Recently, on International Women’s Day, I went out for a run. As I went to the door, I hesitated and thought about changing the t-shirt I had been wearing that day. It was from anti-bullying charity, Ditch the Label, and it declared in large, clear font “Trans Women Are Women”. I’d worn it intentionally for International Women’s Day.
Now, changing t-shirts to go running in isn’t unusual for me. But if I was being honest, I was hesitating because I knew that on my run I would no doubt run past people who did not agree with that statement. People who don’t agree that trans women are women operate in our government and our media – so there is no reason to believe they don’t also live in Haringey.
Knowing that I would run past these people made me think. Do I want to take on stares and maybe comments on my lunchtime run? Do I want to go out thinking about that? Have I got it in me to stop and challenge someone if they say something?
What a privilege to even consider this as a choice. For me, that t-shirt and its visible allyship was something I could wear or not wear. I thought about stories trans friends have told me about shaking as they stepped out of the house presenting their true selves to the world for the first time. Of stares they received as their bodies changed. Of comments and sniggers and abuse.
For me, this was a choice that would last 45 minutes. For them, it is a lifetime – and the only element of choice is between being themselves and the trauma of living in the wrong body. So, I set foot out of the door and off I went.
As a trans ally in the communications industry, the positive visibility I can contribute will always be down to choices. Choices in images I use, choices in ambassadors I put forward for campaigns, choices in how I create the right environments in the team and agency. Some of those choices will put me into uncomfortable conversations, but when I go into them I will be prepared and ready as I will have made the choice to engage. There is no such privilege for trans people, who every day find themselves pulled into ‘debates’ and discourse on their very right to exist. It’s important that trans allies – and allies for all underrepresented groups – in the communications industry are intentional about the positive visibility they bring through their campaigns.
It is only through positively showcasing real trans people that we can counter a discourse built on wild hypotheticals and ‘what ifs’. What if a man used a revision in the Gender Recognition Act to access women-only spaces? What if a young person who chooses to transition later regrets it? What it, what if, what if.
Living authentically does not have to mean starting from scratch with your life or your career
The fact is, according to Switchboard, the national LGBT+ helpline, 59% of young trans people self-harm. According to Stonewall, two in five trans people have had a hate crime committed against them in the last year, and two in five trans young people have attempted suicide. Last year a British trans woman was granted asylum in New Zealand because of transphobia in the UK. Those are not ‘what ifs’, they’re ‘what’s happenings’.
And the way to counter this is through positive visibility. Switchboard recently told us at H+K that they get spikes in calls when high profile people come out, from people inspired to take the next step themselves and looking for advice and resources. The sight of Elliot Page on the front cover of Time Magazine will give thousands of young trans men a new role model. The fact he is continuing to star in The Umbrella Academy shows that living authentically does not have to mean starting from scratch with your life or your career and your trajectory can continue.
In my role at H+K, I can’t necessarily put trans people on the cover of Time Magazine – but I can choose to ensure we include trans creators in campaign plans, I can share the GLAAD x Getty images guidelines on representing trans people in photography, I can remind people of the importance of pronouns. I can write a blog and I can damn well wear a t-shirt.
Those are choices I will continue to make, today on Trans Day of Visibility and every day.