Robert Holden is an author and motivational speaker whose work combines psychology and spirituality. He often opens his events by asking participants to learn and share with each other a two-part greeting that is spoken by Zulu people of South Africa. The greeting is an invocation of sorts spoken in two parts. One part is Sikhona, which means “I am here to be seen,” and the other part is Sawubona, which means “I see you.”

Here are some of the things that happen as people greet one another in this way:

  • Standing face to face, they focus on one another.
  • The Zulu people believe that when a person says “I am here to be seen,” it invokes the person’s spirit to be present. Saying “I am here” is a declaration of intent to fully inhabit this moment. Saying “to be seen” emphasizes “no masks,” “no editing,” and “no defenses.” It means “I will be honest with you,” and there will be no deception.
  • According to the Zulu tradition, to respond with “I see you” offers an intention to release any preconceptions and judgments so that “I can see you as God created you.”

I remembered this greeting as I was preparing to write to you about the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which we are observing today, March 31. The purpose of the Trans Day of Visibility is to highlight the accomplishments of transgender and gender non-conforming people and to raise awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve transgender justice.

Those are important purposes. But what I couldn’t help thinking is that if we really want this day to make a difference, we need to enter it with the spirit of Sawubona.

Trans and gender non-conforming people are doing the hard work. Each time they take a step, any step, toward living a life congruent with their true identify, they are declaring “I am here. No masks. No editing. Vulnerable. Honest.”

We need to hold up our end just as bravely. “I see you. Teach me. No judgment. In you I behold the image of God.”

I would love it if many of you are able to attend the Trans Day of Visibility rally that is being held on Saturday, April 2, on the south steps of the State Capitol from noon to 2:00 p.m. But more than that, I hope you will treat every day as an opportunity to offer to everyone that our world undervalues or tries to marginalize — LGBTQ+, people of color, women, neuro-diverse people and those living with mental illness, elders, people with felony convictions, and so many more — the gift of Sawubona.

Always in Hope,