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.

The Pain of Loneliness and Isolation

Coming out publicly has involved a lot of painful and difficult times. One of the aspects I hadn’t really considered, was how lonely I would still feel.

Before I came out to anyone, it was my burden alone, I couldn’t expect anything from anyone, because no one else knew. Which was fine, I understood that.

As I’ve come out to more people, the weight doesn’t seem to get any lighter. Sure, there is plenty of support offered, but no one knows what it feels like. I’ve talked about it before, but coming out has never felt good to me, it has always scared me, and left me feeling vulnerable and isolated afterwards. Yet, the straight and cis people in my life assume that it must feel like a burden has been lifted.

To take a tangent, I think it’s because they think it’s the same as coming clean on a big lie. That it would feel like the weight of the lie was lifted now that the truth is out. Yet though I know I had to lie to stay in the closet, I never felt like a liar. I felt like someone trying to survive. I didn’t feel the relief on honesty, I felt the fear of vulnerability.

I work a lot, and I work with a group of white, cis, straight people. Most of whom come from good families, and have had good opportunities in life. I grew up poor, I’ve been the only one to worry about myself as long a I can remember. I moved out on my own as soon as I could. I put myself through school and have had to make a lot of sacrifices to catch up to most of my peers.

So I couldn’t even really start dealing with the whole being gay and trans thing until I’d found a modicum of safety and security. Pulling yourself out of poverty is a lot easier when the world thinks you’re a straight white man. Doesn’t do a lot of good to your psyche or sense of self worth.

So most of my struggles and experiences are alien to the people around me. I’ve got seriously reduced vision in my right eye because of a treatable eye disease that could have been diagnosed sooner had I had the money to see an optometrist. Sure, $150 to see a doctor that might be able to save an eye sounds like a small amount, but there were a lot of those small things that when added up I couldn’t afford. By the time the eye was bad enough I needed to deal with it, I’d gotten through school and had a job with benefits.

No matter how far I go in life my past will always be there, and who I am and what I am will always be a present part of my life. When you regularly spend your time with people that can’t understand any part of your life, and can’t empathise with your experiences it makes you feel so very lonely.

I work with and I know a lot of good people, caring people. Yet I feel I need to isolate myself at times because I know they can’t handle my story, they can’t understand it. I know it won’t do any good to stress them out, so I go on in silence with my own pain.

People think that inclusion means creating an environment where no one experiences hate or discrimination. Yet they don’t realise that the isolation eats away at people just as easily. It makes certain spaces significantly less appealing because you know you have the responsibility and burden of holding the weight of expectation and bias and all the other negative emotions and ideas that people carry around with them. It’s hard to walk into a room and know that you are the single point of connection between everyone else’s discomfort.

It’s exhausting and lonely to be isolated like that, yet without the first person to endure that, there can never be a second to take up the weight. Eventually you hope there will be others to help you carry it all and hopefully get rid of it for good.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Writing our own stories

I had a discussion about introspection today with one of my coworkers. I think its fair to say that most of us know we don’t always admit the truth about ourselves, to ourselves. We run into trouble when we start detaching ourselves from our own truth entirely.

So that begs the questions, who writes our own stories?

When I wake up in the morning, there’s a very simple task ahead of me, I need to pee. That’s the first thing I do every morning, I wake up, and I go to the bathroom. and it is just that simple, there’s no other step, and somewhere after that, I become a full fledged thinking person, before I pee though, I’m a toilet hunting missile.

So I think its safe to say, at some point I decide, to start deciding things. probably shortly after washing my hands.

So I decide to start deciding things, but what if I never look back at these things, or hold my own life uncritically. Who writes my story then.

I’ve talked on the nature or truth before, and how I hold it more tightly then I do the other lofty human rights, like freedom. Yet, truth is one of the easiest things to give up, and one of the hardest things to fight for.

So who writes my story if I don’t pay attention. Obviously as humans we’re very adept at creating our own narrative, even if we don’t understand the protagonist, because lets be honest, we’re the protagonist of our own story, and we generally don’t understand ourselves that well.

So, if we don’t understand ourselves, yet still lead lives of varying levels of fulfillment. Who writes the story, is it that as people we follow those who do make decisions, and as such those who don’t choose their own path are the amalgamation of a web of leaders and trailblazers their lives are touched by.

Or is there some sort of generic social template that you can put yourself onto autopilot with?

That’s not to say that there are people that never make decisions, but to truly understand yourself you need to know; what you decided to do, and why you decided to do it. For almost every decision you make. That is exhausting. Many of our decisions we redo day in and day out. I make toast for breakfast most mornings because I know I usually make toast for myself most mornings. So I don’t need to think too hard about that, toast is tasty and easy. That spins off into other decisions, when I buy groceries I need to buy bread, because I will choose to eat toast for breakfast etc.

Or maybe we truly are creatures of habit. There’s not much about Mormonism I find interesting but there is one facet. They believe that If you’re not ready for ‘heaven’ or whatever they call it. That you have a chance after death to prove your worth again. However, even knowing what you do, you’re held back by the routines and decisions you made in life. Basically, once you die its hard to break the mold of your habits. Whether its true is irrelevant, but I wonder, does this type of thing happen during our life.

Do we build ourselves into an idea of a person and run ourselves accordingly. Letting ever more major decisions wash over us as we build up a repertoire of premade decisions?

In that case, we do write our own stories, but we’re really boring and bad authors.

I don’t have an answer, but I always wonder.

Who writes our stories?