On Wednesday afternoon, the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center (SWAG) hosted a talk with author and activist Alex Myers in honor of Trans Day of Visibility, which was March 31. In the garage of 24 College Street, Myers discussed what it means to be seen as a transgender person, LGBTQ+ representation and his experiences teaching students about gender identity during a casual, intimate conversation with students and faculty.
Myers, who was the first openly transgender person to attend both Phillips Exeter Academy—the boarding school where he now works as an English teacher—and Harvard University, explained the difference between being “looked at” and “looked through.”
“Visibility, to me, becomes negative when you are a spectacle. It’s the feeling of being looked at because you’re not fitting into their expectations,” Myers said. “When people look through you, they know how to make sense of you enough to move right along. That’s a kind of visibility, but you’re not visible in a way that makes you stand out or that makes someone question your right to be there.”
While Myers clarified that different people find power in different levels of standing out, he added that sometimes “invisibility is a privilege.”
“I think [what he quoted about kinds of visibility] is something I’ll keep considering,” attendee Salina Chin ’23 said. “It was something that really stuck with me in terms of how trans people are viewed.”
Myers added that a productive kind of visibility often starts with meaningful representation, which he finds to be lacking in most literature. He thinks most transgender stories are geared toward kids and young adults and follow the protagonist as they formulaically discover an aspect of their identity, come out and find some sense of self-acceptance.
“I really dislike that story. It suggests that [LGBTQ+] stories end with coming out. That’s not true. That is arguably when [LGBTQ+] life starts. It suggests there is a sort of completeness to you once you come out,” Myers said. “I think that’s misleading. It’s an ongoing process.”
He explained how the most mundane kinds of representation can often be the most important.
“What amazes me is that no matter what age the students I work with are, I’m often the first trans adult they’ve met,” he said. “That’s the mind-blowing narrative—that I’m a normal adult. The most boring stories can be the most important ones because they give you the sense that you can make your way in the world without having a spotlight on you, which is how it sometimes feels when you first consider coming out as trans.”
Myers also touched on trans athletes in youth and high school sports, a topic that frequently arises when he consults institutions on inclusive gender identity policies. He encourages all schools to “de-gender” athletic language and consider how to create fair competition that is not influenced by gender.
Associate Dean of Students for Inclusion and Diversity and Director of SWAG Kate Stern hopes that students take away what they personally need from the conversation.
“Different students need different things,” Stern said. “I think for somebody who’s cisgender, to have them think about what visibility means is really powerful but very different than for somebody who’s transgender or gender non-binary.”