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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Changing the Norm

In my industry the average advisor is generally described by three words; white, old, and male. So anything that doesn’t fit into that pattern is considered abnormal, as an example, young white men are considered noteworthy. So women are largely underrepresented and considered the frontier for diversity.

Yes, integrating white women into finance is still considered difficult. That’s how backward this world is.

This leads me to an interesting conversation I had with a friend of mine, who’s also in the industry. I was discussing the challenges I’ve had with my transition but was talking about how positive my clients have been, and how remarkable it is. He responded with, “well of course, you’ve still got the same skills and mind, there’s no difference now.”

“Actually, a lot of people have opened up more to me, not everyone deals the same way with everyone, some people would prefer the option to not have to go to a white guy for advice.” I replied.

You could hear the whiplash in his head from across the table. He’s a progressive guy, but it hadn’t ever really dawned on him that people would want a diversity of advisors that represented the diversity of people that are out there. It very quickly made sense to him, but in those couple of seconds you could see an entire worldview shatter.

There’s a certain self-reinforcing nature when an industry is as homogeneous as finance is. People stop questioning if it should be as old, white, and male as it is, and start to believe that maybe it’s a natural function, that people want it, so it’s a symptom of demand and not supply.

In reality I believe the opposite, if you want professional advice, the only supply is this norm, so the consumer becomes accepting of this and changes their expectations and perceptions to allow this.

We want advice from people that are credible, and have a perception into our problems that we may lack, or a perspective we can’t get because we’re too close. Not everyone has the same life experience or the same problems they need advice with. The better an advisor is able to understand and relate to an experience the better the advice they can provide. Logically that would mean that professionals would represent a broad base of humanity so that there was a large cross section of perspectives available.

The fact that there isn’t has become so ingrained in our thinking that it’s become normal. Once something is normal it becomes accepted, and its hard to change accepted wisdom. Regardless of how much people might not want it.

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.