Feeling Tired

I had a conversation the other day that has really stuck with me. I’ve not been subtle in my desire to connect with other queer professionals in my industry. I had a chance to sit down with one last week.

To say that the conversation was helpful would be a profound understatement. Unfortunately, I’ve been somewhat downtrodden to learn that the frustrations and negative feelings I’ve been having lately are shared.

Some people say misery loves company, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I certainly wasn’t happy to hear I had company.

One of the things that really has affected me, is that I don’t often feel respected or heard. In a lot of what I do, professionally and personally. I have tried to put myself out there by volunteering and I often find myself even in queer spaces relegated to the corner whenever my opinion differs from anyone else’s.

I’m not a real enough woman to be heard as one, I ‘gave up’ being a man so I’m not worth respecting like one.

I’m lately feeling so very lonely and voiceless. It’s incredibly frustrating. I find my gender identity and ‘differences’ are used as an example as to why I’m not worth listening to, or aren’t part of some team, or aren’t worth listening to long enough to make a point.

I find myself often spoken over and ignored.

The part of my conversation last week that bothered me the most? Thirty years into her career and she’s still struggling with the same thing. With better poise and grace no doubt, but still struggling to be heard and listened to at times.

I’m already so tired, I don’t know if I have that much fight left in me.

 

 

Talking Down to Help Lift Up Trans Folk

I went to a pride event organized for professionals a little while ago. The event was a bit of a dud, and one of the things that bothered me was around a conversation about trans people.

The main event was a panel discussion on making workplaces more LGBTQ friendly, and better ways to achieve this then periodic sensitivity training. One of the most uncomfortable topics was around trans people, not because I think there needs to be less support for trans people in the work place. A lot of my discomfort was centered around the way the conversation unfolded. To be completely honest, it was quite obvious that the conversation was a condescending and shallow attempt by gay people, to try and discuss trans people.

The worst part, was that it was plainly obvious to the panelists that there wouldn’t be any trans people in the room. It was a room full of professionals right? So trans people wouldn’t be there, so why speak to us as if we deserve to be in the room.

I don’t know if anyone else in the room was trans, but I certainly was, and it’s likely that no one there expected a trans person to be present. Which makes the tone and conversation all the more uncomfortable.

I live in a small town, the queer community here is reasonably close knit. On a day to day basis I’m not used to experiencing the ‘hierarchy of privilege within the community. I’m not accustomed to being talked down to by gay men and lesbians. So when I went to this event in a nearby city. It was a bit jarring.

The panel itself was condescending around trans issues. That wasn’t the icing on the cake for me. At the little networking event afterwards, I overheard a student in attendance talking to a few people about wanting to get an internship in my field. So I decided to give the guy a chance, and I went and introduced myself. Complimented his rainbow bow tie, and tried to start a conversation. He looked me up and down, made a dismissive grunt and then walked away.

The first bit of irony is that I am likely the only person there that could have made an introduction to help him get what he wanted. But that complete dismissal of who I am based on my appearance, was disgusting. It’s just one more thing I now get to carry with me.

The only point I think I can try and make out of this, is that there is an incredible difference between working with a group of people and working at a group of people.

If you look at the history, the reason why trans folk are so marginalized is because we’ve usually been used as fuel and fodder by gay people in the community to achieve their aims, and when the trans community has gotten in the way they’ve seen fit to throw us to the wayside.

What I’m talking about today is just a continuation of that marginalization. The point of community is to work together, and I’ve discovered in some places, there’s some healing that needs to happen first.

Finding Motivation Pt. 2

I talked last week about how I’ve lost access to a lot of the typical motivation and incentive systems by transitioning. I talked about the environment that unfolded, but today I’d like to go further and talk about how it affected me, what I did internally to find motivation, and the struggles I have with staying positive.

If you’d like to read the first part it’s right here: Finding Motivation

I had to go through a pretty intense period of melancholy and hopelessness to get to where I am now. Growing up, and going into my transition I held on to one idea, and it’s an idea that kept me in the closet longer then I probably needed to be. I never wanted my identity to hold me back from accomplishing whatever I wanted to do.

Well that happened anyways, so that was jarring and I had to unpack that. I moved past it because I’ve already had some incredible experiences, made some completely unexpected connections, and found a community that I could share my experiences without reservation with. So what I lost in the hetero-normative and cis-centric world around me, I gained in the queer community many times over.

It took me some time to realize that, and to let go of what I’d lost. I still vividly remember a few months ago when I gave up on having any sort of financial success in my career. I may still progress roles, take on additional responsibilities, I may have opportunities to learn. This progress has taken on a different perspective to me though. It’s because of personal growth, it’s because of the opportunity to learn, it’s not because of a raise or a bonus, it’s not because of what I will get materially, but what I will gain as a person. Which is somewhat depressing, because some would say that this represents exploitation.

