Discrimination: Could You be so Kind as to Sanitize your Identity for Me?

I’m a little disappointed that this is a post I even have to write.

Being gay is not a choice. Being trans is not a choice.

Yet, I have had to endure multiple conversations, one of which I discussed here: Discrimination: Why Do You Need To Be Different?  that centres around a central theme. That my identity is something to be sanitized (the word that was used, and in all honesty pretty fascist sounding) in a professional setting similarly to ones politics or religion.

Whether or not one can remove themselves professionally from politics requires answering the question of what defines what is political, Which frankly, reality is political, so I don’t hold a lot of stock in that idea. Sanitizing ones political identity would require having no opinion whatsoever on the very nature of society and how to exist within it. Which would render ones ability to give advice non-existant.

That’s not the point I wanted to make however.

I recently started reading Transgender History by Susan Stryker. I’ve been enjoying it thus far, learning a lot for sure. There’s a quote I read that I think sums up my point “All too often, there is a tendency to be concerned with the rights of homosexuals as long as they somehow appear to be heterosexual, whatever that is.” This quote itself taken from Marc Stein’s City of Sisterly and Brotherly loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia 1945-1972. 

If one substitutes transgender people and cisgender people into that quote I still believe it works. Basically, so long as one doesn’t disturb the norm, one may be rewarded with conditional acceptance, assuming one accepts the conditions, continues to uphold them, and praises the situation regardless of how good or bad it may be.

So let’s get into the story itself.

I had a conversation with one of the partners at my firm yesterday about business development. In which I made the point that I’d like to be more welcoming and open to the LGBTQ+ community. This was among other very valid points. If you’re new around here, you may be surprised that my desire to work with and help a community that has been historically disenfranchised from the modern financial system, and as such are systematically disadvantaged was not met with enthusiasm.

So I wasn’t surprised, but even more unfortunately, but perhaps illuminatingly, was how the conversation progressed. The partner I was speaking with made his case that as a professional we should refrain from causes so as not to alienate anyone. That attempting to appeal to a specific group is exclusionary to other groups. That appealing to someone, and to make a comparison he used politics or religions, based on their beliefs limits who you can work with and ultimately your overall ability to work with all people.

The problem in that statement is that comparison of my gender identity and sexuality to what are inherently beliefs. Though I’m aware choosing ones politics or religion are often complicated by culture, geography, familial ties and many other factors. They do represent a choice. One may be born into a family in which it is likely they will be Christian, they are however free to choose their religion.

I did not choose my identity, I can not sanitize it like I can my religious beliefs when I come to work. My political beliefs don’t often make it into a conversation with a client, however it’s much more difficult to avoid mentioning my family, whom my wife makes up a major part.

This type of thinking reduces those who fall outside of a social norm. I’ve read articles discussing a similar concept racially as well. The effects of ‘professionalism’ and it’s norming standards on people of colour. An example is that natural hair is considered unprofessional and a sign of deviance. Which it is not.

The irony is that this partner also recognized that he himself fits the stereotype of what clients consider a professional. He is an obviously white male person, with a white beard to express age. He is quick to out himself as straight by mentioning his wife. He is clear in his presentation as male. He has not sanitized himself of his own identity. Why would he? His identity is an acceptable one, it fits within his concept of professional. While openly acknowledging that his own stereotypical example of an advisor fits a ciscentric,  heteronormative, white world. He can’t make the mental leap that what makes him a stereotype is exactly the type of privilege he needs to acknowledge in order to accept me.

I don’t represent a stereotype of what people consider a financial advisor. I am obviously trans, I am openly gay, I am very obviously young, and I am a woman. None of these are opinions. How I present myself is as a woman, my age, is in a general sense visible, and as I have to explain to most of my clients, the man on the phone was me. So I can’t really sanitize those facts out of the equation.

So disappointingly I now have the unfortunate task ahead of me of explaining to someone who should know better. That my identity is not a choice, and that he needs to stop considering it one.

 

Discrimination: Why Do You Need To Be Different?

I want to have a discussion about privilege today. It’s a topic I’ve somewhat avoided because I have a difficult time quantifying it at times. My own lived experiences are all I’ve known, so from my perspective, life is as difficult and easy as it has been, knowing that some people have it easier and harder is easy to understand, but difficult to really put into words.

