What Does Visibility Mean to Me?
“I view my gender expression as free expression of identity, of thought, of self, and of art. Some forward-thinkers may perceive my gender expression favorably, some may feel ambivalent, and some may laugh or scowl at it or have violent or shocked reactions to it. Nevertheless, it commands attention.”
The Daily Visibility of Nonbinary Identity in Social Innovation
Z Paige Lerario, MD, NYS CRPA/CPS-provisional
MSW Candidate, Fordham Graduate School of Social Service
Vice-Chair, LGBTQI Section of the American Academy of Neurology
March 31, 2022
As a graduate student of social service at Fordham University, I take my positionality seriously. I am white, I am a physician, I am able-bodied, and I have had every educational opportunity available to a person born in the United States. I am also transgender and nonbinary, which too often takes a front seat in how people perceive me. I am visibly out and trans most days of the year. And because of this, most people are surprised to learn I am a neurologist.
That’s probably because I do not “pass” in society as a cisgender person and because I exist in this world as neither a man nor a woman. I am in the mindset that I do not owe it to society, to my colleagues, to my clients, or to anyone else to look or act in a specific way before I am respected as myself and the identities I claim. I am exactly what a neurologist looks like, nothing more and nothing less.
I have learned the importance of this self-affirmation as a social work student. Loving oneself is a part of self-care, self-improvement, and self-empowerment. And I believe as a future social worker, I should first make progress toward loving myself before I can be fully available to the clients I serve.
Often the societal expectation is transgender people should “pass” visibly and behaviorally as cisgender; that is, we should not appear as transgender openly. In many of the helping professions, this forced cisgender normalization erases culturally appropriate standards of transgender and nonbinary expression and identities. Although transgender people have existed everywhere through all of time, many of us are silenced by violent oppression: such as banning healthcare, banning sports participation, banning representation in education, and banning facilities access, among various others.
The majority of Americans have not knowingly had a conversation with a transgender person (Minkin & Brown, 2021). This includes some of our country’s decision makers and thought leaders (Crary D & Whitehurst L, 2021). So how can they make informed decisions on laws and policies which affect transgender people? And do those of us with a transgender family member, coworker, fellow student, teammate, or friend wish for these policies to be made without adequate representation from the communities affected? This is a time when one in fifty members of generation Z identify as transgender, and one in five identify within the LGBTQ+ community (Jones JM, 2022). We need social innovation and structural adaptations to accommodate a quickly changing demographic of the incoming American workforce.
On this day, now nationally recognized by President Biden, we acknowledge what barriers and biases many transgender people encounter daily in achieving the many successes of our community. For me, the Transgender Day of Visibility shows respect for the authentic self which I (and so many others before me) display to the world, and the consequences we have faced in doing so.
I admit I am privileged. I am privileged to afford health insurance and surgeries and new wardrobes and legal name changes. Too many transgender people do not have these privileges. Some may need to hide, out of safety—emotional or physical— or for fear of losing employment, housing, healthcare, family, friends, mentorship or education.
Nevertheless, gender diversity in any form or voice is a gift to be celebrated. Nonconformity to outdated binary standards of gender expression need not only be championed by those who are transgender or nonbinary. I view my gender expression as free expression of identity, of thought, of self, and of art. Some forward-thinkers may perceive my gender expression favorably, some may feel ambivalent, and some may laugh or scowl at it or have violent or shocked reactions to it. Nevertheless, it commands attention.
Therefore, I urge readers to stand out in their gender expression, today, and every day. And above all, recognize the gift of authenticity and empowerment transgender people provide to the world every day of the year.
Crary D & Whitehurst L (2021). Lawmakers can’t cite local examples of trans girls in sports. Associated Press News. Accessed online on March 15, 2022 at: https://apnews.com/article/lawmakers-unable-to-cite-local-trans-girls-sports-914a982545e943ecc1e265e8c41042e7.
Jones JM (2022). LGBT Identification in U.S. Ticks Up to 7.1%. Gallup: Politics. Accessed online on March 15, 2022 at: https://news.gallup.com/poll/389792/lgbt-identification-ticks-up.aspx.
Minkin R & Brown A (2021). Rising shares of U.S. adults know someone who is transgender or goes by gender-neutral pronouns. Pew Research Center. Accessed online on March 15, 2022 at: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/27/rising-shares-of-u-s-adults-know-someone-who-is-transgender-or-goes-by-gender-neutral-pronouns/.