-expansive causes.
At the end of the day, as allies, it is our job to listen and respond empathetically to the transgender and gender-expansive folks that are in our communities. Happy Transgender Day of Visibility! We see you, we are here for you, and we love you.