On Anxiety

I’ve talked before about how I’ve started studying Stoicism. I want to take a moment and discuss how and why it helps me.

The word stoic usually invokes the idea of someone unfeeling, disconnected from their emotions. Which isn’t really what Stoicism is about. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s really the study of impressions, and understanding how that affects what you can and cannot control.

You can not control anything except your mind. You can direct your body, but you can’t control what happens to it. You don’t choose whether or not to get sick, as an example. So if you’re only able to control your own thoughts, then the goal of life is to find acceptance of that fact.

You can’t control what others do, nor what they do to you, you can’t control the world around you in any meaningful way. You can attempt to change things, and it is indeed good to try and do good things, but ultimately you can not control how other people react to you.

Anxiety is an internal state generally caused by externals. It’s something I have had to come to live with. What I’ve had to learn to contend with is that ultimately. that anxiety is something that I’ve created.

That’s not to say it’s not from unfounded fears. There are people in this world who want me dead, there are people who want to see my life destroyed. There are people who hate that I exist and feel so strongly that I am ruining their life just by existing. So feeling anxious doesn’t inherently sound like a stretch.

What I have to hold on to is that whether or not those people think that, or even if they act on that. If I’m beaten and broken, or even killed. Those are all external to me. I can’t change their feelings, I can only live, and I can only find solace in my own rational mind.

Being anxious and nervous, letting that fear build up, limits all of the moments that I could have been enjoying. One of the weaknesses that I’ve discovered about myself is that I have a hard time with vulnerability. I have put a substantial amount of effort into independence and limiting the way in which that which is outside of my power can hurt me. Rather then bringing me peace, it only magnifies the vulnerability I feel from what’s outside of my control.

The net result being that the more control I feel I have in my life, the more anxious and concerned I am with what’s out of my control. Which explains why I’m bad at keeping my thoughts in order, and my mind clear. I put so much stock in becoming independent that the thought of being dependent or even having another’s decisions affect me scares me. For no other reason then the fact that I have grown up so afraid of what the world would do to me when they found out I was trans, I’m almost waiting for the riot in the streets.

So I’m really only hurting myself, and I think I have to come to terms with the fact that the world just doesn’t care that much. I need to live my life, and I need to do it accepting that the world can hurt me, I can’t prevent that pain, and I might even be surprised when it isn’t that bad after all.

 

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.

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.