But then I had a conversation with one of the partners at my firm, and there was a lot to unravel and work through, but one of the topics we discussed centered around privilege, and I don’t think he understood it at the time. He was pretty openly flaunting his privilege, and wondering why I felt a need to be different.

The example the conversation started with, was a man that my boss had worked with a long time ago. The man worked in the office next to my boss and for two years he had no idea he was gay. Which my boss took to be a sign of ultimate discretion and professionalism. Because your sexuality shouldn’t matter right? So he didn’t disclose he was gay, so that’s a positive!

So let’s break that down a little bit, because that story has a lot of elements that break my heart. The first of which, is that straight people feel absolutely no hesitation in discussing their straightness. my boss who told me this story, has told every client I’ve ever sat in a meeting with about his wife. Was that unprofessional of him? I don’t think so, it’s a relevant and relatable piece of his life. We are generally made better by our partners, not diminished.

So the assumption that this former co-worker of his was professional for not disclosing his sexuality, is part of the whole structure that keeps workplace cultures hetero-normative. What my boss failed to realize is that this man took two years to develop enough trust to disclose, a rather fundamental element of his identity. I can only presume that my boss had very quickly and early in their interactions disclosed his straightness.

That’s part of the problem with privilege, because my boss hasn’t ever had to consider whether to disclose his sexuality, because it’s socially acceptable for him to have a wife, he doesn’t notice when he does it. He has no idea that the professionalism he expects from a gay or trans person, is not a standard he himself can uphold.

Which is why the next part of the conversation, where I explained that no matter what I do, I will always be a lesbian transwoman advisor. That every client I meet with I will need to be aware of that, that I will have to hold myself to a higher standard. That I will work harder to prove myself to my clients. That in every meeting I will have to make decisions whether to disclose aspects of my life to my clients.

Because I am caught between two hard places. If I pass, and my clients correctly identify me as a woman, and then ask about my husband. I am confronted with a decision. Do I disclose that I’m gay? If I don’t pass and they misidentify me, I inherently disclose that I am trans. For the clients I dealt with before coming out, they are aware of all of this. I don’t know their opinions and feelings. So I must be guarded and receptive at all times.

What my boss doesn’t understand is that I must navigate a difficult identity with my clients. I must be aware and ready to handle situations he will never find himself in. He will never have to be an example of excellence at all times. He will never have to handle the pressure of being honest with his clients and himself, while also being respectful to the person across the table, whatever beliefs they may hold. he will never have the uncertainty that I have.

So his response that he doesn’t define himself as a straight white male advisor was pointless. Because he does. With his clients he is free to openly disclose his sexuality, and his gender. Why wouldn’t he? They’re acceptable socially, and in many cases considered preferable. Every time he mentions his wife he can do so without recourse. He can walk into a room assured that there will be no issues or concerns about his gender identity. From the way he walks and talks to the way he dresses. He informs everyone he is a male.

Yet I must walk a tightrope. When I meet a client for the first time and have to explain that ‘the man on the phone’ was actually me, while hoping I haven’t outed myself by my voice (which frustratingly seems to drop an octave over the phone, like it needed to be any deeper.)  When I have to explain I have a wife not a husband, when I have to explain to a client who doesn’t quite remember me that I’m not my own wife or sister. I have to have a discussion about gender identity and transitioning. I don’t choose to have these conversations, but I accept that they are a part of being out and openly trans and gay.

So it’s simple to say, “why can’t you be a professional and separate your personal and professional life.” Yet, that’s not how people work. Our clients expect some level of personal connection, one of the most important things I can do with a client is to develop a relationship and build trust. Without trust I can’t know my clients and I can’t advise them well. That requires a personal connection, not a professional one. Our clients need to understand who we are so they can make a decision on the motive or reasoning for our recommendations. Our competency and skills are filtered throug ha personal lens that requires them to know the type of person I am. Whether I care about them, or have concern for their hopes and dreams, their goals and objectives. That requires a personal connection.

