Talking Down to Help Lift Up Trans Folk

I went to a pride event organized for professionals a little while ago. The event was a bit of a dud, and one of the things that bothered me was around a conversation about trans people.

The main event was a panel discussion on making workplaces more LGBTQ friendly, and better ways to achieve this then periodic sensitivity training. One of the most uncomfortable topics was around trans people, not because I think there needs to be less support for trans people in the work place. A lot of my discomfort was centered around the way the conversation unfolded. To be completely honest, it was quite obvious that the conversation was a condescending and shallow attempt by gay people, to try and discuss trans people.

The worst part, was that it was plainly obvious to the panelists that there wouldn’t be any trans people in the room. It was a room full of professionals right? So trans people wouldn’t be there, so why speak to us as if we deserve to be in the room.

I don’t know if anyone else in the room was trans, but I certainly was, and it’s likely that no one there expected a trans person to be present. Which makes the tone and conversation all the more uncomfortable.

I live in a small town, the queer community here is reasonably close knit. On a day to day basis I’m not used to experiencing the ‘hierarchy of privilege within the community. I’m not accustomed to being talked down to by gay men and lesbians. So when I went to this event in a nearby city. It was a bit jarring.

The panel itself was condescending around trans issues. That wasn’t the icing on the cake for me. At the little networking event afterwards, I overheard a student in attendance talking to a few people about wanting to get an internship in my field. So I decided to give the guy a chance, and I went and introduced myself. Complimented his rainbow bow tie, and tried to start a conversation. He looked me up and down, made a dismissive grunt and then walked away.

The first bit of irony is that I am likely the only person there that could have made an introduction to help him get what he wanted. But that complete dismissal of who I am based on my appearance, was disgusting. It’s just one more thing I now get to carry with me.

The only point I think I can try and make out of this, is that there is an incredible difference between working with a group of people and working at a group of people.

If you look at the history, the reason why trans folk are so marginalized is because we’ve usually been used as fuel and fodder by gay people in the community to achieve their aims, and when the trans community has gotten in the way they’ve seen fit to throw us to the wayside.

What I’m talking about today is just a continuation of that marginalization. The point of community is to work together, and I’ve discovered in some places, there’s some healing that needs to happen first.

Finding Motivation Pt. 2

I talked last week about how I’ve lost access to a lot of the typical motivation and incentive systems by transitioning. I talked about the environment that unfolded, but today I’d like to go further and talk about how it affected me, what I did internally to find motivation, and the struggles I have with staying positive.

If you’d like to read the first part it’s right here: Finding Motivation

I had to go through a pretty intense period of melancholy and hopelessness to get to where I am now. Growing up, and going into my transition I held on to one idea, and it’s an idea that kept me in the closet longer then I probably needed to be. I never wanted my identity to hold me back from accomplishing whatever I wanted to do.

Well that happened anyways, so that was jarring and I had to unpack that. I moved past it because I’ve already had some incredible experiences, made some completely unexpected connections, and found a community that I could share my experiences without reservation with. So what I lost in the hetero-normative and cis-centric world around me, I gained in the queer community many times over.

It took me some time to realize that, and to let go of what I’d lost. I still vividly remember a few months ago when I gave up on having any sort of financial success in my career. I may still progress roles, take on additional responsibilities, I may have opportunities to learn. This progress has taken on a different perspective to me though. It’s because of personal growth, it’s because of the opportunity to learn, it’s not because of a raise or a bonus, it’s not because of what I will get materially, but what I will gain as a person. Which is somewhat depressing, because some would say that this represents exploitation.

I’m talking about doing more work for less pay. I’m talking about not being recognized for my talents. I’m talking about fighting to hold on to a job that I was told I did very well before I transitioned, and now that I have transitioned I’m constantly being reviewed, and found wanting. I’m talking about accepting discrimination.

That’s a depressing thought, and this is why I’ve had to find ways to motivate myself, because I’m living on a knife’s edge. If I don’t accept that I am constantly dealing with discrimination, that who I am is considered fundamentally lesser then others, and by people I have and need to respect then I’ll break. So I have to persevere, and accept what I can’t control.

I think the hardest part of this is that it proved a lot of my fears rights. I am treated differently, being trans has impacted my life, and in negative ways.

So what have I held onto?

I hold onto the present, my responsibilities to my clients has been the only thing keeping me going some days. I’m damn good at what I do, and have only gotten better since transitioning. So now it’s almost like the gods called my bluff. I said I got into finance to help people, well, that’s one of the first things I hold on to.

