Visibility as a transgender or nonbinary person can be a tricky thing. In our society, being visible often means being vulnerable to discrimination. Yet we must be visible to be seen and fully respected for who we are. The goal of Transgender Day of Visibility is to raise awareness of the trials and triumphs of the transgender and nonbinary community. I can’t do that justice here, but I can muse on what it has meant to me to see and be seen as a trans person.
The times I have felt most seen and comprehended was not under the gaze of another, but deep in a book where I could see myself reflected clearly in the words and experiences of another. I’m forever grateful to my friend Sy, who by their lived example and their generous gifts of books opened my eyes to new possibilities. Stone Butch Blues and Nina Here Nor There gave me words to understand parts of myself that had gone unnamed. They shed light on a path I could follow — still dangerous, but made clearer by all who had gone before. When I finally accepted that my survival depended on walking this path, it was 2014 and I still had two years left in the Marine Corps.
The path to transitioning is inescapably visible, like walking along a narrow ridge and being silhouetted against the sky. I felt constantly aware of my visibility and the vulnerability therein. Can I use this bathroom safely? Will they accept my ID? Will the TSA search me? Will I be discharged from the military? I hoped to keep a low profile and not find out. Along the way, I met other trans Marines at the LGBTQ center outside Camp Pendleton and became connected with the larger albeit secretive community of transgender service members. Some had begun to medically and legally transition despite the ban. They shed more light on the path, always just enough to see a few steps ahead.
In 2015, a handful of service members began coming out publicly to protest the trans ban. Only the Marine Corps continued pretending it didn’t have this “problem”. That summer a friend asked if I would carry the Trans Pride flag for the military contingent in the San Diego Pride Parade. I had wanted to lay low on the ridge but instead, I was being asked to send up a flare. Sometimes the Holy Spirit feels like a tightness in my core and a trembling through my whole body, and this was one of those times. I said yes. Despite feeling horribly exposed, my command did not kick me out and that flare was a beacon of hope for isolated transgender Marines who reached out to me for help. It was my turn to shed some light on the path.
Visibility can be vulnerable but it is necessary for seeing and being seen. In seeing, the possibilities are illuminated; in being seen, we receive validation and allow our light to shine forth for others. Where we can both see and be seen is where we can find community.
As a queer and trans person, Evan Deocariza loves to attend The Vine on Wednesdays at 6 pm at Grace Cathedral. The diversity of attendees and intimate style of worship create a nourishing community where all may see and be seen. Learn more about The Vine.