I’m talking about doing more work for less pay. I’m talking about not being recognized for my talents. I’m talking about fighting to hold on to a job that I was told I did very well before I transitioned, and now that I have transitioned I’m constantly being reviewed, and found wanting. I’m talking about accepting discrimination.

That’s a depressing thought, and this is why I’ve had to find ways to motivate myself, because I’m living on a knife’s edge. If I don’t accept that I am constantly dealing with discrimination, that who I am is considered fundamentally lesser then others, and by people I have and need to respect then I’ll break. So I have to persevere, and accept what I can’t control.

I think the hardest part of this is that it proved a lot of my fears rights. I am treated differently, being trans has impacted my life, and in negative ways.

So what have I held onto?

I hold onto the present, my responsibilities to my clients has been the only thing keeping me going some days. I’m damn good at what I do, and have only gotten better since transitioning. So now it’s almost like the gods called my bluff. I said I got into finance to help people, well, that’s one of the first things I hold on to.

I hold onto the future, I believe I have a responsibility to other trans folk. I managed to push the door open a small crack, I’m doing what I want to be doing, and I’m doing it at a level that I don’t think would have been possible ten years ago. If I want kids growing up to see that trans women can be professional women, and have the career and live the life, have the title and the corner office that comes with it. Then I’m still accomplishing something. I often joke that I didn’t break the glass ceiling I’ve gotten myself crushed against it, it might not have broken, but if I can withstand the pressure it might just crack, and someday shatter. I’m hoping it happens before I break.

I also hold onto the past. The more trans and queer history I read the more I realize in someways I’m lucky to be able to be fighting different fights. fifty years ago trans folk were fighting against police brutality and a criminal code that mandated adherence to gender roles. If my ancestors had the courage and bravery to stand against dogs and batons and incarceration for being true to themselves. Then I can find a way forward, step by step, day by day.

The big issue I’ve run into is that straight cis people don’t like an uppity Queen. There’s an expectation for folks that identify as a gender or sexual minority to not be too… I’m going to use the word different. As long as you’re not too gay, too excited, too opinionated, basically, too different from what a straight cis person would do then you’re begrudgingly accepted. So if you’re trans, there’s a pressure to not transition, and if you have transitioned. You’re held to a very high standard in upholding the gender role and norms that you have transitioned too. If you’re gay that’s fine as long as no one ever has to think or deal with that.

Any deviation from this in my experience has lead to accusations of negativity and toxicity. That my queerness, that the messiness of a transition is unprofessional. That I can identify how I want so long as it has no impact and requires no effort on the part of those around me. There is incredible pressure to hide and repress any part of my trans-ness, my gay-ness, my me-ness that doesn’t conform to cis and straight culture. Which isn’t a whole hell of a lot, my lived experiences are usually pretty different from those around me.

So it’s hard to be positive, it’s hard to be motivated, and I think the most important thing is that I’ve worked through enough of it to be okay with myself when it’s hard, because I’m not crazy for thinking it’s hard to keep going forward. There’s more against me then with me and if I want to change that then I’ve got to find the strength to get through it. If at the end of the day I don’t have much left in me, then I know why.

In a lot of ways I’ve internalized what I said months ago. I’ve gotten used to not being okay, but at least now I know why, and I have reasons to keep fighting. I’m not alone in the fight, and that’s enough for now.

 

 

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.

Having a Clear Goal

I’ve had loosely defined goals most of my career, I’ve wanted to help tackle financial illiteracy, I’ve wanted to help people out of avoidable situations, I’ve wanted to help make people better off and enjoy the lifestyle they currently have.

but I’ve never been able to concrete say, this is what I want to be doing, every day. This is what I want my career to be about.

Those loosely defined goals are still there, but I’ve been thinking about it, and in the last six months I feel like I’ve done more good then in the last ten years. What was the main difference? I had passion, because I’ve finally found a community that I feel a part of and that I want to serve.

I’ve volunteered since I was a teenager, and I’ve been agreeable while doing it, but I’ve never had that spark that propels you to something greater.

Which comes back to my career. I’m a financial planner. I want to do what I’m best at, and I want to serve my community. My most rewarding and effective meetings are with other members of my community. I want to help my community overcome that avoidance of the financial system. Because it’s historically disadvantaged us.

The concept of competency towards dealing with the LGBTQ+ community is in it’s infancy and is still largely centered around winning over business from well to do gay men. Not about improving the lives of the community.

I’m not sure what form this will all take, but I want to help make gay, and bi, and trans and any other folk under the rainbow realize their goals and dreams. I want to help us enrich ourselves, to better our community. To progress past the systemic discrimination and to achieve what we’re capable of, not just what we’re able to scrounge together.

I want us to have a bright future.

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.

 

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.