This article was published on April 14th, 2020
Pop culture is a funny thing, in that it’s the vehicle by which most of the world is exposed to LGBT struggles. Once upon a time, it was rare to find a queer role model portrayed in mainstream media without reducing our existence to a cliché or punchline. But in recent years, trans narratives have been explored, examined and reassessed, from casting cis gender actors in hits like Transamerica and Transparent, to trans actors and people of color winning praise in Pose.
So, progress can be made with a single step, and often it will take a series of small changes to move forward. It’s with a sigh of relief and hope that the visibility of the trans and non-binary community is slowly moving from a place of tolerance, to one of inclusivity and equality.
If you’ve been paying attention, the past twelve months has seen the world express a desire to embrace people as they are, and as they choose to live. Singer and Grammy-winner Sam Smith came out as non-binary on social media to an outpouring of support. Jonathan Van Ness also released his book titled Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, which revealed his non-binary and HIV status, and the star hasn’t looked back.
The world is waking up to the fact that highly talented, funny, and bankable celebrities deserve the right to be themselves, and that their fans will support them for it. Social media has proved to be an interesting litmus test, as it’s a significant driving factor in allowing people to express their gender identity, but it also allows for dialogue and encouragement.
Happily, corporate America is catching on. While Pride month is celebrated with diversity and a healthy dose of capitalism, a commitment to LGBT rights can lead to change throughout the year. Inclusivity doesn’t have to be a token gesture, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
An increasing number of workplaces now encourage staff to list their pronouns in their email signatures. Some businesses take this a step further, with front-line staff at places like Warby Parker given the option to wear a badge which identifies the pronouns of the wearer, encouraging the expression of the full spectrum of employee gender identities.
Sometimes, a little thing like a Pride or trans flag in the window of a cafe can make a meaningful difference and give queer people the reassurance that they are not alone. Indeed, messaging is important, and storytelling is free, plus it’s available to all businesses, giving a chance to move beyond visibility to a place of authenticity.
As an establishment, or industry, there is value in transformation – particularly if you have a legacy of being considered to be a dominant cis male space.
Perhaps the most heartwarming story of 2020 so far has been the way Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade have proudly and publicly supported their daughter Zaya in changing her pronouns, making several public appearances and sitting on morning news panels to explain their approach to parenting. It’s powerful stuff to have such prominent figures enter the mainstream conversation to voice their experience, particularly in relation to a child so young. Often in the sporting world, the trans headline is reduced to chromosomes and physiology. So, it’s inspiring to see Dwyane advocate for his child, influencing the world beyond basketball.
Empathy can be learned, and along with queer allies, we can all raise our voices in solidarity and to make demands. Our work is far from over, globally and particularly in relation to gender-based violence. But when we give people the chance to be authentic, we all benefit. We should all try to be open to change because we can all be a little more understanding.