I hold onto the future, I believe I have a responsibility to other trans folk. I managed to push the door open a small crack, I’m doing what I want to be doing, and I’m doing it at a level that I don’t think would have been possible ten years ago. If I want kids growing up to see that trans women can be professional women, and have the career and live the life, have the title and the corner office that comes with it. Then I’m still accomplishing something. I often joke that I didn’t break the glass ceiling I’ve gotten myself crushed against it, it might not have broken, but if I can withstand the pressure it might just crack, and someday shatter. I’m hoping it happens before I break.

I also hold onto the past. The more trans and queer history I read the more I realize in someways I’m lucky to be able to be fighting different fights. fifty years ago trans folk were fighting against police brutality and a criminal code that mandated adherence to gender roles. If my ancestors had the courage and bravery to stand against dogs and batons and incarceration for being true to themselves. Then I can find a way forward, step by step, day by day.

The big issue I’ve run into is that straight cis people don’t like an uppity Queen. There’s an expectation for folks that identify as a gender or sexual minority to not be too… I’m going to use the word different. As long as you’re not too gay, too excited, too opinionated, basically, too different from what a straight cis person would do then you’re begrudgingly accepted. So if you’re trans, there’s a pressure to not transition, and if you have transitioned. You’re held to a very high standard in upholding the gender role and norms that you have transitioned too. If you’re gay that’s fine as long as no one ever has to think or deal with that.

Any deviation from this in my experience has lead to accusations of negativity and toxicity. That my queerness, that the messiness of a transition is unprofessional. That I can identify how I want so long as it has no impact and requires no effort on the part of those around me. There is incredible pressure to hide and repress any part of my trans-ness, my gay-ness, my me-ness that doesn’t conform to cis and straight culture. Which isn’t a whole hell of a lot, my lived experiences are usually pretty different from those around me.

So it’s hard to be positive, it’s hard to be motivated, and I think the most important thing is that I’ve worked through enough of it to be okay with myself when it’s hard, because I’m not crazy for thinking it’s hard to keep going forward. There’s more against me then with me and if I want to change that then I’ve got to find the strength to get through it. If at the end of the day I don’t have much left in me, then I know why.

In a lot of ways I’ve internalized what I said months ago. I’ve gotten used to not being okay, but at least now I know why, and I have reasons to keep fighting. I’m not alone in the fight, and that’s enough for now.

 

 

Finding Motivation

Let’s talk about motivation, not specifically in the workplace, but generally. The desire to accomplish things.

One of the things I’ve had to give up since transitioning is any sort of recognition or material rewards.

My first full time job out of college five years ago, adjusted for inflation, paid better then what I make now. I’ve taken on bigger and better jobs, but that hasn’t turned into any sort of financial benefit.

So I’ve had to rethink my entire motivation system. I’m an out trans woman, I might as well have a tattoo across my forehead that says exploit me. Because the general sentiment I’ve experienced is that I’m lucky to have a job. Which is backed up with statistics. only 1/3 of trans folk work full time, I’m in the top quartile for earnings with my 40 odd thousand dollars a year salary. Compared to my straight cis peers I’m not doing great, but compared to other trans folk, I’ve experienced some substantial financial success.

So context is important, I have a full time job, I have a career I like, and I help people while doing it. On top of it I’m not close to the poverty line, so by most metrics of trans folk I’m incredibly successful. That took awhile to internalize. It’s hard not to compare yourself to your peers. it’s hard not to feel slighted by people you should trust, and it’s hard to not take it personally when people exploit you.

At the end of the day though, wallowing in that will only hurt you. I’ve felt so much hurt in the last year. So much pain. I’m trying to move past it all, and hold in my heart that in so many ways things are better then I’d ever imagined them being.

That is what you have to hold in your heart. That is what I try and focus on, and I’m generally not successful at it, but I keep trying. I have time to give back to my community, I have time to spend with my wife, I have time to give to friends and I still have time to mow my lawn. Which is my lawn that I’m paying for. So for me financial success is unreliable, and that’s a fact I’ve had to accept.

Motivation based on passion, motivation based on internal strength, motivation based on people, and most importantly, motivation based on a desire to make things better. That’s what drives me now, and it’s so much harder to hold on to, but it runs cleaner and feels healthier. Besides I’ve got to be able to keep myself motivated to build a world where I and those like me belong. We didn’t have the luxury of being born into one.

On Dysphoria and Modern Trans Youth

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually specifically spoken here about gender dysphoria. I’ve been thinking more about it lately. Not because of my own experiences, but from working with some trans youth.

I’ve started volunteering with a youth group for LGBTQ+ teenagers predominately. There’s several trans kids in the group, they’re all trans boys but what they say gives me a lot to think about.

