Gender and Visual Impairment - Transgender Awareness Week
My name is Jo and I am a Graphic Design Intern for VIP World Services.
Recently my colleague Rhea, as a member of the BAME community, made a blog post appreciating inspirational BAME VIPs such as Stevie Wonder. She also explored how racism affects VIPs - an interesting and valuable concept that maybe not many people would have thought about prior.
Each year the 13th - 19th of November is Transgender Awareness Week.
While being cisgender and not a part of the transgender community myself, I would most certainly consider myself an ally. It is everyone’s job to look out for and support the trans people who every day are constantly faced with bigotry and some of whom have lost their lives to such crimes: Transgender Awareness Week falls before the 20th of November - the Transgender Day Of Remembrance - which honours the lives lost to transphobic violence.
VIP World strives towards inclusivity, and for as long as I have a voice to, I will try and bring awareness on such matters and educate where I can.
Gender And Visual Impairment
I was interested in exploring how visual impairment and gender coexist as a whole. It can be easy to forget but society most certainly still carries sexist ideologies and practises, especially in less developed countries: Studies have shown that women account for 64% of blind people globally and while this isn’t necessarily a reflection of sexism if it were just down to biology, it may show that the ability for women to access eye care is harder than it is for men to in many parts of the world.
If you’re reading this as part of our UK audience or you are in an otherwise developed country, it may be easy to discard the idea of there being such a prevalence of sexism amongst VIPs. Interested, I turned to social media. I asked for VIPs to step forward and tell me their experiences with gender and how they think that being visually impaired has had an impact.
An anonymous response I received from a female VIP told,
‘There is at least some part of society that finds blind women a lot more socially acceptable than blind men.
Being blind inevitably makes you more dependent on other people and that sort of dependence is very much associated with femininity. Obviously, that's not what modern women are expected to be or want to be.
Even so, it's much more acceptable to be a blind woman holding someone's arm, regardless of the other person's gender, than a blind man holding someone's arm, especially if the other person is also a guy. Two straight women happily will link arms in a way that two straight men won't.’
Like feminism is as a whole, this isn’t just a women’s issue. It affects everyone with men very much so included.
She then went on to explain,
‘I have mentored a few people who have recently undergone sight loss, all young women in a similar situation to me.
Every single one of them, without my mentioning anything to do with any of this, has said that it must be way harder on young men who are under pressure to be all physical and masculine and capable in exactly the kind of ways that losing your sight limits. That's not to say that women want to be clumsy or inelegant or constantly asking for help, but there is still a strong social undercurrent that it's much more okay for women to be dependent than it is for men.’
Being trans or outside of the gender binary as a VIP
I was fortunate to receive some incredible first-hand responses from VIPs who are trans and non-binary.
A trans VIP said,
‘I’d say that being visually impaired has made a significant impact on how I perceive my gender. Most of my life, I was far too busy trying to be blind in a world with sight. As a result, every other part of myself (gender identity included) got pushed aside.
I’ve struggled to picture myself as I appear to others. I have an idea of what my face looked like, but I’ve no idea how it’s changed with hormones. Since I can’t see myself, my biggest source of dysphoria is my voice.’
Another trans VIP similarly said,
I’m blind and a trans guy. These two have never conflicted but I know they will soon as my body physically changes with hormones and surgeries. I may be extra observant of my body changing shape. I also fear the issue of not being able to see post-op photos of top surgery results from other trans people when searching for a surgeon.
I had multiple responses which suggested that maybe intersectionality (or more so the lack of it) could come into play with the problems that VIPs face.
A non-binary VIP said,
‘I don't think being visually impaired changes how I experience my gender or rather lack thereof, but it does impact my overall sense of community and available support. It often feels like the facets of my identity are extra complications asking people to remember and be mindful of multiple things about me as a person, putting a burden on others. "Oh, so you're blind and trans and ... ". I worry that people won't take me seriously; I worry that people will think I'm just trying to get more attention or be more 'special,' more 'oppressed' than others.
‘Being blind/disabled in LGBTQIA+ spaces is challenging. Being LGBTQIA+ in blind/disabled spaces is challenging. Intersectionality needs improvement across the board.’
On this comment, another trans VIP added,
‘It feels like a big challenge to find places that I feel safe or are welcoming as a trans person. And it’s hard to find places that I feel safe as a VI person. Finding places that feel welcoming and are accessible for both parts of me is so hard.’
Being visually impaired is difficult and being outside of the societal ‘norms’ for gender is difficult, and when these two intersect, they multiply against each other. One issue makes the other even harder.
Society as a whole is making such large movements and improvements - the recognition of such issues is becoming increasingly common and with that comes better understanding for and from us all. The more that we identify these problems, the sooner we can strive to fix them and create better resources for trans people, VIPs and those who are both.
Here at VIP World, inclusivity is important to us. One of our company aims is to make travelling, working and independence for VIPs as easy as it can be. While gender is not something we work with directly - the same with race as in Rhea’s post - it is so important to consider both in our mission to best create an inclusive London.
The anonymous opinions and thoughts of those I talked to on social media