“The power of visibility can never be underestimated”
~ Margaret Cho
I sit here in Starbucks writing on a Sunday morning, on June 23rd, 2019, reminiscing about the Spartanburg PFLAG meeting I attended earlier this month. It is LGBTQ Pride Month and we were all asked what Pride meant for us. There were many answers, all very honest and true. When it was my turn, I quietly lamented that all the good answers had been taken… until I took another look inside to realize what I had been doing ever since moving to the great Upstate of South Carolina.
I was being visible.
Whether at the PFLAG group where I proudly represent crossdressers, or at the monthly Meet and Mingles where I have grown to love and cherish my friendships with them and those who come to support it. At the meeting, I told the group that I was going to use this Pride Month to be more visible in a different way. While social media and the news outlets are talking all about the parades and the marches and festivities, I decided to take the message of Savannah to the mean streets. Of course, I am not foolish enough to do something drastic, but some would say what I am doing is drastic… and foolish.
I decided to get up early, get dressed as Savannah, and go to the local Starbucks where I usually spend my Sundays writing and editing (in male-mode). I didn’t realize until I was in the parking lot this outing would be just that… an “outing”. Not all the baristas knew before today I was dual-gendered. And, none of them or the other patrons had ever come across me in my Savannah presentation. Well, now the baristas know. And, soon, the after-church crowd will be filing in. Had I made a terrible mistake? Will the fervor of a congregation just released from a rousing sermon be inclined to vilify me?
These are the thoughts that go through the heads of many crossdressers, wrestling whether to take steps outside their homes, the safety of LGBTQ+ events or hotel rooms. There is always a self-preserving cycle of risk assessment that we have finely-honed over the years. Do we go out? Do we stay in? Is it safe? What will I risk if I do this? Sometimes, we aren’t even aware of the calculations because we “do the math” almost without being consciously aware we are doing it.
Well, I did it. I took the chance.
What have I learned so far? Like I have mentioned before in other articles and in my book, most people are more concerned about their own lives than expending any concern about a single crossdresser sitting with a coffee and a laptop in Starbucks. Sure, Starbucks is also a friendly place with pro-LGBTQ+ policies, but that doesn’t mean the clientele will abide by those world views just because of their caffeine addiction.
I was not even recognized by the baristas when I walked in. One on-break barista, Alex, glanced up at me before returning to what he was doing. I approached him, teasing him about not saying hi to me. When he realized that Savannah was me, he said that I “… looked good.” I blushed and told him, “thank you.” All the other baristas seemed equally unfazed by my new presentation. That energy, in turn, gave me a boost of confidence to be seen by anyone coming in for their hot or cold brews. One of the other patrons, a young woman sitting two tables over, even trusted me enough to ask me to watch her handbag and electronics. Can a crossdresser be trusted with another person’s personal effects? The answer is… yes!
There is a strange irony to being “visible” during Pride Month when finding yourself outside the cordons of designated parade routes or a string of pro-LGBTQ+ pop-up vendors. Trans-men and -women need to live as their authentic selves 100% of the time. Gays and lesbian want to freely and publicly express their love for their partners or spouse–even with marriage equality, it is a difficult practice in some parts of the country (in the United States). That being said, there are many individuals in the community who feel that they cannot be true to their gender identities or publicly express their sexual preferences without judgement or a negative reaction. Bisexuals are told to “just pick a side, already”. Pansexuals are still being asked, “how are they different from bisexuals?” Speaking for myself, as a male-to-female crossdressers, it is so very tempting and easy to retreat back into my maleness whenever things get dicey.
I had decided to make a statement by going out in the bright sun of the morning as Savannah. It wasn’t because I have flawless skin or amazing make-up skills—I’m still working on that—but, because I wanted to be an easy-to-approach access point for anyone who may have thoughts and concerns about their own gender identity or presentation. If I can positively affect one boy or girl–or man or woman–by simply being seen in public doing something as benign as writing on a laptop and drinking my venti quad expresso, I feel I have provided something positive back into the world.
Our experiences are daily, not just during Pride Month. Visibility doesn’t necessarily require a flag, bullhorn or multi-colored, painted cardboard sign. Sure, those events are important to spread the message of the LGBTQ+ community on a large scale and to give people a place to feel a part of. But, all of us need to also survive and thrive on a daily basis. Make yourself more visible, if you can. Be that presence and voice for others to find and follow. We have to face our own fears of the unknown. In doing so, your visibility may allow others to follow your light and find their own strength to be seen.