Being Visible

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Words || Audrea Carroll

On 31 March, I was wished “Happy TDoV!!” by a friend on Facebook. She was referring to the ninth annual International Transgender of Visibility. The word “visibility” made me reflect on my own timeline. At one point I lived as male, enrolled in a boys’ school; now as female, I hide my transgender status from most. Achieving the goal of “full stealth” was liberating, and gave me a sense of victory over a long battle against social norms, bureaucracy, medical professionals and my own body. I was relieved that I could finally rewrite my history, invisibly.

The desire for invisibility is not uncommon amongst Australian trans* people. To  “no longer need to worry about passing as the sex or gender they were is a welcome result” of transitioning for most. Unsurprising, considering that 87 per cent of trans-identifying people have experienced discrimination on the basis of gender  and one-third of Queensland Trans individuals have experienced assault with a weapon .

It’s worth noting that passing and invisibility are not the same thing, since ‘passing’ refers to appearing your identified gender and ‘invisibility’ refers to hiding that you are transgender. Alongside the threat of violence, transgender people deal with institutionalised transphobia, not least of all those who attended any of the single-sex schools in this country. Last year, The Australian reported that seven per cent of Australian high schools are gender-selective, and for transgender students forced into invisibility to protect themselves, every day is challenging.

The gendered foundations of single-sex schools pervade their cultures, meaning that not only do transgender students feel pressure to conform to their cisgender classmates, but are oppressed by teaching techniques, uniforms, set activities, endorsed attitudes and other aspects of life at school. I attended boys’ primary and secondary schools from Kindergarten until I graduated Year 12, and experienced constant invalidation from students and teachers. Besides constantly being referred to as “boys” or “men”, the expectations placed on students were without any regard to gender diversity. During Year 11 Economics, when the teacher wanted to demonstrate a 100 per cent participation rate, he asked, “Who in the class is male?”, and along with everyone else I raised my hand. I was mocked by a PE teacher for taking too long to change from my male uniform, and was asked, “What are you, a woman?” when I emerged last from the changing rooms. The few female bathrooms in the school were marked “Staff Only”, and students who made openly transphobic remarks in class were not corrected. Worst of all was the pastoral care system which equipped students with skills for life as a man. In an environment with values so far contrary to my own, I felt isolated and unable to fit in. I suppressed my true gender whenever I wore the uniform, and meekness became a habit: I became internally transphobic and prayed to forget that I was ever not physically female. Gender-segregated schooling encourages gender diverse people to oppress their identified genders, and that drive for invisibility too often remains a part of their lives as it did mine.

I have yet to meet another transgender person with a similar story. Given the number of single-sex schools and the reasons trans* people have to prefer stealth if they have the choice, I can’t imagine it’s because my experience is particularly uncommon. Rather, because the need to remain invisible is so entrenched that it limits the connections we make with each other. Since leaving school, I’ve changed my name and documents, and surrounded myself with new people. I’m told that nobody can tell I wasn’t assigned female at birth. The International Transgender Day of Visibility is a reminder that, if we have the luxury of passing reliably, it’s worth reaching out and sharing stories with those you can trust, even if it means giving up your quiet. Common connections are essential for any group, especially those who struggle more than most. Transitioning can make a trans* person’s future much better but it cannot erase the past. As victors of the battle to transition, we write our own histories, and I was wrong to try and alter mine. In sharing my perspective and mistakes I wish to make amends, and anyone wishing to do the same can ask for Audrea in the QueerSpace. I’d love to hear from you.