I have to admit; it is hard to believe that I first started coming out ten years ago. 2008 seems like such a different time. As I stepped out of the closet with those tentative first steps, I was not quite sure what to expect. Would people accept me? Would people even know what it meant when I told them I was a transgender woman? There were so few resources for me, besides some internet connections. Despite being a student at a fairly conservative Bible college, I still forged forward knowing that I had no option but to be authentic to myself.
It seemed that at every turn I was “the first.” I was the first transgender woman any of my friends had ever known, and I was the first openly transgender student at my college and seminary. I was visible, and I felt the pressure of making sure that I was setting a good example - knowing that my actions would impact future trans people. It was a heavy weight, and it was what pushed me into activism around transgender education in 2010.
I remember the first time I heard about Transgender Day of Visibility, from Rachel Crandall- it’s inventor. It seemed like a great concept- a chance to celebrate trans folks. It seemed a good counterpoint to Transgender Day of Remembrance where the community so heavily felt the grief of lost lives. So in 2012, the organization that I worked with partnered to work on transgender education during March.
When doing activism, it can sometimes feel like we are not making a huge difference. But here I am, ten years after coming out, and now Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated around the world. I also think about how it is also not enough to just make us visible. That visibility has also led to increased hate crime rates, and "bathroom bill" legislation. With visibility must come continued organizing and work for a better world for all transgender people.
We can make a difference- I can look at the community in West Michigan and see the difference that education and activism by so many individuals have made.
As a trans person coming of age in the early 2000’s, I was lucky to have the internet for processing my feelings- and that enabled me to understand myself sooner. Having visible trans people makes a difference. I can only imagine how encouraged a young me would have been to see someone like Jazz Jennings on television. Visibility has enabled people to move towards a healthier life.
Ember Kelley is a Master of Divinity student at Chicago Theological Seminary. She lives in Grand Rapids with her wife and two kids. In the past, Ember has been on GIFT GR's board and has worked as an intern.