I had the unexpected opportunity to attend this year’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit: a gathering of more than 6,200 ERG members, HR & D&I professionals, LQBTQ+ people and allies, from across 42 countries, “to share strategies and best practices to create workplaces which are inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”
It is hard to quantify the (overwhelmingly positive) impact the entire event had on me. It was possibly the first time in my life where I really felt totally comfortable in a ‘public-ish’ setting. I walked around with my head up, proud of who I am, as opposed to simply looking to get from point A to B without attracting too much undo attention. Because I do not have the privilage of navigating public spaces unnoticed, I view my day to day life as a public act of defiance against a society that would rather I not exist. To be someplace where I was openly welcomed was very much a new feeling for me. So much of my life has been about acknowledgement and tolerance: if I can have those, I can make things work well enough. Acceptance is harder, more elusive – because tolerance can be easily mistaken for acceptance, especially in a corporate setting, where the rules of engagement are different than they are ‘out on the street’. I felt accepted – it was difficult to have to leave that space and return to ‘the real world’.
All the workshops I attended were excellent, and I have good information and ideas to bring back to both our Pride group and our diversity office. Two of those workshops were round-table discussions that I attended specifically for me. The first was an open round-table on non-binary identities, and as I identify as non-binary, this was especially exciting. A room that should have comfortably accomidated maybe thirty people had well over fifty, with people sitting on the floor and standing along the walls. It was encouraging to see so many people there, both enbies and allies. After a few common misconceptions about us were raised – that non-binary people are almost all AFAB (assigned female at birth), young, masculine leaning, and that non-binary is some new fad started on tumblr – I felt compelled to offer counterpoint. I stood up and shared that I am a 55 year old, AMAB (assigned male at birth,) trans-feminine enby, and how twenty years ago, I stared an online group for non-binary people, and even created a term for us, as we didn’t have one. People in the room had no idea that this was a discussion we were having decades ago. I later ran into several people who were at round-table, who stopped me, and thanked me, and told that I created some buzz (in a good way.) It is important that younger people know that we have a history, and they can use that when others want to (try to) invalidate their identity.
The second round-table was a closed session of just trans-identified people. There were maybe upwards of 20 trans women, 4 trans men, and me. It was a more intimate and personal discussion then the 50+ who showed up for the non-binary round-table. Being there stirred a lot of feelings I wasn’t expecting. One was a sense of regret at taking so long to figure myself out. Many of the trans women there (and at the conference as a whole) were young(er) compared to me, and the ones my age had transitioned many years before. It underscored for me this sense of lost opportunity which I keep pushed down below the surface – and it has been a long time since I have felt so profoundly aware of that.
The other feeling(s) are a bit more complicated. I know who I am and that I am trans, but in that room, I was acutely aware of how different I was from the others there. Most were trans women, who all have a common set of shared experiences – a set of experiences very different from mine. It brought back all the feelings from the past when I was workng through all of this – where other trans women made it a point to tell me how I was not really trans, or not ‘trans enough’ – how ‘people like me’ were ruining things for them, because we dared to state that we did not have a ‘mental disorder’. (Twenty years ago, if you were not surgery tracked, the trans ‘community’ was not a welcoming space.) It’s difficult to not internalize some of that over time.
The name for this amalgam of feelings is Imposter Syndrome, and I only ever experience this overwhelming self-doubt in a group of my ‘peers’, so thankfully it’s not often. This may be why I have never made an effort to seek out many other trans people – it’s just been easier to not open myself up to that. I shared this with the group, which wasn’t easy, but what’s the point of a roundtable if you don’t share. 🙂 It was reassuring – and so validating – when one of the women there responded that we are all a part of the same family, regardless of our differences.
So, a bit of a roller coaster: ups and down – definitely more ups than downs – and lot of feelings to process and sort through. 🙂