Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Happy International Trans Day of Visibility!

Did you know March 31 is the International Trans Day of Visibility? It's a day to celebrate the contributions of trans people, combat transphobia, and advocate for greater inclusion of trans people in our society and institutions. We have an Employee Affinity Group (EAG) called glifaa promoting LGBT+ pride in foreign affairs agencies, including the Department of State. In recognition of the International Trans Day of Visibility, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of glifaa's resources for trans* members and allies here.

If you've never heard the perspective of a transgender person in the international affairs field before, I highly recommend you start with this account from Dr. Chloe Schwenke. Here is one excerpt but I highly recommending reading the full post: "Unlike sexual orientation, there really isn’t any way to be discreet about changing one’s gender. A critically important part of the therapeutic process is living and dressing in the gender you know yourself to be. My therapist asked me early on to come to our sessions dressed as a female, which necessitated awkward changes of clothing in my car in the dark corners of underground parking lots. At least once I was dressed and with make up on, I passed pretty easily as a female. Not all transgender people do “pass” easily, yet their needs to express their authentic gender are every bit as urgent and valid as my own. In less tolerant societies than those found in liberal cities in the east and western regions of the United States, the humiliation experienced by transitioning people who appear in public, or need to use public toilet facilities, while not easily “passing”, presents profound problems, or the potential for serious victimization by others, even (in countries such as Uganda where I lived) by the government authorities. Few if any foreign diplomatic or aid missions are geared up to understand or be supportive in such situations, and the more realistic option may be to request a transfer back to Washington for the two to three years that most transitions require."

I'd also like to share a wonderful personal story from a Foreign Service member at the Department of State who transitioned while serving in Romania. You can read the full post here, but here's an excerpt: "In my mid-50s and with State being my second career, I have known I was transgender from my earliest years even though I did not know the word. I attempted to come to terms with being transgender in college in the 1970s, again in 1990, and a third time in 2000-02. Each time I was forced back into a closet, unable to overcome the obstacles both within myself and in society. When I began again to walk this path in 2010, I did so with dark memories of those earlier attempts. Would I have the courage and strength to see this through, perhaps the last chance in this lifetime to live as myself, not as an artificial construct for others?...U.S. society has changed and evolved in my lifetime. It is possible to transition gender and not lose everything, and it is now possible to do so in the Department of State. What a happy, wonderful time it is to be alive!"

You can read more about the International Trans Day of Visibility here, but if you're looking for a way as an ally to support here are a few ideas:

  • Reach out to a trans friend expressing your support.
  • Donate to organizations that support trans people.
  • Write to or call your elected representatives, school administration, workplace, health insurance, church, union, or other institution where your voice matters and express support of trans-inclusive laws and policies.
  • Share the contributions of trans people with others in your network.
  • Read about the history of trans people in your community, state, or country.

I'd like to share a little information about a trans person who inspires me: Victor Mukasa, a Ugandan human rights activist who identifies as trans-lesbian. He was assigned female at birth and raised in a conservative Catholic family, but he became a vocal member of the LGBT community and as a result faced intense persecution and harassment. He has spent his career speaking out against laws criminalizing homosexuality and other human rights abuses against LGBT people. You can watch a BBC interview with Mukasa here (CW: sexual abuse, homophobia, transphobia, violence). I am moved by his example of living as his authentic self and working tirelessly for the rights of his community and others.

Thanks for making it this far, and Happy International Trans Day of Visibility!

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