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Eurovision, entertainment, entente or enmity? Austria’s Conchita Wurst Genderqueer Drag act wins! Russian revulsion and reactions

The Eurovision Song Contest was established post-War to bring nations together in peaceful pop appreciation but as ‘greater’ Europe’s nations (including Russia and Israel) battled it out over national pop songs (mostly sung in English!) on 10 May, new conflicts arose.

Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision 2014First, there was the new enmity between Russian and Ukraine and the break-up of the former Warsaw-pact voting block. Second, there was the usual analysis and outcry at nationalist and neighbouring countries mutual self-interest voting patterns, not to mention vast divisions between the newer 50/50 split between public and professional jury votes.

Finally, there was the homophobia and indeed, transphobia, of some nations (Belarus, Russian and even some Austrians) complaining about Austria’s label-defying gay genderqueer drag diva Conchita Wurst, who went on to win the contest.

Russia-Ukraine | Reaction | Voting | Camp/Queer History | Conchita Wurst | Bearded Women

Eurovision Song Contest logo

2014’s Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, was the 59th competition, having begun in 1956. This year, 37 nations, competed, and it top-ten trended on Twitter most of the week, such is the European, if not international following of the entertainment extravaganza.

Eurovision 2014 – Russia and Ukraine

Tuesday’s semi-final had more at stake than music as rival posturing nations Russia and Ukraine continued their war of words.

Eurovision Song Contest #JoinUs

Both Russia and Ukraine made the semi-finals with Ukraine’s entry drawing cheers and Russia’s, boos. Eurovision 2014’s tagline #JoinUs had a darker new meaning as Russia wants Ukraine to “join us” having already taken Crimea to a dubious vote – just like Eurovision!

One of last year’s Eurovision stories was Twitter top-trending as hundreds erroneously re-tweeted a BBC story about Azerbaijan’s failure to nominate any points to Russia’s entry in the Eurovision song contest and Russia’s foreign minister calling this “outrageous”!  Except this was 2013, and a conspiracy theory at that, with the report that Azerbaijan’s President subsequently ordered an inquiry into how its votes for Russia apparently went missing. In the game of Eurovision “Risk” Russia had given Azerbaijan’s entry maximum “douze points”.

This year, Russia’s entry, the Tolmachevy Twins, aged 17, seemed perfect Eurovision fare, beautiful on the eyes and ears, a popular choice – apart from being Russian. Their song and teenage innocence with respect to all the international politics meant they were received well until they progressed to the final and were booed by the Danish and international semi-final and final audiences, who seemed strongly anti-Russia’s stance against gay rights, Crimea and the Ukraine. During the awarding of points almost every award of any points to Russia was greeted with jeers rather than cheers as the voting public punished Putin for Russian territorial aggression and anti-LGBT laws.

Ukraine’s own entry, Mariya Yaremchuk, also qualified for the final with the added visual drama of a suited male dancer running inside a giant hamster wheel to her song “Tick-Tock”.

In the end, Conchita Wurst of Austria won by a large margin 290pts (beating Netherlands 238pts), but Ukraine, with 113 points to Russia’s 89 points, will be pleased it came 6th over Russian’s 7th place! Ironically, Russia gave Austria (5pts) one more point than it gave to Ukraine (4pts).

Russian news sites during the week reported on the respective nations’ entries as “aggressive”, “militant” or about supposed political messages hidden in the songs.

Russian and International Reaction to the Eurovision 2014 Winner

The morning after Eurovision 2014 was won by gay genderqueer drag artist from Austria Conchita Wurst had Russian politicians reaching new lows of homophobia and European “liberal” condemnation.

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, tweeted that the Eurovision result “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”

According to TheJournal.ie, another Russian politician, the ultranationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, told Rossiya-1 state television:

“There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe. It has turned wild. They don’t have men and women any more. They have ‘it’. Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria. We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed.”

Zhirinovsky has been described as “One of the most enduring fruit loops in Russian politics” – note that was ‘enduring’ not endearing. He is stubbornly sexist, homophobic, racist, anti-Western. He has called for the deportation of Chinese and Japanese people, threatened a female journalist with rape, and crazily suggested that the British royal baby would suck Russian blood!

