Fear is silence, silence is fear

I want to talk about fear.

I have had to accept over the last year that for all my guile and wit, what has really ruled my life is fear.

Originally it was fear of being outed, as I got older it was fear of the unknown and fear of failure.

Now that I’m out, without the singular fear of being outed to overwhelm the others, I’m left with the other structures of fear I’ve built up in order to survive.

Living in a world that doesn’t accept you, doesn’t want you, and would rather you not exist is hard. It’s exhausting. I read a little quote recently, it said “Every breath a trans person takes is an act of resistance.” I want you to think about that for a second. Because it’s true, by continuing to exist there are a lot of people who are offended, whose worldviews are challenged, and ultimately, who are enraged.

Only Homogeneity will ever be enough for those that desire a homogeneous society.

Existing is a burden at times, life gets every one down. It’s hard, and its messy.

Living in constant fear however, is exhausting. Everything takes on a greater scale when you’re trying to just survive. Every minor problem is intense. You are forced to live in a position where you can never make a mistake. You must live perfectly, and without flaw. Though you are flawed further by this process. It’s a horrific way to live.

Professionally, all of the troubles and trials I’ve faced have been laced with a singular fear. The fear that I wasted a decade of my life on a career that was doomed to fail from the beginning. The idea that no matter what skill and expertise I bring forward it will never be enough.

I’m afraid that I will always be defined by what I am, not who I am, not what I can do, nor why I do it. It’s a terrifying thought.

I’m afraid that no matter how hard I struggle, I will work twice as hard, only to fail while others succeed. That I will then try thrice as hard, and only fail harder, and fail myself.

I feel as if I am floundering at times, gasping for a breath I can’t get. Hoping for a moment of peace to find clarity. Trying to find context within the miasma of bias and hate, and to see through the fear in others eyes.

I wish I could see past the betrayal in men’s eyes. Men who swear there is no boys club, yet resent that they allowed me in. Men who swear women are equal, yet feel betrayed I saw past the curtain. Men who tell me they are modern and accepting, yet now guard every word they say to me. Men who feel betrayed and lied to, yet hurt me every day and wonder why I am broken and bleeding, forcing my own feelings of shame and betrayal into hiding.

Fear forced me to hide who I was, for many years. I hid who I was even from myself. Being honest and open is hard, it makes it possible to be hurt in the first place. But I don’t want to be ruled by fear. I want to be more then that. I want to be my own person, I want to breathe my own air and speak my own truth.

Fear forced me into silence. Silence is what kept me in fear.

If every breath is an act of resistance, then let every word be an act of rebellion.

 

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.

 

 

 

Changing the Norm

In my industry the average advisor is generally described by three words; white, old, and male. So anything that doesn’t fit into that pattern is considered abnormal, as an example, young white men are considered noteworthy. So women are largely underrepresented and considered the frontier for diversity.

Yes, integrating white women into finance is still considered difficult. That’s how backward this world is.

This leads me to an interesting conversation I had with a friend of mine, who’s also in the industry. I was discussing the challenges I’ve had with my transition but was talking about how positive my clients have been, and how remarkable it is. He responded with, “well of course, you’ve still got the same skills and mind, there’s no difference now.”

“Actually, a lot of people have opened up more to me, not everyone deals the same way with everyone, some people would prefer the option to not have to go to a white guy for advice.” I replied.

You could hear the whiplash in his head from across the table. He’s a progressive guy, but it hadn’t ever really dawned on him that people would want a diversity of advisors that represented the diversity of people that are out there. It very quickly made sense to him, but in those couple of seconds you could see an entire worldview shatter.

There’s a certain self-reinforcing nature when an industry is as homogeneous as finance is. People stop questioning if it should be as old, white, and male as it is, and start to believe that maybe it’s a natural function, that people want it, so it’s a symptom of demand and not supply.

In reality I believe the opposite, if you want professional advice, the only supply is this norm, so the consumer becomes accepting of this and changes their expectations and perceptions to allow this.

We want advice from people that are credible, and have a perception into our problems that we may lack, or a perspective we can’t get because we’re too close. Not everyone has the same life experience or the same problems they need advice with. The better an advisor is able to understand and relate to an experience the better the advice they can provide. Logically that would mean that professionals would represent a broad base of humanity so that there was a large cross section of perspectives available.

The fact that there isn’t has become so ingrained in our thinking that it’s become normal. Once something is normal it becomes accepted, and its hard to change accepted wisdom. Regardless of how much people might not want it.

“Are you going to get pregnant?”

I’m a transwoman, so I have know for a very long time that I won’t be able to give birth. That I won’t ever carry a child. There are plenty of women that can’t, some are bothered by that fact, others aren’t, either option is right.

What isn’t right? Mocking me because I can’t carry a child.