My own experiences with dysphoria were far less nuanced. It wasn’t something I had time or space to really elaborate on. I always experienced it as a general malaise, a feeling of wrongness, there were parts of my body I didn’t like. I didn’t enjoy what puberty did to me by any stretch of the imagination, and I longed for things I never thought would happen. I thought about my transness in a very general sense, and not hopelessly, but in a way that I understood that these were far off dreams. That transition wasn’t somethign that could be entertained as a teenager.

Transness was viewed as fundamentally wrong in the world that I grew up in. I was in high school ten years ago, and I truly believed that my safety would have been at risk if I had of transitioned. I don’t know what would have happened, but I knew at the time that it would be bad. That I had to hide any sign of femininity from my behavior or I would out myself.

The energy I had to deal with my dysphoria was focused on survival and hiding myself, not growing and realizing myself. So it’s interesting to me how much the world has changed.

I’m in awe of the fact that we live in a world where a fifteen year old comes out, that’s incredibly powerful to me. They are so incredibly brave, I can’t express how proud I am of these kids.

One thing that I have found interesting though, is that they have the opportunity to deal with gender dysphoria in a very different way then I know I did, and from conversation I think other trans folk my age and older did.

Dysphoria to them is a very active and real thing that they’re dealing with, sort of as it happens. They have this very sophisticated way of speaking about it, they don’t just experience gender dysphoria as this overwhelming weight or burden, this foreboding sense of shame or a crushing wrongness. They are able to speak more finely about it, as if it’s something that comes and goes, and rears it’s ugly head but is ultimately a part of their lives that they can deal with.

There might be days that their voice is the concern, and other days it’s not as bad. It might be something about a mannerism or how they speak, or it might just be the pitch of their voice. Either way they’re dealing with their trauma in real time, not repressing it all. So they’re able to take these bite sized problems and address them to give themselves some comfort.

It’s so incredibly inspiring to me that we might see the first generation of trans kids grow into adults without the shame, and fear that I know I grew up with. To come to terms with who they are and to try and deal with the effects of their transness in a safer environment.

Their road is by no means easy, but they’ve got such strength of character already, I hope that they’ll grow into fully realized adults, ready to take on the world.

I don’t have much objectively to say other then, wow, just wow. I am so proud of the steps these kids are taking and it’s inspiring to me that they have the strength to be who they are at an age where I was so afraid.

It’s nothing short of incredible.

Having a Clear Goal

I’ve had loosely defined goals most of my career, I’ve wanted to help tackle financial illiteracy, I’ve wanted to help people out of avoidable situations, I’ve wanted to help make people better off and enjoy the lifestyle they currently have.

but I’ve never been able to concrete say, this is what I want to be doing, every day. This is what I want my career to be about.

Those loosely defined goals are still there, but I’ve been thinking about it, and in the last six months I feel like I’ve done more good then in the last ten years. What was the main difference? I had passion, because I’ve finally found a community that I feel a part of and that I want to serve.

I’ve volunteered since I was a teenager, and I’ve been agreeable while doing it, but I’ve never had that spark that propels you to something greater.

Which comes back to my career. I’m a financial planner. I want to do what I’m best at, and I want to serve my community. My most rewarding and effective meetings are with other members of my community. I want to help my community overcome that avoidance of the financial system. Because it’s historically disadvantaged us.

The concept of competency towards dealing with the LGBTQ+ community is in it’s infancy and is still largely centered around winning over business from well to do gay men. Not about improving the lives of the community.

I’m not sure what form this will all take, but I want to help make gay, and bi, and trans and any other folk under the rainbow realize their goals and dreams. I want to help us enrich ourselves, to better our community. To progress past the systemic discrimination and to achieve what we’re capable of, not just what we’re able to scrounge together.

I want us to have a bright future.

A New Normal

I’ve written before about this but I wanted to take a chance and continue the conversation. I’ve written about having to learn with being okay, with not being okay.

You can read the first post here: It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

It’s a theme that I’ve touched on through out these posts, and it’s something that holds itself in my head.

The world is heavy for me. I went from living a life pre-transition where my major sources of stress and anxiety were internal. I didn’t know myself, and therefore I struggled.

As I dealt with that whole trans thing and came to terms with myself, and was able to rest for a moment and realize that, I’d been held back a lot in life, and that I had to do a lot of work to learn to be myself, whoever that was. In a very unsafe place. When we talk about children growing up, we talk about how they make mistakes, and they learn, and they grow. It’s what that point of your life is for. To suddenly find yourself an adult, with this huge chasm where your mature person-hood should be, is terrifying.