Russian hip-hop rapper Timati had over 76,000 likes in just 15 hours for his Instagram post about Conchita Wurst in which he wrote that her win was symptomatic of a “complex mental disorder of modern society”. He went on to bemoan having to explain gay kissing to children, bearded trans – “and that’s supposed to be normal”,and to praise Putin for banning LGBT Pride Parades.

Russia’s reactions are somewhat, ironic and hypocritical given that in the 2003 Eurovision Contest they were represented by faux-lesbian t.A.T.u. and their same-sex kissing. Again, in February, at the Sochi Winter Olympics the Russian Olympic team marched out to the music of t.A.T.u.’s Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova, dressed as schoolgirls, kissing in the rain.

Eurovision Block Voting Scandals

Eurovision’s extra political undercurrent this year is nothing new as block-voting has been allegedly going on for decades, whether Greece-Cyprus, Scandinavian, Balkan or Warsaw pact blocks. Whilst mutual voting may have helped Ukraine win in 2004, Russia in 2008, and Azerbaijan 2011, it seems that for many former Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact countries cooperation is now over with Russia’s perceived aggression in the real world outside of camp pop culture.

Eurovision’s Camp GenderQueer History

Eurovision is no stranger to camp, drag or trans artistes, such as Israel’s pioneering 1998 trans winner, Sharon Cohen performing as Dana International. Sharon had come out as transgender aged 13 and had transsexual surgery (SRS/GRS), aged 21, in London in 1993. Initially, she had performed as a drag act but she had also felt female from a very young age. Her background was Romanian and Yemenite Jewish and her Eurovision entry received strong opposition from Orthodox Jews, calling her “deviant” and other traditionalists who attempted to block her competing in Eurovision as Israel’s entry. She said after winning, “I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.” Winning meant Israel hosted 1999’s Eurovision and again conservative forces attempted to keep “sexual perversion” out of Israel’s “holy city”, Jerusalem.

Eurovision 2002 saw Slovenia set feathers ruffling by entering the first drag act, rather than a transwoman, a trio called Sestre.

In 2007 double divas ruled the competition as Denmark’s DQ performing “Drama Queen” came from the back to pip Ukraine’s own Dolce & Gabbana wearing drag act Verka Serduchka to win the contest. Verka, a.k.a. Andriy Danylko, had to overcome Ukrainian opposition to their act in the form of radio protests and statements in the Ukraine Parliament labelling him as “grotesque and vulgar”.

Last year, Turkey allegedly refused to broadcast the show because of a same-sex kiss by Finland’s entry.

Austria’s GenderQueer “Bearded Lady” Drag Queen

This year’s Eurovision has seen Austria’s innovative genderqueer entry, Conchita Wurst, steal the show and go on to win it. She has not been without controversy, though, and has attracted her own oppositional battles, but along gender/sex/uality lines not state sovereignty lines as with Russia and Ukraine.

Conchita Wurst

Vienna-based Tom Neuwirth performed as a “drag” persona Conchita Wurst – a thinly veiled euphemism for “Vagina Sausage”. What makes this creation stand out further is that Conchita sports a very neat and kempt beard! Well, thickly brushed on eye shadow to be accurate.

It is ‘said’ that Tom-Conchita identifies as “gender neutral”, “trans” and prefers female pronouns. “While identifying as gender neutral, she uses female pronouns to describe herself but still likes to play with drag, satire and gender identity.” Hence most labels struggle to fit them, somewhere between gender identity and gender performance, neither traditional drag nor typical trans, male nor female, seem to 100% fit, and their preference for “gender neutral” seems best, whether that extends to non-binary is something we just don’t know.

Conchita Wurst performs at Eurovision 2014Tom-Conchita’s Eurovision official profile page gets all the gender pronouns mixed up – and some people are still mixed up in trying to define her, I say, let her stay unboxable. 

