The Cost of Doing Business

n.b.: I first wrote this in October of 2008 and it’s been kicking around my drive since then. Six months later, things are only marginally different. The anxiety I felt then is still there – I am simply learning to live with it.

It was never my plan – this thing I do at work: it just sort of happened. One day, about eight years ago, I just started dressing ‘differently’ at work. It was small things: pants, a shirt, my shoes – nothing dramatic: one thing here and there. But as time went on, I pushed things more and more – and my appearance became more androgynous. I waited for someone to comment, but they never did. And while I never openly discussed what I was doing, I knew it hadn’t gone unnoticed. Somehow, I managed to ‘express my gender’ in a way that made me feel good – and I did it in one of the more conservative of corporate environments: at a Wall Street investment bank.

I went to HR after 9/11 and basically outed myself to them: I asked to be allowed to follow the women’s dress code. I told them I wanted to make this ‘official’. A few questions and a week later and they said yes. Now, even if someone said something, it didn’t matter: I had special dispensation. My firm had talked about supporting diversity and they did, at least as far as gays and lesbians were concerned: I, however, was something alltogether different. I was genuinely shocked to find them willing to back up their commitment with action in my case.

In 2006, I officially ‘came out’ at work. That October, I was featured as our LGBT network’s employee of the month – and my photo and bio were posted on network’s website. Something inside me wanted to be acknowledged for who and what I was. I had been ‘out’ for a while now with respect to how I dressed, but now – there no question about it: I was the ‘T’ in the LGBT at the Firm. It was an odd feeling but it felt ‘right’ to me.

In 2007, Maggie Stump spoke at our Firm. She is a fund manager (and a very successful one) who transitioned on the job at another financial institution. I found her story inspiring – and a bit sad – as are many of our stories. I spoke with her afterwards (we being the only two transpeople in the room) and I told her how impressed I was with her and her accomplishment. She asked me my story and when I finished, she allowed that she was far more impressed with me. I looked at her, confused, and asked her, “Why?”. She looked serious as said, “Because what you are doing is *so* much harder than what I did.” It didn’t seem hard but I suppose maybe it is – I don’t know. I don’t get to ‘pass’ or blend in and everyone in my building knows who I am, even if they don’t know me personally.

To my knowledge, I was the only openly trans individual at the Firm. And to make it that much more interesting, I open identify as genderqueer and have no interest in ‘transitioning’ as the trans-community tends to understands it. I do not ‘fit’ what some expect a transperson to be, which is fine by me. It’s an odd place to be, but it’s who I am. Somehow, I managed to carve out my own very queer little space in an otherwise traditionally conservative environment. I am rather proud of what I have achieved and *where* I have achieved it. I have been asked, “How did you do that?” I honestly don’t know: timing, the culture of the firm, stupidity, luck – it kinda just happened. I don’t know that I could make it happen again.

I am at an uncertain place in my life now. The firm for which I worked is in bankruptcy and I am now employed by the firm which purchased the leftovers: my fate there is far from secure. Maybe they will keep me – maybe not: I have to wait and see. Even now, six month on, I am not sure of my position. Assuming they do want me, will they want *me* – warts and all? Diversity in a corporate setting is very much a cultural thing and needs to be driven top down. My old firm had it – this new one does not. They say the right things, but have a less-than-stellar reputation regarding LGBT support. I am back to flying under the radar for the time being. I continue to do what I have done largely because my management hasn’t changed and they have always been supportive. But I know that there has been nothing officially ‘sanctioned’ by the new regime.

Then there is looking for employment elsewhere; who goes on the interview? I need to stay employed – but at what cost? Does the trans/genderqueer individual show up and risk being found “Not quite what we’re looking for right now…” Or do I get a proper haircut, shine my wingtips and ‘be’ whatever it is I need to be to find work. Can I really be that person again? If so, for how long? Can I attract the same lightning a second time? I don’t know the answer, but perhaps the questions are moot.

I shouldn’t be worrying about this; if anything, it should be the last thing on my list. I have my ‘priorities’ in order – but when does ‘me’ get to be a priority? At what point do I get to *not* push this to the bottom? It has taken me *so* long to get to this place – a place where I can more or less ‘be myself’ and have this be a non-issue for the most part. To start over again – or worse, give it up completely – I don’t know that I can do that.

In the end, I suppose I will have to do whatever it is I have to do.

The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it, but in what one pays for it – what it *costs* us.” – Nietzsche

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