Stepping out: Day of Visibility celebrates Asheville’s transgender community

The second annual International Transgender Day of Visibility-Asheville happens Friday and Saturday, March 30-31. And while many folks may wonder why another LGBTQ pride event is necessary, our local transgender community clearly needs a day of its own. For too long, "transgender" has been limited to overpriced conferences celebrating victimhood, hot "she-male" porn sites and false depictions on The Jerry Springer Show.

Many people believe a transgender male or female is trying to fool someone, that we’re "gay" or that we think we were born in the wrong body. The Day of Visibility is a chance to educate mainstream people about what transgender really is — and to represent Asheville’s transgender scene.

As the founder of the local event, I'm hoping to attract a diverse group of people who want to learn more about Asheville's substantial transgender community. People often assume that everyone in the LGBTQ community is the same, but we're not: Sexual orientation is fundamentally different from gender identity or gender expression. Several workshops scheduled for March 31 will explore these differences as well as other issues (see box).

So yes, we do need our own day of pride. After transitioning, too many of us try to just blend into mainstream life, living in fear of our dirty secret being found out. It's hard for us at times, as we have no federal ordinances to protect us.

In human-rights ordinances, the transgender community is all too often the first to be thrown under the bus. We have no housing or job protection: I lost a management job at an Asheville-based company a few years back because I was transgender. (Actually, when they called me in to fire me, they said I was a transvestite — I laugh at that now).

Rachel Crandall of TransGender Michigan got the ball rolling on March 31, 2009, putting the word out on Facebook about the original International Transgender Day of Visibility event. Since then, it's gone global, with similar celebrations popping up around the world. Besides empowerment and education, this weekend is about putting a real face on the transgender community, rather than the overblown "I need to be fixed with a tuck and snip" mentality. Fixing is what you do to cats and dogs. And speaking for myself, I wasn't born in the wrong body, and I'm thankful for the blessing of being transgender. This is our time to let it be known that we're not ashamed of who we are.

The International Transgender Day of Visibility-Asheville offers anyone who identifies as "trans" the opportunity to be less of a mystery to mainstream people. It's a chance to step up and out, to demonstrate that trans people are all around us and have helped shape our culture and history. The event also helps mainstream people become better informed about transgender issues.

And if, for one weekend, a large number of trans people can come together proudly instead of silently struggling with shame and guilt, maybe it will help more of us find the courage to stand up and say, "I am a human being who happens to be transgender — and you will not disrespect me!"

— Asheville area resident Jennifer Barge is the founder/director of TransHealth Coordinators. She can be reached at transgenderhealthcoordinators@yahoo.com.

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