No doubt some trans may be horrified by Conchita’s depiction of a “bearded lady” after issues with British TV’s Little Britain and Paddy Power’s transphobic “Spot the Tranny” competition. Conchita is happy to use the term “bearded lady” and adopts it as a “symbol of tolerance”. Asked what was special about Conchita’s entry, she said:

“For me the most special and honoring thing is that Austria shows tolerance and acceptance and I’m so happy to be this statement. I’m allowed to be the voice of their beliefs during this time and this really makes me very proud. We, and not at least myself, want to stand for a society without hate and discrimination. And if I’m honest, I think everyone of the contestants should stand for the same, cause we are joining a very opend minded project, so they should be open minded too…I really hope that I get the chance to change some minds all around Europe. I want to show them that you can look whatever you want and that everybody must have the right to live their life however they want it, if nobody gets hurt…I really want to convince them to be the best version of themselves rather than a bad copy of someone else! You can do whatever you want if you’re not hurting anyone.” [sic]

No stranger to controversy and prejudice, their involvement has attracted protests from homophobes and transphobes in Austria, Belarus and Russia, describing the competition as full of “European liberals” and “a hotbed of sodomy”. One Russian politician has called Conchita an “Austrian freak” and that “the future of our children depends on us” banning them from Eurovision. Armenia’s entry, Aram Mp3, described Conchita as “not natural” and offered to, “help her to … decide whether she is a woman or man”. Conchita responded with:

“I am a working woman/queen and an incredibly lazy young man in my free time and that is not going to change. If you have problems understanding that, then I would be happy to sit down with you and explain it to you in more detail. And with your homophobic comments, that is a conversation that we really need to speak about.”

Curiously, trying to find the exact source of Conchita’s response results in about 50 references to “working woman” and some 80+ to “working queen”. For instance, the HuffPost version has “I told him I don’t want to be a woman. I am just a working queen and a very lazy boy at home.” For a transwoman, a beard and a name with all the sexual innuendos Conchita Wurst has would be somewhat strange. Yet for a drag queen she seems to prefer life as a woman to that of a gay man. Whatever her labels and self-identity she is free to be who she is and/or wants to be. Conchita said:

“I feel more comfortable in this persona than being a boy at home … Being a teenager, a gay teenager, in such a small village is not that much fun. I am part of the gay community and most gays have a similar story to mine.”

Even in liberal California a Psychology Professor polled their class and 77 out of 138 said they found Conchita’s appearance “offensive or confusing”. Obviously, it is confusing, but there is a big leap from confusing to offensive. They also said:

“I think having a beard and having a feminine body at the same time the singer shows that he/she is still in the process of transformation (from male to female, Which is ok) …[but] … there are only two kinds in all species in the world………male or female? Anything in between is considered unusual… But in Conchitas case, I think he/she is crossing a very thin line which actually is not only unethical, (and I don’t care about the ethical part) but just confusing, absurd and almost unexceptable. Every single one of my gay friends thinks this way and I can prove it… Even my gay friends are offended by Conchhita. Actually they’re furious and angry at her.” [sic].

Conchita’s song called “Rise Like a Phoenix” can be heard here:

You can follow Conchita on Twitter or on Facebook, where she has 40,000 likes, around the same number as the Austrian facebook campaign against her which also attracted nearly 5000 signatures on change.org. Conchita summed up her motivation and message in a Radio Free Europe interview:

“My stance is that I fight for something positive rather than against something negative. I was always an outsider and I was confronted with discrimination. I don’t want this to happen to the next generation.”

Conchita Wurst Eurovision Ireland interviewGarrett Mulhall Of EurovisionIreland.net interviewed Conchita in November 2013 about her music and mission, ideology and identity, and she had this to say:

[Conchita] “I have arms like a man, face like a girl, and also the beard, and I told them that this is, that there are people out there who are in between you know and I took them by the hand and I said you are here (the boy), the girls – here, and I am just in the middle…I think they understood that there is more than a surface of a person” (11m27s)

[Garrett] “I think you being at Eurovision is a pivotal point in Eurovision’s history, and it’s one that I’m very glad about, because, … Eurovision was established so long ago to bring a war-torn Europe together and times have moved on now where we’re trying to bring different people from social backgrounds or gender backgrounds or … whatever, … we don’t want to label people anymore, and tolerance is obviously a very important thing to you…” (12m20s)

Many have challenged her sexuality, gender identity, presentation and pronouns – She prefers “she” and “her” and is more comfortable as Conchita than Tom the “lazy boy” she dresses down as, however. her male partner didn’t know she was Conchita as well for a week or two.

