Revealing your true colors
On March 31, millions of people around the world celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to honoring the accomplishments and bravery of the transgender community. Empowering tweets, pictures and articles posted with the hashtag, #TransDayofVisibility, flooded social media. It was a day of light blue, pink and white — the colors of the transgender flag.
Visibility is important to Mark (names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals), who identifies as a transgender man. It is one of the many reasons he, along with two other students, decided to revive Walnut’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter after years of its inactivity.
“Having this community around really helps people. Even though we [will go] our separate ways and [have] found out who we are, there’s people who are just starting their journey,” Mark said. “[The club can] be a stepping stone for them. It would be a chance for them to explore without being judged.”
At meetings, club members discuss LGBTQ topics and learn about LGBTQ-related issues.
“A lot of LGBTQ kids don’t get familial or peer support, and it really screws with them because, essentially, the message to them is that they’re not loved for who they truly are,” Mark said. “So, we want to do our part in helping nurture this community and make people feel safe, [educate] people who are not part of the community in order to create a better environment of acceptance and contribute to the bigger programs that make more of an impact than we can.”
To Mark, GSA represents the power of visibility, as he recalls the struggle of discovering his own gender identity throughout high school.
“When you first start experimenting, it’s really scary because you don’t know if what you’re feeling is real and everything is uncertain,” Mark said.
In 2015, Mark began playing Undertale, a video game with a main character who is canonically agender (a term which typically means being genderless, without a gender identity or gender neutral).
“At the time, the concept that someone could not be male or female was extremely interesting for me. Before that, I never really thought about myself in terms of what I should identify as,” Mark said.
For the following year and a half, Mark believed he was agender and used they/them pronouns. However, he always identified more on the masculine side of the gender spectrum. In the past year, Mark began dressing more masculine and realized he was a transgender man.
“I’ve always been a tomboy. I used to have really long hair, but I always had my hair tied up. I’ve never been into the more traditionally feminine things,” Mark said. “It’s still a process that I’m going through. As far as my identity, it’s gone a long way since late freshman year, and it’s something I will continue to explore in college.”
Mark has since come out to his friends and teachers, who have been accepting and supportive of his identity.
“It felt really amazing for me because it felt like I was the only one,” Mark said. “So, when people accepted me for who I was, I felt a lot more confident that people were OK seeing how I felt inside rather than me trying to uphold something I wasn’t.”
Despite having a strong support system of friends, Mark does not feel fully accepted by his parents, who come from a traditional Chinese background that is less accepting of the LGBTQ community.
“At home, I’m still seen as female, as a daughter,” Mark said.
He has come out to his mother but has yet to come out to his father. Although his mother is generally accepting of his gender identity, she worries about the obstacles he will face in the future.
“There’s a stigma, especially around trans people,” Mark said. “Socially, you’re going to have people who don’t agree with what you’re doing. Some people won’t understand why — they think that this is a choice. They don’t understand because they’re comfortable with themselves.”
According to the 2019 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, those who expressed a transgender identity or gender nonconformity while in grades K-12 reported harassment (78 percent), physical assault (35 percent) and sexual violence (12 percent). Survey respondents also experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population and have faced serious hurdles to accessing health care.
“From a motherly perspective, part of her is still hoping that this is something I’ll grow out of because her interest for me is to live a normal, happy life,” Mark said. “If, in the future, I transition using hormones, it’ll be a lot harder. But it’s something I feel like I’m willing to face because I’d rather do that than not be myself.”
Transgender people face gender dysphoria, which is the distress or discomfort a person feels because of a mismatch between their gender identity and their biological sex. Mark experiences top dysphoria and, as a result, binds his chest with a chest binder.
In the future, Mark hopes to see a gender therapist, a professional behavior health practitioner who specializes in working with individuals navigating a gender transition. After receiving a diagnosis, patients can then undergo medical options for transitioning, such as hormone therapy.
“A lot of the time, what comes with being trans is uncertainty. You doubt yourself a lot,” Mark said. “It’s really reassuring to have a professional sit down and tell you what you’re feeling is valid, what you’re feeling is normal.”
On March 30, the eve of International Transgender Day of Visibility, Idaho passed two anti-transgender laws, barring people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates and proibiting transgender women and girls from competing in sports that align with their gender.
“I definitely feel like [the world] can be discouraging and scary even, especially for me as a trans person. It’s really complicated,” Mark said.
Nevertheless, in spite of discriminatory attempts to oppress the LGBTQ community, Mark is quick to acknowledge the LGBTQ activists that fought for his right to exist and remains hopeful about the progress made — and still to be made.
“Even if it’s going back a little bit, seeing this progress in itself makes me want to fight for the future. There’s no death that goes wasted, and there’s no effort that goes unseen,” Mark said. “It fuels this desire for people to fight for what’s right. Everything that’s done unfairly, every person who’s treated unfairly because of how they identify or who they love — it’s added tension. The rubber band’s going to snap eventually.”
One thing is for sure: Visibility can be radical.
“We have the power to vote and to change the future, and we have the power to change the public perception of LGBTQ people. Hurtful stereotypes perpetuate a harmful image of what LGBTQ people are like, and it’s that bad image that gets people to [not really bother] to realize that being trans, gay or whatever — that’s not all we are. We’re people,” Mark said. “And we exist.”
By Sarah Aie, Staff writer
Photo illustration by Ethan Park