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: 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.

 

 

The Overt Quality of Trans Nonacceptance

I’ve tried really hard to give my bosses the benefit of the doubt. It’s been difficult, I had a thought the other day about it. They have made my transition possible, but they have made it difficult.

Well that all changed yesterday.

After months of subtle coldness, and constant disrespect. They decided to go full on overt discrimination. We regularly hold client events, as an office we all go out, meet with our clients, we give a presentation. Not usually a big source of muss or fuss.

One of the partners comes to me yesterday as we start getting close to getting ready to leave. He asks me if I could stay back and keep the office open. He doesn’t want me to be a distraction. Also asks would be a strong word. I don’t feel I had a choice in the matter. I told him he could ask whatever he wanted but that he was being a little mean. That I could do as he asked, but that he was being mean, that it was a mean thing to do.

His response, I don’t want you to think of it that way.

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put together that excluding me from something everyone else in the office was going to, an event I regularly attended in the past, is discrimination. All because  my gender identity and expression differ from what they consider appropriate for their clients.

I knew the road would be rocky, but to be honest in this day and age I didn’t think I’d have to face overt, in your face exclusion based on who I was. The subtle stuff, 100%. The only consolation is I now know there’s transphobia in their hearts whether its hate, or fear or ignorance festering in their heart I don’t know. I have seen the darkness in their hearts, and I’m afraid of what’s next.

Pushing past being a pushover

I’m a pretty confident person, not always by choice, part of it is my profession and part of it is who I am, mixed in with a healthy dose of unending opinions from people about being Trans. So I know I’m fully capable of expressing myself and letting my opinion be heard. Yet, I don’t always choose to do so and I’m starting to wonder why.

I’ll give an example of a situation I find myself in, my office is small there’s only two of us here full time. So to keep the office open we both go to lunch at different times. Since graduating and starting my career I’ve always taken lunch at noon, for one simple reason. I love it. I worked in restaurants from high school until graduating from college. I never got to eat lunch at noon when I was working, because everyone else was.

Getting to eat lunch at noon was a meaningful thing to me, I had moved on I ate when I wanted to, I got to enjoy lunchtime as it happened, not serving other people. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

So when the woman I work with started last year, she came in and claimed my noon time lunch. Which at the time I didn’t think mattered that much, but it bothered me. I’d been here longer, she was changing my schedule, but I wanted to be nice and accommodate her, starting a new job isn’t always fun so I thought I’d be nice.

One problem with being a pushover is if you push back, people get offended and weird about it. So last week I’d decided after nearly a year that I would really like to have my noon lunch time. I missed it, I enjoyed it. It was meaningful to me. I wanted it back, I was even willing to compromise, she could have it more then me, she takes three days a week, I’ll take two. That doesn’t work for her, she wants to alternate weeks, that’s fine I’m flexible.

Today’s the first day I’m supposed to take a noon lunch, I’d even kind of forgot about it because she’d reacted so poorly I didn’t think it was on the table. She brought it up today, and insisted, but first needed to tell me that she didn’t like this at all. Then diminished my feelings by saying I don’t even care.

I hate when people tell me how I feel, and part of its my own fault. I keep my emotions so close to the chest that 90% of the time they’re wrong. But don’t diminish things because I don’t seem to care about them. I don’t express myself well at the best of time and something as simple as a lunchtime is not going to move me to great passion.

But it does matter to me.

Baring Your Soul: Losing Agency is the Hardest Part of Being Trans

I’ve talked about the letter you need to move forward with medical transition before and how hard a process that really is. I want to delve deeper into a what is unfortunately a core facet of being Trans that I never really hear about. It’s losing your basic agency.

If you’re not sure what agency means its basically the ability to make your own choices. We’ll call it free will. For the vast majority of people, regardless of their struggles, still get to exert free and unrestrained agency. Even the poorest among us still get to make basic decisions about themselves.

One of the most mortifying realizations about being Trans, and looking to transition, is how woefully dependent you are. You do not have agency over your body once you come out as Trans, you do not have the right to make decisions about your body. That’s the whole point of that letter, you need to be proven capable first, by someone else.

The only real choice you get is whether or not to come out. Once you’re out, in many places you’re exposed to legal discrimination, being Trans isn’t protected by law in many places, on top of the social discrimination everyone likes to remind you of constantly.

Once you come out as Trans a funny thing happens. All of a sudden it becomes acceptable to those around you to ignore your wishes, while simultaneously policing your actions. This is usually done as advice to protect you from the ‘others’ that don’t accept you. If someone does this to you, it’s because they’re uncomfortable plain and simple.

So you don’t get to make your decisions when you’re Trans about your own body unless proven capable (a situation that hasn’t been medically acceptable for anyone else since the 70’s) if you do come out as Trans people will immediately stop respecting you as much as they did, and then be rude enough to pretend its in your best interest. This all culminates in a feeling of bitter helplessness. I’ve told the story about the flag my boss made me take down, as hard as that was, the conversation thereafter where we discussed his right to know about my transition to protect me was worse.

Yet what can I do? An asshole that knows they’re an asshole is probably better then one that is but doesn’t know.

I am a professional, I have accreditation and licenses. I am responsible to my clients and their interests. I make large decisions and provide critical advice daily. Yet forever I will know that beyond all that I wasn’t assumed qualified to know if I was ready to be myself.