Tagline: Until the Work Is Done
Allison VanKuiken – “Share your truth, know that you are seen and loved, and have hope.”
March 27, 2017 at 11:21 am

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By: Allison VanKuiken, EQCA program director

Allison and daughter Eleanor

On March 31st, the transgender community and its many allies will celebrate the eighth annual International Day of Transgender Visibility. TDOV as it has come to be known, was a concept created back in 2009 by my friend and early mentor, Rachel Crandall-Crocker. For those who have not had the pleasure of meeting Rachel, I can you tell you few have a bigger heart. Rachel has dedicated her life to the transgender community and through her work, given hope to countless people, myself included.

The idea behind TDOV is rather simple, to inspire hope and acceptance through the celebration of life and visibility in the transgender community. At the time when the idea came into existence, not many people knew the word transgender and few possibility models existed for people like me. We were a population largely living in the shadows, steeped in stigma, marginalized at every turn, and plagued by violence. This was the environment and Rachel was correct in her assessment that we needed something to give our community hope.

In my experience, the absence of hope kept me in the closet for years. As a teen growing up in the nineties, we did not have GSA’s, in fact when I first sought support, the prescription was rehabilitation. It was only after graduating high school, a decade prior to the creation of TDOV, that I tried living openly as a transgender woman for the first time. The experience however was quickly cut short when my best friend was severely beaten while leaving what we both thought was a safe space for us. Following that tragic night, I could not envision an authentic life and in that despair, I chose to hide.

Over the next ten years, things began to change for both the transgender community and me. As any one of us could tell you, the constant stress and dysphoria of living a lie eventually reaches a breaking point and as my twenties came to a close, I had reached mine. Concurrent to all this, transgender people were also becoming more visible. For the first time, I started to see possibility models I could relate to, there was greater access to transition related care, and real support networks to help each other along began to emerge. Essentially what had happened over that decade was hope. More people began to come out and as they did, more advocacy, health, and support groups started to form to meet the needs of the growing transgender population.

Not long after the creation of TDOV, I got to know Rachel. Having survived a bruiser of a coming out that cost me some family, friends, a good job, a house, and a partner of six years, I needed a little support and she was there to provide it. I like to think Rachel imparted some important lessons on me in those early days. Among them, confidence, resilience, and a commitment to the community.

My journey since coming out and the visible life I’ve lead has truly been an extraordinary experience. The confidence I found in authenticity taught me to lead and inspire others, with resilience, I learned to stay the course no matter how daunting the challenges, and a sense of community has always served as a north star in making decisions. These values have served me well not only in my work within the LGBT movement, but in my marriage, newfound role as a mom, and as a good neighbor.

Looking back at that critical period when I was struggling, it was hope that moved me from despair and put the wind at my back. Seeing others in the transgender community living their lives, building families, and finding success in their careers showed me such things weren’t just dreams, they were very real possibilities if one was willing to put in the work. Again, Rachel knew what she was doing when she started TDOV. She was creating something to give hope to her people.

Since the inception of the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a lot has changed in the world and despite many of the significant challenges facing the transgender community today, there are countless reasons to be hopeful. More people are choosing to come out and live authentically, a growing acceptance and understanding of our identities is resulting in more opportunities for our people to thrive, and ultimately, we have allies, allies who are working shoulder to shoulder with us to insure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While wave after wave of hateful legislation batters us, no vindictive politicians or weird hate groups can undo the real progress we have made as a community and they certainly cannot diminish our hopes for a better tomorrow.

For my siblings in the transgender community, have fun on March 31st. Share your truth, know that you are seen and loved, and have hope. For our allies, lean in, listen, and learn. We love you and need to see you. Lastly, for Rachel, thank you for your commitment to the community and giving us all a little hope.

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