What my boss failed to recognize, is that his definition of professional, is a straight and cis centred world view. I can’t speak as a racial minority, but I understand they can’t choose not to disclose their background if it is visible. They are no less professional then I am. Professionalism does not mean hiding who you are, it means being who you are and caring for your clients. Professionalism should mean doing right by those you are in business with. Professionalism should mean you hold to the facts and treat others fairly. Professionalism should mean focusing on the task at hand without compromising the long term vision. Professionalism does not mean being quiet about your identity. It does not mean that a closeted queer is better then an out one. Professionalism has been a shield to protect those who benefit from the status quo. If your idea of professionalism is not inclusive, then it is an oppressive ideal.

I have no time or patience for oppression.

Discrimination: Holding Your Head High

The original reason I started this blog was because I wanted to write my feelings on my transition as they happened. Journaling or diary writing or whatever you want to call it isn’t really my cup of tea. As I’ve said before, I have a pretty good memory, so I don’t find a lot of value in it. Writing for an audience gives me a chance to break down my feelings in a digestible way. To present a snapshot of recent events, frozen in time.

So I go back sometimes and re-read some of these posts, today I went back and read Discrimination: Subtle vs. Overt which got me to thinking.

The last few months have been incredibly powerful for me. I officially, finally, and with intention came out. I’ve been living as a woman, and I couldn’t be happier. We opened our first business. We were declined for foster care and adoption, partly because I was trans. I discovered transmisogyny or discrimination whatever you want to call it. I’ve had my job threatened and been placed on probation twice. So all in all, it’s been so busy and up and down that sometimes I don’t know if my head even goes on straight, which might make sense.

The positive things are wonderful. The positivity from so many people has been overwhelming. I can’t be thankful enough for my clients who have been so open and welcoming. I can’t believe how it has opened up people to me, I feel like I’m having better conversations all the time. I’m becoming better at what I do everyday. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Which is why the first and now second sets of probation have been so jarring.

It’s difficult to want to subject yourself to negativity. It starts to feel like a type of self loathing that you accept this sort of toxicity into your life. Yet I know so many have fought much harder, against much more awful treatment. I can’t claim their strength or conviction, but their struggle inspires me.

I don’t know how to magically change hearts and minds, but I do know you need to be in the room to do it. You can’t make those around you better from the sidelines, you can’t let hate seep out of others hearts through silence. It is with dignity and strength of character, conviction of spirit, and an unwavering and deep abiding patience that you change others. However slowly, and at times great cost to yourself.

I want to believe that the struggles I have are due to fear, but increasingly ignorance and hate seem to be part of the equation.

I spoke with a co-worker of mine, we hadn’t caught up in awhile and I was telling her what had been happening. I realised as I was typing out what had happened that it could be broken down to a very simple sentence. “man with three months experience put in charge of improving performance of transwoman with five years experience.”

Said man doesn’t have the management experience I do, he does not have the advisory experience I do, he doesn’t even have the same credentials I do. he is smart in many ways, and there are many things he could teach me, how to give financial advice to clients? I’ve got a lot longer in the chair then he does.

I’ve written about different events that have happened, moments of exclusion, losing access to conversations. I’ve even talked about how I don’t have the right to talk in meetings where others with fewer credentials do.

I recently asked for an apology for one of the more blatant exclusionary events, coincidentally I was placed on probation again the next day. One of the partners talked to me this week and told me that gender has never factored into one of their decisions.

This amongst a group entirely made up of white men, three of whom are middle age, who generally create an echo chamber for themselves.

As an aside one of the powers of inclusion is when it comes to decision making. Groups will eventually come to a consensus, and if everyone involved has generally similar backgrounds and experiences they are likely to come to decisions that reinforce that worldview. Inclusion in groups places diverse people together which creates opportunities for disagreement which refines decisions and makes them stronger.

I can not know how any of the conversations around me are had, I’m not around for them. I can know, that we as humans have numerous mental biases that lead us to make self-reinforcing decisions. If we have nothing to shake our brains into reviewing information, we know that they don’t bother, and we make the same decisions over and over again.

So though no one may have actually said “let’s discriminate against ‘trans professional’ because they’re trans and make sure their transness doesn’t offend our clients.” It is very likely that the conversation went something along the lines of, “I’m not sure if our clients will understand what’s going on with ‘trans professional’ and it would be easier on our clients if ‘trans professional’ wasn’t around to discomfort them.” Which has the exact same outcome. For the exact same reason. So when you have four people make a decision who themselves have never been left out of a room based on any factor of their sexuality, or race, or gender. It’s hard for them to imagine the devastation when they do it to other people.