It takes time to build yourself back up. All of the stopgaps and makeshift personalities you’ve littered around you like confetti to distract those around you from the fact that you’re not really a fully realized person stops very suddenly, In my head it looks like the day after a festival, you can tell there was something there, you’re not quite sure what it looked like, and it was definitely temporary and meant to get people away from the business of living their regular lives.

Except that was my regular life. So as the carnival comes crashing down around me. The reality that you have to carefully stitch yourself back together and start moving through your life is a huge weight.  Because there’s times that I’m messy, and I can’t help it. There are times that I wish I could just scream but I can’t. I’d love to throw my hands up and just give up sometimes, and everything would still be okay.

But I’m an adult with responsibilities and if I give up than there are consequences.

I guess what I’ve learned is how to persevere, and to start understanding a bit when I’m a mess, and have started to learn to cope with my messiness. I struggle at times not to impact others, because it’s not fair to them. At the same time I know I need that support. That sometimes, I’m just so out of my league and depth, and I’m so scared and lonely, that I just need a friend. But I hate that my friendship comes with a price to those I care about.

I’m moving forward, and I’m finding some center and calm. I’m learning to be me, and coming to terms with what I am and what I am not. Which is so rewarding. I feel, oh how I feel! The highs and lows are dizzying, the depth is rich. The palette of feelings is so varied and interesting ,and even in times of pain and sorrow. I relish that I have an outlet for that now. I’m not limited to just bottling it all up until it all melts into rage.

I love that I can love things. Even the warmness of a hug doesn’t elude me anymore. I can feel that reciprocation of expressions now. Beyond knowing what to feel, in a very artificial and intellectual way. I care deeply, but there’s so much more passion now. It’s an incredible and mind boggling experience.

Life ain’t easy, and that’s my new normal.

 

The Value of Stories

I’ve always had an interest in history. One of the greatest joys, and heartaches I’ve found over the last six months is discovering queer and trans history.

The stories are empowering and give me life. The fortitude and endurance that has been required to move our community to this point is astounding to me. It gives me hope, and it supports me when I’m feeling down.

I want to talk about a profoundly moving moment I had a few weeks ago. Even though it’s not based on a real story, the relevance of it spoke to me. I was watching the new Tales of the City, and we got to a certain episode set in the sixties.

The episode centers around Compton’s Cafeteria, and what happened that fateful night. What struck me, and it struck me hard. Was to see this dramatization of these deep rooted fears, and to see presented, and then validated, those deep deep, to the core of my being fears around being an out trans woman.

I’m not that old, but I still grew up thinking that the best I could hope for, was to not hope for anything at all. To be able to see, just a sliver of the faceless amorphous terror that still haunts me, gave me an opportunity to deal with it. To see it for what it was, I knew it was fear, but it was the fear of an isolated little girl living in a world that didn’t make any sense, forced into a life that didn’t fit. All of the years of running and hiding away, trying to build a life that I could call my own. It all made sense why I’d felt that incredible pressure, why I’d felt like I didn’t belong in the world.

So it was also so powerful to see that turned on its head, and see that there was still a future and that I’m part of something bigger then myself, and to feel it, and to feel connected to this whole history, as rough and bloody and awful as it might be. I belong in this world, and that I’m made of some pretty tough stuff.

On those days that I just wanted to scream ‘why don’t you love me world! Why don’t you want me!’ I understand now, Not in a thinking rational way, I’ve had that for awhile. On an emotional level, to the core of my being there’s now a sliver of light because I know that I’m not alone in feeling that, and if I’m not alone then there’s love in this world, and if there’s love and acceptance somewhere, then I need to keep that light for the next, and the next, and the next. Until we all feel welcome.

In and among the whole sobbing mess that I’d made of myself, and I cried for a solid hour. The pain and anger, and then the realization, and then the laughter and joy. All at once at times. Just letting that all pour out of me.

I walked down my hall and looked in the mirror. In the mirror looking back at me was this hysterical, sobbing, snotty woman.

It was the first time I’d looked in the mirror and seen a woman. Known that the woman I was looking at was me. Not a woman that needed to be looked through a lens, or squinted to see, not a woman with conditions or explanations. I saw myself, the woman I always knew that I was looking back to me. The messy crying disaster of a woman that I am. Smiling like an idiot back at myself.

and I laughed, and I felt changed in that moment. I felt a wholeness of spirit that I hadn’t felt before. I felt good, and felt good about myself. I’ve had other fulfilling moments before that, but that was so powerful. To just feel at peace with myself and what I am.

I am a woman, and I’m going to be okay.