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.

Feeling Rough

I started this a couple weeks ago, I came back and all it said was I am feeling rough.

Its amazing how much worse things were about to get. I don’t know if I’m ready to talk about all of this yet, I still feel very in the moment. Things have gotten difficult at work. As I’m sure some of you can tell from my posts lately the spectre of hate has been floating around lately. Things aren’t easy in my personal life either. but I did want to point out something about this whole blogging thing. It really helps. I sometimes go back and read old posts and its interesting how much healing some time can bring. Things aren’t always easy, and I do often wish they were just a little bit easier. But I still continue on.

It’s interesting how being trans was a very consuming thing for a very long time for me. I lived in constant fear, and I was constantly worried about it, like a fly in a quiet room it was always making itself known. The more comfortable I am, the less comfortable people around me are. As if being proudly trans is offensive. As I gain the confidence to be out, and dress how I want and be who I want, and feel as I feel. The more those around me are afraid of it. The quieter the fly is for me the louder it is for everyone else.

Maybe its because the fly is new to them. That this is all new and eventually they won’t notice it. I hope so, because the more people focus on what they can do to make the fly go away instead of what is hard or what they can’t do. The easier its all going to be for everyone.

And maybe that thrice damned fly can finally go away.

Discrimination: Subtle vs. Overt

Discrimination is a bad word these days, diversity and inclusion is in, discrimination is out. So did we abolish discrimination? Obviously not, but we changed its characters. Back in the day it was socially acceptable to openly hate someone because of some element or another. Now you have to be careful and hate them quietly. You could obviously treat everyone with dignity and respect, but that’s hard and doesn’t make you feel good, so just hate quieter and you won’t feel awkward at family get togethers.

When people think of discrimination they think of the overt kind. Segregation as an example. Where there is a very obvious difference placed between two peoples for the detriment of one and the improvement of the other. What has happened is that these behaviors have largely become unseemly, so that its become preferable to create institutions and practices that move people and resources away from each other so that, no there’s not a segregated water fountain, but oddly there seem to only be white people at this park.

So subtle discrimination comes from the same troublesome belief that not all people are equal, that not all people deserve the same dignities and that not all people deserve equal opportunities. It’s shameful but it still exists. It comes from hate, it comes from fear, it comes from envy. It does not come from a positive emotion.

So how does this subtle discrimination become enforced. In very quiet ways, in a lack of opportunity, in a need to prove yourself above all others. I remember a joke by Jerry Seinfeld “I’m not afraid when I hear I have a female pilot when I’m flying, because I know she had to be three times as good to get there then a man.” That’s subtle discrimination. When you expect more from someone with no basis, it’s discrimination. When you try and teach someone a lesson because they don’t conform to your ideals that’s discrimination. Basically when you lord your power over others that don’t comply with your world view you are discriminating.

I made a comment to my employer that their behaviour recently had a discriminatory slant to it. I told them that I hoped their actions weren’t based out of discrimination, but that I had concerns that they were. Since coming out their tones and understandings have shifted. I have changed as a person, or more accurately stopped trying to be something I’m not. I’ve been dropping my walls and letting myself be a person. It’s tough, but its healthy. Change always creates some sort of fear. Fear leads people to try and stop the source.

I want to impress upon anyone reading this. That its not your fault if you want to be who you are. If you’re trying to be a good natured, honest, caring, and concerned person. You can’t really go wrong. Don’t let others push you to fear what you are because its inconvenient. Don’t let yourself fear what you are, and hold yourself away from who you are because someone is pushing you away from it. It’s hard to maintain your confidence, especially when you’re already scared. Don’t invite in other hate to your heart. Know when you’re being manipulated, know when you are being pushed back into a corner, and know that you are worth being a person like everyone else.

Being yourself is part of the path to a contented and happy life. Some of us have to start further behind on that path, but don’t forget that a satisfying life is ultimately your own responsibility and you can’t afford to let others doubt corrupt you, if you’re anything like me then you have more then enough of your own doubt to get you through the day.

The subtlety of trans unacceptance

My Wife and I are in the process of becoming foster parents. This process hit a rather unfortunate roadblock the other day. My wife started her own business a month ago, it’s a busy time, she is working more then ever. She’s enjoying her work and its been a really positive experience.

The social worker doing our assessment tried to explain it wasn’t entirely because of my transition that she wasn’t ready to accept our application. She was great about it, I can tell she cares, and I’m curious how much of her misgivings are from her supervisor. I can not help but think that if my wife was my husband, they would forgive a busy father. That I am seen as too unstable because of my transition, I need the support of a ‘real’ mother for those kids.

I’m pretty devastated, my wife and I aren’t in a position to have kids of our own obviously, and we’re not sure about adoption yet, but fostering was a way for us to do some good, we have a huge empty house, we both have had rough childhoods and want to try and give some warmth and safety to a kid that really needs it. I know we’ll be good at it.

I’ve talked about how I don’t hate being trans, how its a defining part of me and has shaped me into the person I am. I wouldn’t change it if I could. I do so wish that it didn’t make my life so difficult. I find myself feeling tired, not physically tired, but emotionally. Having to justify transness, and explain it, and put it into a box it doesn’t fit in is exhausting.

I am a person, I am a human being, I am a woman who happens to be trans. I want nothing more then the dignity afforded others. I wish only to be treated like a person with a name that explains who I am, not who my parents thought I was before I was born. I wish that my sum total experiences were cherished and celebrated for what they are not as a contradiction of what is ‘normal’ (which just means straight and cisgender.) I long for a world in which transness is an experience that can be shared with others to enrich them, not to justify why others are ‘coerced’ into being uncomfortable.