Our need to label, even as minority communities, to claim, correct or reject, her personal expression, is indicative of a common human need to categorise, define and then decide whether they are a threat or not. She is a threat to stereotypes of man, woman, gay, trans, drag queen, for she does not conform to any in a traditional way. Some trans are up in arms over her beard and for the possible inclusion of a drag queen under their umbrella. Some gays see her as too female too often. Some women oppose her use of female pronouns and, again, the beard.

By her own description, she does not fit, but is “in between”, non-binary, and that she is more than just her surface. By her own admission she is not transgender, or at least it is more artistic expression, “I am a drag artist”, she says.

Indeed, in performance, and initially in the interview there is a touch of drag and gender performance about her, but as she settles into talking about equality and acceptance, the seriousness takes over and her feminine expressions remain, but more integrated less performative. These are not judgements or criticisms, for I find the more I listen to her the more I love her. We all need to get beyond the “surface” of a person and cease visual and labelled judgements.

Her goal according to the Irish interview (around 15-17 mins in) is for people to engage and talk about difference, to start to think, to accept – whether they like/love it or not. That much she can 100% regard as being successful in. People are talking – good for her! Conchita made it through Thursday’s semi-finals to Saturday’s live final after some delays down in part to questions as to whether Belarus had even broadcast her act, such is the opposition to her from some quarters. Indeed, after her win on May 10, she was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church and many in Russia were shaving their beards off in protest – the men that is!

Conchita Wurst performs at London LGBT Pride

After Eurovision Conchita Wurst has been in great demand and was the headline performer at 2014’s Pride show in Trafalgar Square, London on 28 June. She was introduced by veteran gay rights activist and Magneto/Gandalf actor Sir Ian McKellen with the words:

“Showbusiness has always led the way when it comes to the freedom to be yourself. So, Conchita is following in the footsteps of our predecessors. There is a long tradition of outrageousness and confidence that performers embody, and that has an enormous impact. It clears the way for others to dare to be themselves. She has done just that.”

Conchita Wurst said before the parade how much she was “looking forward” to it and what Pride meant to her:

“Let us be proud about who we are and let us give a statement for love, respect and tolerance. And most of all let us be proud and think about those LGBTI people around the world, who can’t make a Gay Pride in their countries.”

Chair of London LGBT+ Pride, Michael Salter said:

“Conchita is an incredible example of the power of having the #freedomto be oneself. Winning Eurovision, she raised the profile of the LGBT+ community across a continent and sent an important political message. We are thrilled that she is coming to celebrate Pride in London.”

Balpreet Kaur, bearded Sikh woman

Balpreet Kaur bearded Sikh woman PCOS All of this recalls the recent challenge to not only typical female gender presentation but also traditional Sikh expectations by Balpreet Kaur who has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) but has embraced her facial hair which it caused and let it grow to a full beard. Her baptism into the Sikh faith now requires her not to cut it. At school and online she was bullied to the point of self-harm and felt suicidal but found huge public support and acceptance for her brave stand. She has now accepted herself, her beard, and discovered a new confidence and humour – read more about her.

[Parts of this article were initially posted here and here.]

 

India gives equal rights to Hijra trans as third gender identity

India has, today, ruled in its highest court that transgender people, usually called Hijra there, will henceforth have the option to be recognised as a third gender and all forms, documents and facilities will have to provide for them as such. Whilst numbering some 2-5 million people or up to 1-in-200 of the population, they will be given minority rights, job quotas, full access to education, adoption and healthcare.

Hijras New Delhi India 1994

In development since 2009, and in time for India’s current elections, the Election Commission has also allowed for a third gender option, “Other”, on voting forms.

Justice KS Radhakrishnan, headed up the Supreme Court ruling and said:

“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender…Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue…The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”

Anita Shenoy, lawyer for the petitioner National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) said:

“We are quite thrilled by the judgement…The court order gives legal sanctity to the third gender. The judges said the government must make sure that they have access to medical care and other facilities like separate wards in hospitals and separate toilets.”

