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.

 

Discrimination: Could You be so Kind as to Sanitize your Identity for Me?

I’m a little disappointed that this is a post I even have to write.

Being gay is not a choice. Being trans is not a choice.

Yet, I have had to endure multiple conversations, one of which I discussed here: Discrimination: Why Do You Need To Be Different?  that centres around a central theme. That my identity is something to be sanitized (the word that was used, and in all honesty pretty fascist sounding) in a professional setting similarly to ones politics or religion.

Whether or not one can remove themselves professionally from politics requires answering the question of what defines what is political, Which frankly, reality is political, so I don’t hold a lot of stock in that idea. Sanitizing ones political identity would require having no opinion whatsoever on the very nature of society and how to exist within it. Which would render ones ability to give advice non-existant.

That’s not the point I wanted to make however.

I recently started reading Transgender History by Susan Stryker. I’ve been enjoying it thus far, learning a lot for sure. There’s a quote I read that I think sums up my point “All too often, there is a tendency to be concerned with the rights of homosexuals as long as they somehow appear to be heterosexual, whatever that is.” This quote itself taken from Marc Stein’s City of Sisterly and Brotherly loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia 1945-1972. 

If one substitutes transgender people and cisgender people into that quote I still believe it works. Basically, so long as one doesn’t disturb the norm, one may be rewarded with conditional acceptance, assuming one accepts the conditions, continues to uphold them, and praises the situation regardless of how good or bad it may be.

So let’s get into the story itself.

I had a conversation with one of the partners at my firm yesterday about business development. In which I made the point that I’d like to be more welcoming and open to the LGBTQ+ community. This was among other very valid points. If you’re new around here, you may be surprised that my desire to work with and help a community that has been historically disenfranchised from the modern financial system, and as such are systematically disadvantaged was not met with enthusiasm.

So I wasn’t surprised, but even more unfortunately, but perhaps illuminatingly, was how the conversation progressed. The partner I was speaking with made his case that as a professional we should refrain from causes so as not to alienate anyone. That attempting to appeal to a specific group is exclusionary to other groups. That appealing to someone, and to make a comparison he used politics or religions, based on their beliefs limits who you can work with and ultimately your overall ability to work with all people.

The problem in that statement is that comparison of my gender identity and sexuality to what are inherently beliefs. Though I’m aware choosing ones politics or religion are often complicated by culture, geography, familial ties and many other factors. They do represent a choice. One may be born into a family in which it is likely they will be Christian, they are however free to choose their religion.

I did not choose my identity, I can not sanitize it like I can my religious beliefs when I come to work. My political beliefs don’t often make it into a conversation with a client, however it’s much more difficult to avoid mentioning my family, whom my wife makes up a major part.

This type of thinking reduces those who fall outside of a social norm. I’ve read articles discussing a similar concept racially as well. The effects of ‘professionalism’ and it’s norming standards on people of colour. An example is that natural hair is considered unprofessional and a sign of deviance. Which it is not.

The irony is that this partner also recognized that he himself fits the stereotype of what clients consider a professional. He is an obviously white male person, with a white beard to express age. He is quick to out himself as straight by mentioning his wife. He is clear in his presentation as male. He has not sanitized himself of his own identity. Why would he? His identity is an acceptable one, it fits within his concept of professional. While openly acknowledging that his own stereotypical example of an advisor fits a ciscentric,  heteronormative, white world. He can’t make the mental leap that what makes him a stereotype is exactly the type of privilege he needs to acknowledge in order to accept me.

I don’t represent a stereotype of what people consider a financial advisor. I am obviously trans, I am openly gay, I am very obviously young, and I am a woman. None of these are opinions. How I present myself is as a woman, my age, is in a general sense visible, and as I have to explain to most of my clients, the man on the phone was me. So I can’t really sanitize those facts out of the equation.

So disappointingly I now have the unfortunate task ahead of me of explaining to someone who should know better. That my identity is not a choice, and that he needs to stop considering it one.

 

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: 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.

 

 

 

“Are you going to get pregnant?”

I’m a transwoman, so I have know for a very long time that I won’t be able to give birth. That I won’t ever carry a child. There are plenty of women that can’t, some are bothered by that fact, others aren’t, either option is right.

What isn’t right? Mocking me because I can’t carry a child.

Which is what one of the partners decided to do when I asked about our health benefit program’s coverage for fertility treatment yesterday. I might be a defective woman who can’t get pregnant, but my wife isn’t so we’re looking at our options, whatever they may be.

One of the things I will say being trans has robbed from me is that experience. It is a deep pain, and one that I don’t think ever can heal, it’s just a fact. It doesn’t bother me day to day, but it does hurt me.