Every culture is enriched by the variety of experiences and stories that are allowed to enliven it. Let us culturally accept that transness does not fit into any other context then itself and give it the room and space to breathe life into the lives of those who don’t experience it. Let trans people be people, let them give you strength as their experiences have given them, let their stories give your life greater meaning, let their struggles help you understand your own. We are not monsters, we are not to be feared, we are not looking to upset any natural order, we are but people whose place in history has long been blotted out, and whose stories have not been allowed to pass to others. That no more makes us new, or frightening then any other group who have existed outside of ‘proper society.’

Trans stories and lives matter, we have a role in society, we have a place in the hearts of those around us. We have a right to do good around us. Just let us.

Explaining Transition

Transitioning is a very difficult process to explain. I’ve been dealing with discussing it a lot lately because the misunderstanding of it is having a rather detrimental impact on my life lately.

A lot of non-trans folk seem to think there’s a light switch moment where you go from transitioning to transitioned.

It’s not that simple.

First off a transition is really the attempt to reconcile the external with the internal. As I put it to a co-worker recently. I’ve been a woman my whole life, it’s everyone else that has thought I was a man.

So the fundamental crux of transitioning is it relies on something you can not control, other people. As such its an attempt to be as comfortable with yourself and aid the world in treating you with basic human dignity.

But as far as when it’s finished or when its done? There’s always going to be a certain degree of conflict, there’s always going to be someone that doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care. Even if you manage to control the external a lifetime of fear and pain take a toll on the soul. The scars of a life lived before transitioning emanate well into your transition. This is why there’s no end point. It’s a process of healing, and some wounds are deep, and some scars don’t fade. It’s a lifetime spent finding yourself and feeling good.

Do you hit a point of equilibrium, where there’s really nothing more to do but live? Absolutely, but I don’t believe the introspection and the desire to be authentic to yourself can stop. One of the fundamental trans experiences is a fight to find yourself within the chaos around you. That’s something that takes ongoing discipline and concern, and doesn’t’ end when your clothes fit a certain way and people get your pronouns right.

Being trans forces you to always look for meaning, because you’ve been denied an easy identity you have to figure it out on your own, something not everyone can understand because they treat their identity as a given, their life lacks the challenges in discovering themselves they can live in ignorance of their own nature. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to just let myself be me, there’s always going to be that layer of introspection that requires me to understand myself more deeply then others find comfortable.

And I’m glad of it.

Differentiating Between Acceptance and Support

I’m going to illustrate my point with a little bit of an equivalency, see if you can spot the difference.

I accept that apples are not very tasty in the winter. How could they be? They’re not fresh, they’re not crisp, they’re kind of mushy. So I only eat apples during apple season. I accept that other people eat apples, but I don’t support it myself.

I accept that Trans people are different people. How could they be normal? They’re weird, they act different, and they make me feel uncomfortable. So I don’t like talking about them being trans. I accept that they are people, but I don’t get it and I’m trying hard enough.

I’m uncomfortable with eating stored apples, it’s personal preference and other then apple farmers largely no one is hurt by this. Apples are largely indifferent to the attitudes of those around them. Who can know for sure though.

Trans people on the other hand are real, are people, and have to interact with others all the time, and most importantly they’re not inanimate objects. We know we make you uncomfortable, because we don’t fit into your worldview. No one needs reminding less about how uncomfortable trans people make others then trans people. It’s not something we want. We don’t ask for it, but from our earliest memories we’re told to fit into a box that doesn’t fit right. With varying consequences for not doing so.

Accepting something is reasonably easy. Accepting something is similar to saying “I don’t hate it” which is a pretty low bar. Support requires effort, and I’m sick and tired of people saying I support when they mean I accept.

When you say I support without meaning it what you’re basically saying is that I feel more social pressure to accept you then I personally feel. So I need to firmly state that I don’t want to experience anything negative from your existence. The person saying this, is the one bringing the negativity, and it has to be experienced by someone. This negativity generally ends up being borne by the one who is being ‘supported’. In the end you’ve accomplished the opposite you want by saying I support you.

The worst part is, I don’t think that’s very upsetting to people who feel this way. They don’t want to be supportive, if they did they’d take on some of the burden not leave it for others. So lets maybe commit to being honest. It’s okay to be honest to a trans person and say I accept that you’re trans. As long as you actually mean it.

 

 

 

On Slurs

I’ll put a little note in here that this is going to delve into some unpleasant terms for trans people and if you’re not comfortable with that please don’t continue reading.

I don’t often experience something that I wished hadn’t happened. I was outside with a group of people and one of them, somewhat out of nowhere asked one of the other guys “Is fucking a trap gay?”

The person asking was my brother.

I’m pretty tough skinned. I try not to let the little stuff bother me. That wasn’t little stuff. That’s a big one. That a word could throw me into an emotional fit is new. I didn’t used to feel enough to get upset. So when I started shaking and yelling and almost crying I was entirely unprepared. It felt like I’d been stabbed it cut so quickly into and hurt. physically hurt.

Everyone makes a mistake and says things to someone they shouldn’t but lobbing a slur can usually be avoided. You choose to use those words knowing how dangerous they are.

Those words have consequences. My relationship with my brother has been shaken entirely by a single sentence. I don’t want him around anymore. I worry where he learned that from. I now have to try and hold back and not extend that to the rest of my family. Because in my experience people don’t hate in a vacuum, but I can’t just assume it wasn’t him being an idiot.

I wish this journey was easier sometimes. I wish my brother hadn’t of said that. But mostly I wish that I didn’t always have to be the bigger person.

Words hurt kids, don’t think they don’t.