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.

 

 

 

Living truth

I’ve talked before about how I’ve been reading old stoic philosophy. Most of it is Roman, and one of the things I find the most interesting is their fascination with truth.

We don’t talk about truth a lot anymore. We don’t strive towards truth, the closest we seem to get to is some degree of authenticity. Truth is a far higher standard. Being truthful to yourself is incredibly difficult. It means admitting everyone of your mistakes, while also not reveling in your victories. It means not just living a balanced life, but thinking in a balanced way. It means feeling in a balanced way. Truth is unyielding, so you must be always ready to accept it.

I’m going to share a rather long quote from Epictetus about the nature of mind and body. Please keep in mind that Roman’s had a very patriarchal view of the world, I’ve chosen not to change the text.

What then should a man have in readiness in such circumstances? What else than “What is mine, and what is not mine; and permitted to me, And what is not permitted to me.” I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment? “Tell me the secret which you possess.” I will not, for this is in my power. “But I will put you in chains.” Man, what are you talking about? Me in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower. “I will throw you into prison.” My poor body, you mean. “I will cut your head off.” When, then, have I told you that my head alone cannot be cut off? These are the things which philosophers should meditate on, which they should write daily, in which they should exercise themselves.

You can kill me, hurt me, imprison me, cripple me, but you can never control my thoughts. Freedom of thought is always in your control, and always something worth using.

What then does that quote have to do with truth? Everything, living your life truthfully and honestly requires you to accept that the only integrity worth maintaining is your mind and will. As Epictetus states not even Zeus can overpower his will. The only thing you have is your thinking mind. Your body is largely irrelevant to the whims of the universe. You can’t control what others do to your body, only how you interpret it. If you strive for truth at all times there’s nothing but virtue that can flow from that perspective.

Now, what’s that got to do with me? I’m trans, always have been and always will be. The hunt for my own truth in my own mind has been exhaustive and exhausting. I find great comfort in knowing that knowing myself and living truthfully is virtuous. I am not held back by my physical body because it is not always in my control. Others can restrain me, or taunt me or exclude me. If I maintain truthful to myself then I am always acting in accordance with nature.

P.S. A lot of douchenozzles use stoicism to justify their shitty behavior. Being a stoic isn’t about only caring about yourself, and not feeling emotions. It’s about trying to be the best person you can be, and caring for others without caring for reciprocation. THere’s is an element of selfishness but the selfishness is to recognize that your best interests are served as part of a community.

Finding Strength

I’ve been pretty damn negative lately, so nows about the time I talk about something positive. Finding inner strength is hard. Whether its passion or conviction or stubbornness or something else, everyone everyday needs a reason to be awesome. Because frankly, not every day is awesome.

I’ve tried hard to find a reason to be awesome over the years, The honest truth for me for a long time was that I didn’t think that I was worth experiencing that. IF you don’t have any self value then being awesome for the sake of being you is pretty difficult. Yet I had to continue on, and did so.

For a long time I don’t think I really had a vision or idea of what I wanted, All I could hold on to was that at some future time i wanted to be happy. I didn’t know what that meant, but that didn’t matter. It was about becoming happy, because I didn’t know how to be happy as things were. There was no settling for me.

Eventually I became a flurry of activity, some people would say I still am. I’m a busy person because I crave stress because then I know I’m working towards something. When my wife and I have too little to do we usually make decisions that will add stress, sometimes permanently to our lives.

So where does inner strength come from? It’s about going back to the original premise of, what makes me happy? If I can answer that question then I can move towards it. Well I never found an answer but I did find some philosophy. I started reading into stoicism. The idea of working towards virtue and accepting what you can’t control and changing what you can. Knowing the very limits of your mind and harnessing it to your will. This was a great source of strength. I’ll start talking about this in other posts. There’s a few tenants and ideals that I rely on when life gets me down.

I haven’t figured out how to be happy yet, but I have found a way to be content with who I am. More then hormones or authenticity, strength of character and conviction give me the motivation I need to push towards that most elusive goal.

Being Happy.

 

 

It’s the little things: Man hands

My firm has offices spread across the country so we use video chatting services to communicate quite often. So as I was walking by our administrator the other day I stuck my hand in front of the camera. I know it’s not a particularly funny joke but it’s my way of saying hi.

“Oh those are just (my) big man hands in the way.” says the woman in my office.

One of the worst parts of coming out is that you expose yourself to being hurt. The little things are what hurt. My hands aren’t even that big, they don’t really bother me. In that moment though it was all consuming.

Like most people I just want to be treated with respect. Which means even a basic amount of dignity and social pleasantries being extended. You don’t point out someones obvious pimple, you don’t stare at the mole, you don’t stare at the only minority in the room, you don’t make fun of a Trans person’s less appreciated characteristics.

It might make you feel like you’re guarding yourself and have to step on egg shells. I’d feel bad if I hadn’t had to walk on egg shells and guard myself at all times for every moment of my life.

Most people know they should be nice to the people around them, they’re just not used to being around Trans people. It only takes some time to think or to ask the question to treat us like you would treat anyone else. It costs you nothing.

On a side note I know I’ve been talking about a lot of negative experiences lately, I will try and start writing some positive posts.