“You need a sense of humour.” was said partner’s response when I said he was being mean and hurtful. With tears in my eyes. My chest constricting. I felt like I’d been punched. Actually, that’s inaccurate, I can take a punch in the gut. I can’t, it seems, handle having one of my deep seated insecurities thrown in my face.

This was a bad moment. A particularly bad episode in the series of abuses large and small that makes up my professional life lately. I recently went back and read, my rather naïve belief that when I was told I would be accepted I actually would be. That I believed that having time to go to appointments was a sign of respect for my transition, and not just a lack of concern around my schedule. I always put in more then my fair share of time.

I remember a time when crying was not a part of my workplace routine. I don’t miss it, because of the pain it meant I had to endure silently. The pain of a shed tear when living honestly is far lighter then the anguish of a tear unshed because of a life in the closet.

Now I know that that support and acceptance only went as far as the first sign of difficulty. That the courtesy of respect was contingent on not actually presenting femininely. That so long as it didn’t disrupt the business in any way shape or form I could, in the confines of my own head, be whatever I wanted to be. So long as none of our clients were disrupted. Disruption including things like acknowledging the existence of trans people within the firm.

I won’t stop though. I love what I do, I care for my clients. I don’t think there’s anyone around who has the perspective I have. I know my voice is important, and I have something to say. I might not be able to carry a child, but I will carry my head high.

What does being an Ally mean?

I work in a small office, most of the time there’s just myself and another woman in the office. We have other small offices and as a team we keep in contact digitally but in real life, I’ve got one person working with me most days.

So if you can imagine that I was very nervous when I came out about disrupting our relationship. if things didn’t work out well then the small space we share was going to get real awkward real quick. My co-worker is an American, and had said some things in the past that had me worried. She was the person I was the most nervous to tell on the team.

Now a year later, she’s probably my biggest supporter. I know it hasn’t always been easy for her, but I wanted to talk a little bit about how she helped me out.

She was the first to try and start using my real name and pronouns. It was hard for her at first. I remember talking to her and asking why she was having a hard time. It was because no one else was doing it. It would be easier when everyone else was on board. I asked her, why don’t you be the leader then, you be the one that tries. And she did.

When the partners have made decisions that have harmed me, or have pushed ideas that I’m not comfortable with, she’s listened, she’s helped me work it out in my own head what I want, and most importantly she’s given me the confidence to stand up for myself. She’s never spoken over me or for me. She’s stood up for me when I wasn’t in the conversation. She’s helped me find a voice for myself when I felt powerless.

She’s opened her mind up to a lot of new ideas. I’m pretty amazed with how much our relationship has deepened because of this transition. We got along before, but now we’ve grown together and have a deep friendship that I truly value.

Being an ally isn’t about shouting or standing against injustice at every turn. There’s going to be problems, constantly. Being a good friend is the first step in being a good ally. Not accepting the problems that occur, and working to solve them in a constructive or meaningful way. Not every battle can be fought by proxy, when someone just needs you to be strong for them, that’s the hardest part, being strong from the sidelines.

Sometimes the most valuable thing you can have on your side is the knowledge that someone else cares about what happens to you. Transitioning, coming out, can be incredibly lonely. It can be isolating. Sometimes just keeping the fire stoked is the warmth you need to get through it all.

 

 

Remembering Without Wallowing

I had a chat with my wife last night. We were talking about a few things, but one thing we often fall back into, is trying to understand our lives and what happened. Neither of us had kind childhoods, neither of us really had childhoods at all. That experience has shaped who we are, and I believe we’re on a good path. But we struggle, myself more then her, with how to remember and understand, without wallowing in it.

I don’t mean wallow in the sense that I can’t escape these feelings, or that they bog me down daily. But I do have a hard time when remembering the past, with finding the positives. There weren’t many, So it makes sense that it’s difficult. Yet I have to reconcile my current positive state with the negativity that spawned it. Which I can’t do. I don’t know if I can ever appreciate how bad my early years were.

I understand that there’s always someone who had it worse. I’m not saying I was the most hard up kid in the world. But something I have come to understand is that we are all the most important characters in our stories, so I’m going to be the most important character in my story.

To truly remember means to accept the negative, but to also accept the positive. Unfortunately, being trans, and not feeling accepted is a really big undercurrent of negativity to even the most positive of experiences. That everything was tainted. That I didn’t get to be myself. It often feels like I was forced to live someone else life, That my life was one of duty and responsibility to maintain the illusions of those around me.

It’s hard to feel a lot of joy when you’re denied the most basic dignities, to be treated as the person you are, not the person people perceive you to be. It’s a scary place to be. And it’s easy to wallow, but I also think it’s important to remember where I’ve come from. I don’t want to hide from my past. But it’s getting harder and harder to acknowledge it.