There are reasonable reasons people can be excluded from things. The activity may not be applicable to them. as an example I’m very involved in our business, but I know very little about providing the services that are offered, sending me on a technical course on any of those topics would be a waste of time and resources. It makes sense to better utilise what we have available and send someone who can use the information. That’s not discrimination.

To circle back around, now that I’ve told my most recent episode of this saga, I want to get to my point. It’s become less and less clear to those around me why I put up with this. Things seem to be getting worse not better. Crying at work has become a norm for me. My professional career which I’ve spent the last seven years attempting to start looks increasingly like a non-starter. Yet I go in, and take the abuse. I hold my head up high.

I don’t know the intentions of those who cause me pain. I don’t know what reasons they have for causing me suffering. I do know that if I walk away I tell the world that if you don’t want a trans person in your workplace, you can treat them badly and they’ll leave. I tell the world that there isn’t a place for people like me in my industry. I tell the world that I wasn’t strong enough, and that I was defeated by hate.

I am not yet willing to walk away from that. Though it pains me greatly each day. Though the hurt and the suffering seem unbearable I wake up each morning. Most days with a smile. I walk into the office and do what I love. I don’t know if it will work out. I don’t know if I’m making a terrible mistake and shouting into the hurricane.

I do know that I will hold my head high, and that I will not be pushed aside. I will endure, and maybe someday even grow and prosper.

I will not let old men stop me from helping others because I am different. I will help others because I am different and can’t be stopped.

 

 

 

What does being an Ally mean?

I work in a small office, most of the time there’s just myself and another woman in the office. We have other small offices and as a team we keep in contact digitally but in real life, I’ve got one person working with me most days.

So if you can imagine that I was very nervous when I came out about disrupting our relationship. if things didn’t work out well then the small space we share was going to get real awkward real quick. My co-worker is an American, and had said some things in the past that had me worried. She was the person I was the most nervous to tell on the team.

Now a year later, she’s probably my biggest supporter. I know it hasn’t always been easy for her, but I wanted to talk a little bit about how she helped me out.

She was the first to try and start using my real name and pronouns. It was hard for her at first. I remember talking to her and asking why she was having a hard time. It was because no one else was doing it. It would be easier when everyone else was on board. I asked her, why don’t you be the leader then, you be the one that tries. And she did.

When the partners have made decisions that have harmed me, or have pushed ideas that I’m not comfortable with, she’s listened, she’s helped me work it out in my own head what I want, and most importantly she’s given me the confidence to stand up for myself. She’s never spoken over me or for me. She’s stood up for me when I wasn’t in the conversation. She’s helped me find a voice for myself when I felt powerless.

She’s opened her mind up to a lot of new ideas. I’m pretty amazed with how much our relationship has deepened because of this transition. We got along before, but now we’ve grown together and have a deep friendship that I truly value.

Being an ally isn’t about shouting or standing against injustice at every turn. There’s going to be problems, constantly. Being a good friend is the first step in being a good ally. Not accepting the problems that occur, and working to solve them in a constructive or meaningful way. Not every battle can be fought by proxy, when someone just needs you to be strong for them, that’s the hardest part, being strong from the sidelines.

Sometimes the most valuable thing you can have on your side is the knowledge that someone else cares about what happens to you. Transitioning, coming out, can be incredibly lonely. It can be isolating. Sometimes just keeping the fire stoked is the warmth you need to get through it all.

 

 

Baring your Soul: The nature of introspection

I don’t truly believe that introspection is a trait limited to people who find themselves a member of a minority group, whether it be cultural, racial or of a sexual or gender nature. I will say that I believe that being a part of any minority requires more introspection then being part of a majority.

I can’t speak for any experiences other then my own. But our society demands a far better explanation of those who are different, then those who conform. So those that differ, in order to stand on their own two feet. Need to understand why they are different, and what it means to them.

Knowing yourself is incredibly difficult, and often times painful. It means confronting your negative qualities. It means accepting the source of your positive qualities. It means understanding the decisions you make, and why you make them. It’s an exhausting process that doesn’t always leave you in a better place.

