(Cover of Jamison Green's book: Becoming a Visible Man)
Jamison Green Discusses Invisibility Within the Transgender Community
Jamison Green is a writer, trans advocate, keynote speaker, and currently serves as President of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). Green is known as an activist for the legal protection, medical access, safety, and civil rights of transgender people.
Green has published many essays and articles and is author of Becoming a Visible Man, published in 2004, and has appeared in many documentary films. He will be presenting a keynote address at Moving Trans History Forward 2016, at the University of Victoria, March 18th, 2016.
XQQ contributor, James Gardner spoke with Jamison Green recently by phone.
XQQ: The title of your book, Becoming a Visible Man explores the concept of invisibility as a trans community. Do you believe trans people are largely invisible?
Green: I think trans men in particular are invisible, physically, and I think trans women and trans men are invisible politically and culturally. And, when we are seen, we are reacted to, usually in very negative ways. That isn’t necessarily a condition that is permanent. I think we can change that condition, and we have started that process of changing that condition. The tricky thing is that people will struggle. Because trans people usually come from some level of oppression and trauma in their lives, even very high-functioning and successful people may minimize that experience to move beyond it, but it is there.
I think we tend to hold ourselves back tremendously. Now, that’s a big generalization. Certainly, there are people who are extremely successful who don’t hold themselves back, who have no inhibitions and can basically rise above anything. What I see a lot in the community are people who are worried about stepping out so that they can avoid any negative reaction that might come up, and that tends to make us invisible.
XQQ: We’ve seen some people come forward who are very visible: Caitlyn Jenner, Janet Mock. But is there also a danger in becoming visible?
Green: I don’t think so. I know that certain people and some circumstances can be dangerous. I’ve been very visible myself for over 20 years, and I haven’t tried to become the kind of public figure that Janet Mock or Caitlyn Jenner are, but I’ve been in dozens of documentary films and I’ve spoken all around the world. I’ve been interviewed in various newspapers and on radio, magazine articles and have had my photo all over the place, and I have literally had no fallout from that.
XQQ: I guess what I am trying to say is that whenever there is more visibility, there seems to be pushback or a backlash.
Green: Yeah, again you are looking at the big picture, and we are having that right now with respect to access to bathrooms. The Republican Party in the United States has really targeted trans people and particularly the Obama administration regulatory changes that have benefitted trans people. The Republicans want to change these regulations as quickly as they possibly can.
Photograph courtesy of The Georgia Voice
XQQ: It seems the more visible we become, the bigger the threat.
Green: That’s one of the reasons we don’t make progress faster. I think what happens is that when we hit a place, like right now, globally, where trans people have been asserting themselves tremendously in many different cultures, many different countries and have come up against resistance; the resistance scares people. Not everybody. It may not scare the people who are confronting it, but it will scare others. That fear then holds them back. If the momentum could keep going forward, instead of having people react with fear about confronting these topics. I think again, I don’t want people to put themselves in physical danger, but there are ways to address a lot of these issues without putting yourself in physical danger. Writing letters is one way to do it. You don’t have to out yourself, you can use a pseudonym; you can do all kinds of things, but you can get your ideas out there and express outrage at the way people are being treated.
XQQ: This controversial bathroom bill that is being proposed in South Dakota and threatened in other U.S. states… How can legislators possibly enforce this ridiculous bill?
Green: They can legislate it all they want, but they can’t enforce it. They can’t possibly have an officer standing outside every public restroom for genital inspections. They just can’t do that. What we have to do to stop this, is provide the education in such a way that these people who haven’t heard it yet can actually hear it – to explain that genitals and chromosomes do not define you as a human being. Yes, they’re important. That’s why some of us want to have surgery on our genitals. Certainly chromosomes contribute to our creation as human beings, but they don’t define us. People believe what they have learned in high school or middle school biology classes that oversimplify the world, and they’re afraid.
XQQ: How important is it in the trans community to have pioneers like yourself?
Green: Just as important as it is for us to have people like Caitlyn Jenner out there. As provocative as she may be, and as ill-equipped to be a real leader, she still plays a very important part. I think having leaders shows people that things are possible.
(Photo of Jamison Green with his dog, Cooper. Courtesy of Jamison Green)
XQQ: I would think of her not so much as a pioneer. But more, guys like you and Lou Sullivan who were out there blazing trails for those of us who have come along later. Why is trans history so important?
Green: If they can erase our history then they keep us in the dark. It’s really important for us to expand on our history, to know our history so that we don’t keep reinventing the wheel. Because that’s a waste of time. And, I think people who form opposition to communities like ours will do everything they can to keep us from understanding who we are and gaining strength from our history.
XQQ: You will be giving a keynote address at the upcoming Moving Trans History Forward Conference. What themes or issues will you touch on in your address?
Green: In general I’ll be speaking about what global advances and setbacks our community has had, particularly through the lens of my experience with the WPATH, which is a very significant kind of experience for our community. As the second trans person to ever lead that organization in its 37-year history, I’ve made some really dramatic, remarkable changes and I think we’re going to see some real progress as a result of those changes.
Jamison Green is a frequent public speaker. He will be delivering a keynote address at the Moving Trans History Forward Conference. (Photograph courtesy of Jamison Green)
James Gardner is a trans man, advocate and activist living in Victoria. He is a regular contributor to CrossQueerQuarterly.