The case demanding equal rights first came to court in 2012 initiated by a trans-activist group led by trans Hindi film star Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. She said, upon hearing the ruling:

Hijra Kolkata India 2013

India is the world’s largest democracy yet especially in rural areas is far from an equal society. Tripathi proclaimed that, “The progress of the country is dependent upon [the] human rights of the people and we are very happy with the judgement.”

These rights are extended to trans and or intersex people that are living in a way that is different to their birth gender and yet also allows post-op transsexuals to legally choose their gender: male, female or transgender/other. Thus both binary and non-binary individuals are able to choose their identity, it is not a category that is being forced upon them but one they have fought for.

Western trans activists should remember two things here, firstly, that hijra=trans is not an exact Western/Eastern label match. The cultural evolution of their fight for recognition comes off the back of centuries of religious, social and cultural development, in context, and against different prejudices, classes and castes. Their identity was formed in the crucible of their history. We should not, therefore, seek to impose our LGBTI rights battles on their personal and political paths, we should, however, support them in their moves to self-assert their chosen identities.

Secondly, the concept of ‘third gender’ has been sought by them, whereas many in the West oppose that concept and fear its use in a 1930s anti-Semitic way to categorise and potentially segregate trans people as if with some kind of yellow star (Jews) or pink triangle (homosexuals).

Trans masculine identities in India

“If trans people are a minority with almost no rights in this country [India], transmen are a minority within that minority.” Just as “there are hijras, kinnars, mangalamukhis, aravanis, kothis, jogappas, shiv shaktis among trans women as identities, there is a wide range of trans masculine expressions”, says an Indian transman, one of 74 that co-signed a letter to the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, “We have many names to identify ourselves like bhaiya, thirunambi, gandabasaka, babu, ftm, trans man etc. For an umbrella term, to refer to us in all our diversity, we would like the use of the term, trans masculine. We do not identify with PAGFB [Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth] which is what is being used in reports and meetings here to describe our identities. We strongly urge you to refer to us by identities that we assume, not ones that are imposed on us without due democratic discussions and consent.”

Another “term for FTM in Hindi is Sadhin“. Last November, an Indian trans man fled the country after being ‘outed’ by the media and sought asylum in the UK. This was before this week’s more positive news for trans rights.  Although more sparse, trans masculine support does exist in India, but they have a lower profile in society, media and rights activism.

[The above section of this post has been reblogged many times including on several transmen Tumblr blogs – read the comments and reposts there for more thoughts]

LGB Gay Rights in India

Meanwhile, LGB rights of India’s gays, lesbians and bisexuals, are still behind the times though, having recently restored an old British colonial law banning homosexual activity. India has granted these historical Hijra rights, yet still bans gay sex in a logical anomaly. How is gay sex to be defined now there are three genders? If a newly defined Hijra/Third Gender has sex with a man is it gay or straight sex? If a Hijra has sex with another Hijra is that homosexual?

Trans rights in Pakistan

Back in 2011 after actions that began in 2009 Pakistan granted “third gender” status and improved rights to trans people, for example on national identity cards, employment and inheritance rights. Whilst many Hijra end up begging, wedding dancing or in prostitution, Pakistan has been enterprising in employing them as official agents pursuing tax evaders. Apparently, recovery rates are up 15%!

LGBT rights in Nepal

Thirteen years ago Nepal’s LGBT activists initiated a campaign for full LGBT equality, which resulted in a landmark decision in 2007 but which took another 5-6 years for full implementation of trans equality. The court decision ordered the then government to scrap all laws that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and “that they study and implement a same-sex marriage policy, and that citizens be allowed to self-identify as a third gender on all official documents and registers.”

Nepalese activists have urged the government to use the word “other” rather than “third gender” or “trans” as a “more inclusive” term that allows full “self-identification”.

Trans rights in Bangladesh

Last year, Bangladesh also granted third gender rights and recognition to Hijras – a term in Bangladesh adopted by 10,000+ people including many male-to-female presenting individuals and some intersex persons. Cabinet Secretary Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said: “They will be referred to as hijras in both English and Bangla. Any other translations to English would be misleading.”

