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.

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.

 

Lonely in a Crowd of People

I made a trip to a nearby city this weekend. We were there to visit with friends and try out different restaurants. It was a fun weekend.

The highlight, was a bookstore/sex toy shop. Not that i had any particular interest in the sex toys, not that there’s anything wrong with those that do. Nor was I particularly looking to look at books at the moment. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw them. I even bought a book on trans history I’m looking forward to reading.

No the most enjoyable feeling was being in a place I felt I belonged.

Even before being out of the closet there are very few places I ever felt safe and comfortable. Since coming out those places are equally sparse, though I am guarded in a different way publicly.

No, being in a queer friendly space was a wonderful feeling, and I truly mean queer friendly. Not a place that won’t kick you out for being gay or trans. I mean a place for queer people to feel welcomed and wanted. The store was busy, they had a sale going on. Didn’t matter, I felt like I was in everyone’s way and it was still relaxing and refreshing to be in there. My wife remarked “Wouldn’t it be amazing if everywhere felt like that.”

I’ve talked about a lot of the negative feelings I’ve had, I’ve said that I’m learning to be okay with not being okay. this is all true. There’s a lot of fear and loneliness in my life. Though there are people in my life, very few people understand what I’m going through. I don’t have anyone to talk to.

I shared a look of understanding with the cashier at that store who was trans, that warmed my heart and made my day. Just a few seconds of interaction with someone who understood and I could share this burden with. That small moment made me feel lighter.

Loneliness doesn’t mean you’re completely alone, with no one to talk to. It can sometimes be that you’re in the middle of a crowd that can’t hear you, no matter what you say.

Sharing a moment of understanding with someone is sometimes all it takes to find a bit of balance.

 

 

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.