Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.
— U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, May 9, 2016
We see you. Of all the words Loretta Lynch used last spring in her statement announcing the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against North Carolina in response to that state’s “bathroom bill,” these three might have been the most significant. Official Governmental America (i.e. “we”) speaking directly and publicly to a community that has historically been ignored at best and mocked, victimized, and persecuted at worst was already a breakthrough. But what Lynch said in that direct message to the transgender community—that the Administration sees you—was truly remarkable.
Visibility is a word that works in both directions. The ability to see. And also the ability to be seen. I imagine that for many trans individuals, the goal for a long time was invisibility, a seamless blending-in. Passing. Maybe that’s still the goal for many. But I wonder if we see you signaled not only a newfound willingness and ability of institutional America to see the transgender community but also an increasing desire by the trans community to be seen. A desire for more than benign neglect, a desire for honest appreciation.
Lynch could have said we hear you, which would have been meaningful but might also have reinforced the outdated notion that the transgender community is shouting from the shadows as opposed to marching proudly down Main Street. But she didn’t say hear. She said see. Surely this was no accident. As well-crafted and -considered as Lynch’s statement was, her choice to say we see you was no doubt intentional.
But what fueled the intention? Was it the audience? Is the transgender community especially attuned to the performative aspects of gender, and therefore to the aesthetics, to the visualization? Or is we see you a function of the ever-increasing video-ization of our social interactions? The linguistic manifestation of the GIF, the Vine, the You Tube post? The fact that today visual image carries more currency than text?
Perhaps one of the most fulfilling things that can happen to any us is to have our visibility acknowledged publicly—whether it be by our Instagram followers or by Official Governmental America. If that’s true, then is the inverse also true? Is the most demoralizing thing not to be seen? Not to be acknowledged?
Because now, a year later, there’s a new Attorney General, a new President. And so far there hasn’t been any effort on the part of this new administration to “see” or “stand with” any historically marginalized community. The new “we” looks inward rather than outward. So what does visibility mean now? In an effort to find out, Waccamaw asked for poems, stories, and essays loosely based on that theme. The result is what you see here: urgent writing that establishes that “we” and our collective ability to see and be seen can survive four solipsistic years.