Today, March 31st, is Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV)—an annual celebration of the lives and achievements of trans individuals and of progress made towards trans rights. While it is important to take some time to celebrate—to bask in trans joy and let that revitalize us—it is also important that this day motivates us to organize and take action in defense of trans lives.
Since the start of 2023, over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed and are pending in state legislatures across the US, with many of these bills targeting one of the most vulnerable populations among us: trans youth. Some of these bills ban trans kids from sports or from bathrooms, some ban medical care for trans youth, and some give the state the right to forcibly remove trans children from their parents, homes, and communities and place them in compulsory state care. Whether these bills are signed into law or not, they are already proving to have deadly consequences, as demonstrated by findings in a recent report from the Trevor Project that shows rising suicide rates among Black nonbinary and trans youth. While these bills may not affect you today, they will certainly affect your tomorrow because, with each bill that gets signed into law, the state’s power and control over our individual autonomy expands. This is why we must harness this celebratory energy as fuel to keep putting out the fires around us and to strategically light some fires of our own.
In times such as these, finding the energy or positivity to celebrate can feel easier said than done. I have found it difficult to find much of anything worth celebrating lately, especially when our hearts have been plagued by the grief of losing so many trans lives too soon, too many of whom we have lost to deadly anti-trans violence. IMy heart still feels heavy, and perhaps always will, over Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old trans girl who was tragically murdered by two of her peers in the UK on February 11th. I also mourn the loss of the trans lives that we know of—including (from the US) Jasmine “Star” Mack, KC Johnson, Unique Banks, Zachee Imanitwitaho, Maria Jose Rivera Rivera, Chashay Henderson, and, most recently, Tortuguita—and I mourn those whose names and stories we may never know.
I hate to admit it, but the challenging feelings that TDoV stirs up makes staying home with my cat all day awfully tempting. While I plan to attend a TDoV demonstration in my neighborhood, my desire to stay home has me reflecting on the ways TDoV calls on us to center and celebrate a fairly narrow version of visibility. To be clear, I do not wish to diminish the importance of celebrating public figures or progress, even if trans visibility itself is a double-edged sword. We can (and should!) celebrate the trans celebrities, artists, community organizers, athletes, elected officials, and award-winners, and wins for better rights or representation.
But I also want to create moments today to center and celebrate some of our more personal, even private moments of visibility. Today, I intend to celebrate the cherished relationships I have with the trans people in my life, and to celebrate the beautifully mundane moments we’ve shared where we held space for tender witnessing, mutual recognition, and intimate visibility. How does one manage to hold space to celebrate the public wins, the private moments, and the feelings of grief and anger?
I realized while trying to untangle these complexities, that I should instead be leaning into the ways these feelings are braided together. With my desire to support and protect trans youth to the ends of the earth on my mind, I began to envision moments that could add up to a movement if we allow these feelings to weave, cross, tangle, and fuse—like strings that make a strong rope or like hair that forms a braid.
One August afternoon in 2019, while I was volunteering at an LGBTQ+ youth summer camp as a camp counselor, a camper asked if anyone would braid her hair.
“Sure,” I replied, “bring your brush and come sit here at my feet.”
As I parted and sectioned her hair, she disclosed that no one had braided her hair before because this was the first time her hair was long enough. She spent the entire year growing it out after coming out to her friends and family as a trans girl. As she talked and I braided, a small line of trans girls—with hairbrushes in hand—began to form around us. Braiding and styling hair for campers became a daily activity that summer. In those moments, I felt grateful for the privilege of playing a small role in witnessing, recognizing, affirming, and validating the trans girls in my life. I also felt incredible joy knowing these girls have role models that helped them to come out and advocates that have helped to keep them safe. I also felt sadness, anger, and grief on behalf of the trans girls who do not have the privilege to be in a space like this.
As a queer and trans/nonbinary person, I have a complicated relationship to my own “girlhood,” but I’m grateful that, during this period of my life, I learned the sacred knowledge of how to braid hair from my mom, friends, and my own camp counselors. Having my hair braided was one of the few times I remember feeling affirmed in a girlhood I didn’t otherwise feel connected to. It made my relationship with others stronger. Now, it’s become a gift I can give away to others who desire that feeling of affirmation and connection. I understand hair braiding as a complex community practice that makes possible a private world between you and the person whose fingers are tangled in your hair—a world of tenderness, care, connection, and beauty. These are the memories I am drawing from today as I try to navigate a new way of feeling, being, and doing on this year’s TDoV—a way that makes space for public celebration but centers private moments, while also holding space for complicated feelings like anger, grief, and sadness.
I understand the importance of celebrating those public wins, especially when lately, they are too far and few between, and I cannot express how important it is that everyone—especially cis allies—organize to protect trans youth and defend trans lives. Yet, I also want to encourage that we, meaning fellow trans folks, find ways to honor our sacred relationships with each other today, and celebrate the moments in which we find ourselves intimately and mundanely visible to one another. Just as there is strength in braided rope, there is strength in community. My hope is that we will feel stronger, braver, and more energized through braiding together celebrations of public and private moments, while holding space for more challenging feelings this day may bring. We will need that strength, bravery, and energy to win the many battles ahead and to ensure trans people—especially trans youth—survive and thrive in greater numbers.
– E Feinman