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.

 

 

 

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.

My Standards are Low

I had an issue with my employers over the last week, it’s why I’ve been quiet, I wanted to have some time to process things. I won’t discuss what happened but it did lead me to go back and read some earlier posts, and to re-frame myself a bit.

My standards for how people treat me are pretty low.

Given an upset that makes you question the people you work for gave me an opportunity to rethink how supportive they’ve really been.

I guess I was so desperate for any acceptance that I was willing to take “willing to accept you” as support. Support is a different beast. Support requires a degree of sacrifice, not any particularly grand sacrifice, but you might not be 100% at ease and comfortable the entire time.

I had taken the bare hint of acceptance and called it support. The constant misgendering, didn’t worry about it they’re trying. Refusal to use my preferred name, I’m sure they’ll get there someday. I was excusing all of their terrible behaviour because they hadn’t used hateful language. In some way I guess I was the frog in the pot. I didn’t notice the danger I had put myself into and was going to boil to death.

When we accept bad treatment, we forward the idea that trans people are worth treating poorly. I’ve seen that idea before and I know what it was saying. It’s incredibly hard to live up to that. It means loudly and passionately defending your own right to exist, something that is unfortunately timely given what’s going on in the United States.

It’s as hard for cis people to understand us as it is for us to understand them. I don’t mean like they’re some sort of foreign entity, but I don’t really know what it’s like to not have to figure out what gender means, and it fits together, and what i can only assume is a comfort from knowing everything is all good. The big difference is that trans people know who has the power,

So I’m going to raise my standards, I’m going to accept less poor treatment. I’m going to push back more. I never wanted to be loud about it, but the voices around me are deafening and I deserve to be heard as well.

Another Terrible Letter

If I could boil some of the worst experiences when it comes to being trans, the most obvious theme would be letters.

So in the ongoing saga of letters, I sat down last week to take up a task that is both terrifying and unfortunate.

If you’re new around here I started this blog as a way to chronicle my journey from the front closet, to where I am now which is some weird combination of out and in. Then going back and talking about the past and how I got here. Anyways, as part of this journey that I’m on my boss asked me to write a letter to clients coming out to them. I don’t know how I feel about it, part of me sees it as a rational and simple way to get the message out. A larger part of me is terrified by the prospect of it. Then there’s a smaller but no less important piece that is mad I have to do it at all, and incensed that someone would even ask me to do it.

No one expects other people to out themselves, no one expects a big hullabaloo for anything else. So why would it be reasonable to ask me for this?

One of the more interesting evolutions to see has been the woman I work with. She was upset when I told her what my bosses asked of me. It offended her that they’d even ask, because no one else would ever be asked to do the same thing. Not too long ago she had never really had to think about trans people, she’s slowly becoming one of my biggest allies. It’s not strange at all that diversity makes people more inclusive, it’s just really nice to see in action.

but I did it, because I’ve never had to, and I’m willing to see how something goes. There was no harm in writing it right? Well, It was one of the most exhausting and emotionally draining tasks I’ve ever done in my life. I felt numb after finishing.

So I’ve gotten to wondering, what’s the deal with letters?

Is it some integral part of the trans experience. Is there no other medium to guide our lives? No one else needs to live in some fascist regime where you require a letter from a professional to have agency. no one else needs to so brutally and ruthlessly expose themselves in the name of transparency (see what I did there.)

This got off the rails a bit, and this is more an expression then it really is anything coherent. But I don’t get this need to expose and understand the trans experience in bite sized pieces. I can no more easily explain in a letter who I am to such a personal degree then anyone else can. So why is it expected of me?

Being out is tough, being in the closet is miserable. I’d really like to be able to sit here and say there’s a point when things get easier but I haven’t gotten there yet. What I can say is that I’d rather endure the difficulties then not. Because I am happier, and I am everyday closer to feeling like myself.

I just wish it didn’t have to be this hard.

Baring Your Soul: Losing Agency is the Hardest Part of Being Trans

I’ve talked about the letter you need to move forward with medical transition before and how hard a process that really is. I want to delve deeper into a what is unfortunately a core facet of being Trans that I never really hear about. It’s losing your basic agency.

If you’re not sure what agency means its basically the ability to make your own choices. We’ll call it free will. For the vast majority of people, regardless of their struggles, still get to exert free and unrestrained agency. Even the poorest among us still get to make basic decisions about themselves.

One of the most mortifying realizations about being Trans, and looking to transition, is how woefully dependent you are. You do not have agency over your body once you come out as Trans, you do not have the right to make decisions about your body. That’s the whole point of that letter, you need to be proven capable first, by someone else.

The only real choice you get is whether or not to come out. Once you’re out, in many places you’re exposed to legal discrimination, being Trans isn’t protected by law in many places, on top of the social discrimination everyone likes to remind you of constantly.

Once you come out as Trans a funny thing happens. All of a sudden it becomes acceptable to those around you to ignore your wishes, while simultaneously policing your actions. This is usually done as advice to protect you from the ‘others’ that don’t accept you. If someone does this to you, it’s because they’re uncomfortable plain and simple.

So you don’t get to make your decisions when you’re Trans about your own body unless proven capable (a situation that hasn’t been medically acceptable for anyone else since the 70’s) if you do come out as Trans people will immediately stop respecting you as much as they did, and then be rude enough to pretend its in your best interest. This all culminates in a feeling of bitter helplessness. I’ve told the story about the flag my boss made me take down, as hard as that was, the conversation thereafter where we discussed his right to know about my transition to protect me was worse.

Yet what can I do? An asshole that knows they’re an asshole is probably better then one that is but doesn’t know.

I am a professional, I have accreditation and licenses. I am responsible to my clients and their interests. I make large decisions and provide critical advice daily. Yet forever I will know that beyond all that I wasn’t assumed qualified to know if I was ready to be myself.

Planting the flag

Last week I put a flag up in my office. It should not surprise any of you that it was the Trans pride flag. I have said before that I have an odd relationship with Pride, and most of it comes from a pretty big lack of being proud of who I am.

So I put up my flag, it was bigger then I wanted it to be but finding the damn thing was difficult enough. So I get it up, I’m feeling good about it, Gotten some compliments. It’s becoming part of the background.

If you’ve read a couple of my posts you should know the hammer is about to fall.

One of the partners calls me up to his office.

“You’ve got to take the flag down.” He said other things to justify it but really, what matters is, flag comes down, heart goes with it.

Whether it’s the hormones, or letting myself feel pain. I cried in the bathroom at work for the first time in my life. Like full on red eye, stinging tears, hacking breaths, sobbing. I’m not easy on the eyes on a good day, and I was looking extra rough.

I’m a believer of stoicism, I worked to control my emotions, this wasn’t the time. Its tough, but I sucked the tears in. Let what calm I could find run out the day.

The flag came down.

I put it in the closet.

The poetry of that is grade school at best but I still enjoyed it.

I spoke with that partner again yesterday about this event. I was, and am still unhappy about it. I think its cowardly, I think his fears are legitimate but that they perpetuate the same problem. In business it’s often difficult to know what innovation will lead to success. BlackBerry created the smart phone, now they’re a bloated app service. Not everyone wins all the time, it’s what makes it exciting.

I don’t want my identity to lead my life, but there is a certain aspect of my career where I am going to have to fight for oxygen, and create a space for myself. I understand that. Fear and concern over the feelings of our clients reduces us. I have to believe that there are more people in the world that want to live in a freer more open society then don’t. It’s not fear that creates that world, it’s courage.