Non-Western Trans terminology

Across India, South and Southeast Asia numerous terms describe gender non-conforming people in ways which, because of cultural, historical and religious differences, are not totally synonymous with Western usage of trans terminology. For example in Thailand and, Cambodia, they are called, Kathoey, elsewhere the most common term is Hijra, but we also find Aravani, Aruvani, Jagappa, or Chhakka (Kannada), Bambaiya (Hindi), Khusra (Punjabi) and Kojja (Telugu). In Pakistan, terms include Khwaaja sira, Khusra (trans), Zenana (crossdresser) and Narnban (eunuch).

Polynesian Samoa has its Fa’afafine, Tonga its Fakaleiti, and Hawaii and Tahiti their Mahu. Both fa’a- and faka- are prefixes meaning “like a” or “in the manner of” and fafine and leiti mean ‘woman’ or ‘lady’. On the surface, therefore, they would pass as the prefix trans- before woman, but Western legal, political and cultural transgender terminology should not be imposed on their cultural-historical usage of the terms.

Native Americas traditions

Numerous indigenous Native American tribes had gender options outside the seemingly conventional Western binary. Berdache was a term meaning effeminate male used by Westerners of some tribal members encountered. More recently, the preferred term is Two-spirit, but some tribes went beyond three to several gender expressions, roles and identities. The Mohave Indians had the terms Alyha (Male-born) and Hwame (Female-born) for their Two-spirit identities. “Two-spirit natives comprised a distinct social class within most of these tribal communities; for example, among the Hidatsa of the northern Plains, two-spirits were observed at no less than fifteen to twenty a village and typically pitched their tipis together in a group.”

Similarly, among southern Mexico’s Zapotec there were the Muxe/Muxhe possibly a variant of the Spanish word for woman, mujer, describing people born male but who behaved as female in role, dress or sexuality. Because the word described effeminacy across gender or sexuality it accounted for some 6% of the population in some studies.

Modern Western/Antipodean/Americas Gender Identification

Three or more genders?
Three or more genders?

Argentina, Australia and New Zealand all allow passports to be stamped with the full range of internationally allowable options: Gender – | M | F | X |. Despite it being explored and to some extent encouraged by the Liberal Democrats, the UK Passport and Identity Service seems to have mothballed any likely change in Great Britain. Although as of June 2014 it has now been tabled for another Early Day Motion in Parliament, though is perhaps unlikely to reach debate stages.

In Europe, Germany has recently allowed “other” as a temporary designation on birth certificates to allow families to delay decisions on children born with intersex differences. The Netherlands are considering a third category to protect trans people during transition.

All gender designation is ultimately sexism. However, in an imperfect and unequal world some level of gender designation for protection can benefit in the here and now. Ideally gender neutral bathrooms would be the norm, but how to protect the vulnerable? The sooner all nations accept fully equal sexual relations, parenting and marriage between two or more persons of any gender, the sooner we can dispense with legal gender designation.

More important than third or more genders, reinforcing the binary, opposing the binary, gender sexism, is the simple inalienable human right to self-identify. Restricting identification, whether legally or culturally, to just two genders goes against human respect and rights especially when medically there are dozens of conditions that can make typical birth-sex identification impossible, quite apart from gender identity issues and/or gender non-conformity. Celebrate diversity and difference and the right to self-identify, as Radhakrishnan has said: “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender” – and that includes “Other” and “None”, in my opinion.

This post is an extended edited version of an article that first appeared here.

More news sites coverage of this:
BBC World
The Guardian
The Times of India

International Transgender Day of Visibility

Transgender Invisibility?

Yesterday was the International Trans Day of Visibility (ITDoV/TDoV), as such I shrugged off my Harry Potter cloak of invisibility and ‘outed’ myself – oh no I did that 7 years ago, or rather my partner did that for me! Ironically, as transgender people we are often all too visible to society if we do not “pass” well – something that many trans aspire to and many find psychologically and socially distressing if not achieved. What is true, however, is that for every trans you notice another 9 or 99 are invisible, because they’ve either disappeared into the general hubbub of society and are accepted as people first, and gendered persons of trans history second, or, they may be part of the invisible iceberg of trans not yet out. KJ in hat Industry Networking Night

This latter group, for whom gender identity becomes a self-aware issue typically by the age of 7 may on average stay hidden till coming out in their 40s. If families, partners, media and society were more accepting, less judgemental and ridiculing, then I am quite sure more would be out and visible. Perhaps, like International Coming Out Day, today is a day we can celebrate increasing safety for more trans to come out, not to be ‘outed’ as I was at first. People call me brave for being ‘out’, but I had no choice, being ‘outed’ to friends and family by my then partner. By then it was “in for a penny in for a pound”, a “sink or swim” choice.

