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.

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.

Coming out to your boss

I’ve talked a bit about my more recent experiences coming out to my boss. I wanted to share a couple stories about a previous time it didn’t go so well.

The first time I came out to my manager, I was working at a huge national financial institution, the type that wins awards for diversity inclusion and has ‘support’ for people. At the time I was getting frustrated, I needed time to go to a nearby city for appointments to get things rolling. I couldn’t get a lot of appointments with specialists at six in the evening. So I rather naively believed that all the talk meant something. It didn’t, all I did was ostracize myself from my manager and mark myself as a problem.

It wasn’t any particular thing that changed, just all of a sudden I wasn’t worth putting effort into. Who’s ever heard of a Trans banker anyways? Especially in a small town.

In an unrelated manner that manager was laid off. So I thought, lets try this again, I waited a few months. I listened for anything overtly hateful, nothing was forthcoming.

Told this manager, was given verbal support (as in I’m not going to say anything to your face at least) Things were again awkward for a bit until I think my manager forgot. Again no real support was forthcoming.

Now if you’re someone who is in the position of having a Trans employee and they ask for some time to figure things out, they’re not trying to get out of work, treatment, though I dislike that term, is not a quick process to come by. I’ve talked before about some of the hurdles and how long it took to get over them. If you have the ability to be flexible you’d be doing right by the employee by allowing it.

Too many Trans folk are stuck in temporary, low paying, shift work because they have to choose between their identity and their career/livelihood. A choice that often ends in death.

One of the more melancholy aspects of being Transgender is that I managed to ruin my career in banking in record time, most people need to get a job to ruin their careers. I was just born.

 

Disrespect as a management tool

I’m going to broaden my audience a bit today and talk about something that affects anyone in any work place. it’s when a manager/owner tries to minimize the efforts of an employee through a lack of appreciation or by disrespecting that employee.

It’s a pretty toxic thing, unfortunately it comes from a very honest place. Which makes it rather insidious. As a manager you think to yourself, I don’t want employee x doing that task, I have employee y for that. Employee x should be focusing on their actual job. See, pretty obvious stuff.

The way of actually dealing with this is to address why employee x is doing something outside of their responsibilities in the first place. The answer isn’t always that they’re trying to get out of their actual job.

A lot of mistakes when you’re managing people comes from an inability to understand the entire situation. Everyone manages based on what they know, a good manager understands that they can never know everything but is constantly working to understand and improve their awareness. A bad manager will never realise that they are working with incomplete information. Most people fall somewhere in between those.

The difficulty is that if your manager was perceptive and understood their role, you wouldn’t need to read this. If your manager has fit the bill for what I’m saying they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong and its incredibly hard to change that opinion.

This puts a caring employee n a pickle. The obvious answer is to stop helping and wait for the problems that you’ve been highlighting to break down to the point that even the most pig headed manager notices. This is pretty tough to do when you have an aversion to watching disasters unfold, like a reasonable person does.

This is a dangerous proposition as you are likely to be involved with any collateral (no matter how minor it might be) because of your proximity to it. The best option before you is to try to understand why your manager is taking the position they are/ The other possibility is that what you’re saving isn’t that big a priority. It doesn’t ultimately matter, or that there’s a bigger plan then you’re aware of.

This brings me to the central point, communication is key. Communication leads to understanding. Understanding is everything,. If you’re frustrated reach out, maybe not to your direct manager, and likely not to their manager. Find someone else who might be privy to more information and seek to understand. Or if you are comfortable with it talk to your manager about the issue and express why you’re tackling it.

At the end of the day everyone situation and structure at work are different, but you do need to come to some understanding. If you constantly feel belittled and disrespected for the effort you put in eventually you’ll end up blowing up.