Which is what one of the partners decided to do when I asked about our health benefit program’s coverage for fertility treatment yesterday. I might be a defective woman who can’t get pregnant, but my wife isn’t so we’re looking at our options, whatever they may be.

One of the things I will say being trans has robbed from me is that experience. It is a deep pain, and one that I don’t think ever can heal, it’s just a fact. It doesn’t bother me day to day, but it does hurt me.

“You need a sense of humour.” was said partner’s response when I said he was being mean and hurtful. With tears in my eyes. My chest constricting. I felt like I’d been punched. Actually, that’s inaccurate, I can take a punch in the gut. I can’t, it seems, handle having one of my deep seated insecurities thrown in my face.

This was a bad moment. A particularly bad episode in the series of abuses large and small that makes up my professional life lately. I recently went back and read, my rather naïve belief that when I was told I would be accepted I actually would be. That I believed that having time to go to appointments was a sign of respect for my transition, and not just a lack of concern around my schedule. I always put in more then my fair share of time.

I remember a time when crying was not a part of my workplace routine. I don’t miss it, because of the pain it meant I had to endure silently. The pain of a shed tear when living honestly is far lighter then the anguish of a tear unshed because of a life in the closet.

Now I know that that support and acceptance only went as far as the first sign of difficulty. That the courtesy of respect was contingent on not actually presenting femininely. That so long as it didn’t disrupt the business in any way shape or form I could, in the confines of my own head, be whatever I wanted to be. So long as none of our clients were disrupted. Disruption including things like acknowledging the existence of trans people within the firm.

I won’t stop though. I love what I do, I care for my clients. I don’t think there’s anyone around who has the perspective I have. I know my voice is important, and I have something to say. I might not be able to carry a child, but I will carry my head high.

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.

 

 

Retelling History

I’ve talked before about coming out to my mother. it was a bad experience. You can read about it here if you’d like.

Coming out to my mother Part 1

There’s two parts, enjoy if you wish. What I’m going to talk about today is the interesting way in which we perceive our own histories.

Growing up I didn’t have a lot to rely on, rose tinted glasses are a very ingrained tradition in my family. So if I wanted to keep a firm grasp on reality, I had to stay keenly aware of my memories. As I couldn’t rely on those around me to remember stories correctly.

So I was rather amazed when I spoke to my mother over Christmas and told her that I had thrown out an ornament my brother got my wife and I for Christmas the year we were married. Frankly, I didn’t think a Mr & Mrs ornament had any place on my tree.

(We’d considered giving it away but the only other wedding we attended that year had also been a gay wedding. It was a nice ornament, just not appropriate for us.)

My mum, in her infinite wisdom told me that she had bought the ornament. “Why?” I asked, “you knew I was trans.” She didn’t remember when I’d told her. The bitter tears of rage had evaporated from her memory. I was married two years ago, I came out to my mother five years ago. She’d managed to lose the timing of an event, and likely the negative feelings to a more convenient place and time of her choosing.

Which is frankly. the worst example of that behavior I’ve had to endure. We all lose track of events at times, no one remembers everything that happens to them. But to forget when I came out to you, especially considering how poorly she took it, and how much that still hurts me today, was another painful stab in my side.

I don’t wish I could forget like she did. Because there’s power in remembrance. I just wish my mother, and my family had the strength to remember along side me.

Playing Pretend

It’s funny the questions I get about transitioning, and especially I find how people word things.

One of the most interesting things is when someone says “when you were a man.”

I’ll be honest, I was never a man. Obviously it was pretty uncomfortable I went through a lot of effort to get away from it. I’m also a financial professional who is white. I walked away from a lot of privilege, not that I ever wanted it.

But the idea that I was ever a man is crazy. It was a part to play. I often think about the issue of trans actors, especially with the few trans roles out there. There’s always a controversy because invariably they cast a cis man to play a trans woman. As if that trans woman doesn’t know how to play a trans character. But honestly, even those trans folk that don’t choose to be actors, have had to be actors.

Having to wear a gender identity that isn’t your own is exhausting and grueling. It requires a constant level of analysis and understanding, because you have to make your way in the world in a way that doesn’t feel natural. You have to question your initial reactions, your instincts constantly, lest they expose you and place you in danger.

So no, I was never a man, I just pretended to be one because it wasn’t safe to be myself. I was apparently pretty good at playing pretend, because no one ever guessed I was trans. Yet I was constantly fearful of the tiniest slip. Which is probably why I never outed myself.

We all have to play roles that don’t quite fit in our life. We need to be something for someone because that’s what they need in the moment. I’m talking about the surreal experience of living a second identity, honestly from a very young age too.

I was never a man, I just donned that identity out of fear. it never fit, and honestly I wasn’t very good at it. Yet it got me to where I am now, in only a few pieces. But I’d rather live a single day of honest, sincere, unyielding truth then a lifetime of pretend.