Transgender Day of Visibility was started in 2009 by trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, of Michigan, USA. It began as a Facebook event but grew to encompass all kinds of awareness and visibility-raising events.

Events on the day have included protests, actions, sit-ins, poetry, educational and social events, anything to show that the transgender community is a valuable part of society to be accepted and respected.

These positive publicity events are in contrast to the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) held each 20 November where the tone is remembrance and commemoration of all those who’ve lost their lives, often violently, for being out or outed as trans. A Transgender Awareness Week has now formed in the week leading up to TDoR.

Prevalence of transgender people

The prevalence of transgender people in our communities is a hotly debated subject and one which is subject to several studies that are each seen as underestimates by the next one to be carried out. Numbers are made all the more likely to be on the low side by the difficulty of polling people who are not out or maybe trying to live discreet post-surgical lives. Surgery figures may only reflect those via recordable national health clinics and not those going privately or abroad for surgery.

Similarly being trans covers everyone from transsexuals at various stages of hormonal and/or surgical transition, occasional and full-time crossdressers/transvestites, and some trans who identify as a third or non-gender outside the binary of male and female.

Whilst transsexuals may represent just 0.1% of the population, non-surgical trans may be 1% or higher as only a fraction pursue surgery and many are not ‘out’ to everyone. Figures as high as 1.5% have been quoted and the numbers coming out each year are escalating as exponential rates as it becomes more safe to do so. I live in a city of 200,000 adults and know over 100 local trans personally and of another 50-100+. There will obviously be those I don’t know and those not out yet so 1-in-1000 is a gross underestimate and yet that is a figure considered high by the NHS.

More prevalence research data here: http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Medpro-Assets/GenderVarianceUK-report.pdf http://tgmentalhealth.com/2010/03/31/the-prevalence-of-transgenderism/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transsexualism#Prevalence

Reducing Transphobia

The best thing you can do on this Transgender Day of Visibility and on every day following it is to reduce the tacit acceptability of transphobia in humour, toilet/bathroom access, and general gendered sexism and stereotyping. Allowing teens to grow up in the gender or expression they are comfortable with. Encouraging teens to be free to be tomboys and/or effeminate, irrespective of birth gender.

In another article Mey, an Idaho based Latina transwoman activist, outlines 15 ways to support trans people on the day of visibility and every day.

Visible Trans Persons

In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, Turner Prize winning artist and speaker Grayson Perry, LGBT Pink List topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, Roz Kaveney; Prof of Equalities Law at Manchester Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and many more besides. In business there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. There’s comedians Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill, and several other comics too, musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. I could go on and know of 100s of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life here in the UK alone.

In 2011 Channel 4 broadcast My Transsexual Summer and launched 7 British trans people into the limelight including friends of mine like Donna Whitbread, as well as Maxwell Zachs, Sarah Savage, Drew Ashlyn Cunningham, Lewis Hancox, Raphael Fox, and Karen Gale. Big Brother (UK and worldwide) has seen several trans winners and contestants including Nadia Almada, Luke Anderson, Lauren Harries, Alex Reid and Rodrigo now Rebekah Lopez.

April Ashley, Jan Morris and Caroline Cossey are all well known British women with open transgender histories. In the US Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves. Recently we’ve seen big names like Lana Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams, who recently advised Jared Leto on his Oscar winning role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Nor is “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.

The names above are just a sprinkling of the hundreds of thousands of out trans people worldwide and possible even over a million or more yet to come out, I mean 1-in-1000 it would be 6-7 million worldwide. Here’s hoping that more trans feel comfortable being more visible each day as that would not only make their lives happier but society itself all the more accepting and embracing, which is good for everyone. We are not invisible nor scary – but a little afraid ourselves, talk to us. For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.

Transgender Visibility Day (31 March) Bisexual Visibility Day (23 September) Intersex Day of Awareness (26 October) Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November)