Constant introspection is a demanding process. Whether you do it on an ongoign basis or you take time to work through the issues doesn’t really matter. What matters is you work to find some understanding of yourself.

The very act of observing something changes the nature of it. When you go from living without understanding to living with it, then your decisions are cast through a different lens. There are no innocent actions, as every action is considered. Even impulsive decisions can be understood because the source of the impulse can be traced.

This means that between you and your self, there is no innocence, there is no casual forgiveness. You are always responsible for your actions, you are always responsible for your thoughts. This is a heavy weight to bear when you make a mistake. Knowing yourself makes your soul heavier.

If everyone truly knew themselves then there would be no difference. But when you have groups of people who have to work through all of their issues, their trauma, their desires and dreams. Who intimately understand their very natures. Then place them beside someone who has not been forced to do so. It can make you bitter, and resentful.

Introspection can make you a better person, and it can lead you to a truer and fuller happiness. But the happiness of the ignorant will always seem easier and more attainable. There’s a jealousy for me, that I was never able to just innocently be. I had to be something, I had to understand something. Because of who I am I have never been able to live, from moment to moment.

I have always needed to worry about protecting myself, I had to know my surroundings, those around me, and myself to ensure I didn’t put myself into a position to be harmed. Living on that razor thin edge is tough. It’s painful and ultimately, it might bring you greater joy and happiness or it may bring you nothing but misery. No matter what it will leave scars.

Remembering Without Wallowing

I had a chat with my wife last night. We were talking about a few things, but one thing we often fall back into, is trying to understand our lives and what happened. Neither of us had kind childhoods, neither of us really had childhoods at all. That experience has shaped who we are, and I believe we’re on a good path. But we struggle, myself more then her, with how to remember and understand, without wallowing in it.

I don’t mean wallow in the sense that I can’t escape these feelings, or that they bog me down daily. But I do have a hard time when remembering the past, with finding the positives. There weren’t many, So it makes sense that it’s difficult. Yet I have to reconcile my current positive state with the negativity that spawned it. Which I can’t do. I don’t know if I can ever appreciate how bad my early years were.

I understand that there’s always someone who had it worse. I’m not saying I was the most hard up kid in the world. But something I have come to understand is that we are all the most important characters in our stories, so I’m going to be the most important character in my story.

To truly remember means to accept the negative, but to also accept the positive. Unfortunately, being trans, and not feeling accepted is a really big undercurrent of negativity to even the most positive of experiences. That everything was tainted. That I didn’t get to be myself. It often feels like I was forced to live someone else life, That my life was one of duty and responsibility to maintain the illusions of those around me.

It’s hard to feel a lot of joy when you’re denied the most basic dignities, to be treated as the person you are, not the person people perceive you to be. It’s a scary place to be. And it’s easy to wallow, but I also think it’s important to remember where I’ve come from. I don’t want to hide from my past. But it’s getting harder and harder to acknowledge it.

 

Being out and Proud at the same time

Being out has been a very humbling experience for me. Humbling in a few ways. The first of which is that things aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. People mess up old habits die hard etc. but honestly the reception has been warm and my clients seem to be taking it well. For that I am very grateful, thankful, and happy.

But I feel a certain amount of responsibility now that I’m out. it’s the same thing I felt before, like I can’t make a mistake or that I can’t be too harsh or concerned about others. That I have to be ambivalent to my concerns. Because though there have been kind words said I find myself increasingly on the other side of doors then I was before. I’m not told things that are important. I’m not giving guidance or support I once had.

I can’t help but feel that part of it is my fault. Though I don’t think I deserve it. Being in the closet, being hidden is terrifying. To survive you have to be someone you’re not. I work in finance, I’ve had to act the “young buck” persona because it was expected of me. Not out of any affinity for it. I didn’t meant to lie to anyone, but I was afraid for my safety and well being.

So now I find myself in an awkward position. People want to treat me in a way I don’t respect. Or are upset that they treated me in a certain way. Sometimes I feel like I betrayed some sort of boys club and there’s a punishment for that. I never wanted to be a part of it. Nor did I participate in it/

I don’t really know what my point is here. I just feel so small so often. On the inside I feel like my body doesn’t fit. That the years and decades of expectations and assumptions have wrapped around me and built a second layer. One I can’t escape from.