Being Seen: Creating Spaces for Trans Visibility in Healthcare
On Friday I celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility by going out into the suburbs, the way that I do everyday, as a non-binary transgender person (any gender that is not exclusively male or female). I was visibly gender non-conforming, as evidenced by the stares and the comments. For me, that meant mission accomplished.
Visibility is different for binary and non-binary transgender people. Many binary transgender folks (identified with male or female) are moving through the world every day perceived by their co-workers and passers-by as men or women without question. How those folks rock visibility is intensely personal and is not a decision to be judged by anyone else.
So, if asking transgender people to come out for the movement is unsafe and unfair, how can we celebrate trans visibility? We can take the time to amplify the stories and activism of amazing out trans folks. We can advocate for trans-affirming policies at all levels. We who are comfortable can, as one wonderful activist friend of mine volunteered on Facebook, “be your token trans friend. In return I am asking you to tell your friends that you know/work with/respect/love a trans person, and that it's no big deal.”
Transgender visibility is often thought of as transgender people being visible in their communities. That is true, and on International Transgender Day of Visibility, it is not my intent to minimize that aspect. But, as a transgender person and the owner of a trans-inclusive business, I want to offer perspective on an alternate definition: visible support for transgender people directly feeds transgender people’s abilities to be personally visible.
When I talk about the vision of Freed Bodyworks, I often say that many non-Freed bodywork practitioners might be welcoming of all genders. But if the specifically inclusive invitation isn’t visible from a mile away, the people who have been treated poorly in health care settings will simply never take the risk, no matter how severe their chronic pain. Visibility of trans-affirming spaces is the horn that blows to tell trans and gender non-conforming people that it is okay to show themselves.
The many graphics that have been developed in recent years to show equity vs. equality provide a means of understanding the importance of this visibility. The proverbial fence is gets higher each time a transgender people is mistreated by a healthcare professional. Transgender people are harassed at the doctor’s office, denied care, forced to educate their doctors/practitioners, and otherwise victimized on an all-too-frequent basis. Each time they are mistreated, a person faces more inner resistance to taking the risk of seeing medical providers, even if those practitioners provide the promise of improved quality of life or life-saving treatment.
This is where the visibility of trans-inclusive public spaces matters. “How do I know that I am safe?” At Freed, we make it a priority in our marketing, in the community initiatives that we support, and our physical space to affirm transgender and gender diverse people. This does nothing to diminish the ability of non-transgender people to access Freed Bodyworks’ services, but it does open the doors to so many people who otherwise would not seek care. Our bathroom doors say, “No assumptions, no gender roles, just toilets.” Saying this takes nothing away from cisgender people who need to pee. But, to a trans or gender diverse person, it says ‘we see you,’ and you are safe to pee here.
Our business cards have a trans-flag icon on them. Our brand is focused on “radical inclusion” and our Freed shirts say, “There is no wrong way to have a body.” The hope is to speak loudly of our ethics to non-transgender people and to signal to transgender people that we are worth the risk.
Transgender people make all kinds of personal decisions about disclosing their identity to strangers, but when it comes to seeking wellness support, every day should be transgender visibility day. It is at Freed Bodyworks, and I challenge businesses ever where to examine the ways in which you can ensure that trans-folk are safe in your care.
Note to practitioners: Depending on the services you provide this could require training in your field. Please make sure that you know what it takes to achieve cultural competency on transgender issues in your profession so that you do not further injure transgender folks with well-intentioned actions. Trainings like this, this, this, and this are great places to start.