Inaugural event emphasizes the power and danger of visibility in the trans community

In spite of an untimely but classic Ottawa snow storm, a group of trans citizens,  activists, and allies gathered at the Human Rights Monument on Friday March 31 to kick off Ottawa’s first ever Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV) event.

According to the event page, “TDOV aims to bring attention to the accomplishments of trans people around the globe while fighting cissexism and transphobia by spreading knowledge of the trans community.”

The event was organized by University of Ottawa alum Zac Johnstone and U of O students Lyra Evans and Mikayla Vattiata, and saw a full agenda of songs, speeches, and poetry.

“A lot of the time we only really see the media talking about trans folks when somebody’s dead,” said Johnstone. With that in mind, they hoped to “counter that narrative” by bringing TDOV to Ottawa.

“We’re not talking about the people we’ve lost, we’re talking about the people who are still here,” Johnstone explained. “And we’re talking about their amazing resiliency, and their power, and the power of taking up that space.”

Or, as Evans puts it, “why is it that there is a whole month for Pride, and one day for trans people, and it’s a sad one?”

And so, TDOV’s Ottawa rendition was born.

To begin the gathering, attendee Sharp Dopler was invited to the microphone to perform an acknowledgement that the gathering was being held on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory.

After the land acknowledgement Johnstone swung the event into high-tempo, leading the chant, “When trans communities are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” Cheers of “respect existence or expect resistance” from those in attendance also echoed through the busy hum of Elgin Street.

The event continued with a performance by trans singer-songwriter Alexandre Campbell, who sang an original song about their experience during transition, which was met with wild applause from the audience.

Next, trans artist Faraday staged a soulful rendition of Macklemore’s “Same Love.” The audience sang along to the lyrics “she keeps me warm,” in a spellbounding moment.

Although the event was meant to empower trans folks, a common message touted by event organizers and speakers was that the concept of visibility presents a bit of a “double-edged sword.”

Evans believes part of understanding visibility is looking at how our norms in acknowledging the transgender community have changed. Through her conversations with others, she’s noticed that fifteen years ago some trans folks “didn’t have to worry about going into the washroom, or crossing the border, or those sorts of things because transness was on nobody’s radar.”

And with the movement towards visibility becoming increasingly common, there are some day-to-day problems that Johnstone says trans people will inevitably deal with.

“Being visible means you’re going to be stared at, it means you’re going to be given strange looks on the street, it often means as a trans person you can’t go out in public without people scrutinizing you in some way, shape, or form,” they said.

“Especially for black folks and trans women of colour, there is a heightened risk of being visible, because we know what the rates of violence are.”

In order to increase the empowerment of trans people through visibility, both Johnstone and Evans emphasized the importance of involvement from allies in the Ottawa community.

“It’s important for people to know that these events are not closed to trans people,” said Evans.

“You are more than welcome to attend and share with your friends, and show support in any way you want or can.”