This is a post about being seen. It is about trans visibility.
Not all visibility is good visibility.
My visibility when I walk home late at night.
My visibility every time a news outlet or TV show represents a trans woman in a two-dimensional or unfeeling way.
These are not good.
But over the last fortnight I have been very visible, touring with the American podcast ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ as part of their live show. I’ve joined them onstage in five European cities (Stockholm Oslo, Amsterdam, Munich and Berlin) and three cities in the UK (Brighton, London and Manchester) and we have been seen by many thousands of people.
Which is how I came to be standing last night on the stage of the London Palladium under the gaze of 2,200 people.
I was emotional and it took me a little while to realise why I felt that way. It made me consider where I am in my personal journey and what it is to be a transsexual in public in 2016. It took me back to some years ago, the fear I felt stepping into the night as a (then) male-identified cross dresser. I felt so much fear in those days – of how I would be seen, judged, of the repercussions on my life should this be discovered, of the repercussions on the street. These past experiences often still inform my present sense of self… although things are different, I still have a close relationship to the judgement of others and to fear.
It’s hard to comprehend how much has changed in those years and that I can step out in a gold lamè two-piece onto an iconic stage and claim space – not as a cross-dresser or in drag, but as myself… this was why it was a big deal.
To join the Night Vale company has been great fun, on the road with an awesome, warm and talented group of people. It’s an honour to be in a show playing a non-binary character (Sheriff Sam) who uses the pronoun they/theirs/them but whose gender is otherwise as unremarkable as any other character. Where my presence onstage is not a plot point or a case for diversity.
With the character of Sheriff Sam, the writers have created a strong minded person who carries a high position of authority within the town of Night Vale – they are the Sheriff of the Secret Police Department and they are “very shouty”. They are also a loveable asshole, not because they are trans just… some people are assholes.
I am thankful to Night Vale for showing that trans and non-binary doesn’t need to be a punchline, that it can exist without comment. For giving me a script to make people laugh at what I am saying rather than what I am.
Now we need more trans and non-binary characters in predominant roles in other fictional universes and stories – and the same in real life… trans and non-binary people represented in all areas of our lives and while we’re at it lets extend this desire beyond gender variance and also demand that we regularly see bodies of every shape and size, of different ethnicities, physical abilities and ages. As Night Vale puts it, “Listeners of every kind”…
Lets render the term ‘visibility’ redundant once and for all.
Written by Emma Frankland (@elbfrankland)
Photographs courtesy of jacob lovieie, @JephPixie, Katy Schutte
to listen to Welcome to Night Vale visit http://www.welcometonightvale.com/listen