There is a panel discussion coming up on gender identity and expression in the workplace. It is being hosted by a large investment bank and should be interesting. I was asked if I had any suggestions for the panel and I offered to ‘tell my tale’ if they thought there was some value in it. I like to think that what I did and where I did it is something a bit unique, and as another investment bank was hosting, it seemed like a good fit.
The event has been planned and the speakers chosen – suffice to say I am not among them. I’ll be honest, I never had any expectation of being on any ‘panel’ – I made the offer knowing it wouldn’t be taken – I made the offer knowing exactly what they wanted.
The ‘trans’ representative will be a transsexual who has already transitioned. The reason given for her being chosen: the people planning the event “didn’t know if the more hands-off (on the company’s end) non-transition transition experience would be too advanced for the audience of HR people.”
My former employer was as high profile as any investment bank and they managed to see the value in allowing me the latitude to be true to myself. It took them all of a week – which I’m sure amounted to about an hour’s discussion – to decide in my favor. Their ‘advanced approach’ required them to make no real policy changes. I wasn’t looking for anything that would cost them anything – I think that would be the case more often than not. What it amounted to was that I was a valued employee there.
What I would like to know is why is it almost always transsexuals who are put up as the spokespeople of the trans-community? Not all transpeople are transsexual – in fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that most are not transsexual. We all do not transition – or at least transition in the same way. And yet, time and time again, they are offered as the quintessence of transness.
I know why she was chosen: she’s safe. She fits the media-ready narrative of “I always knew I was a girl from early on…” through transition and up to “…and now I am a woman and happy.” It the side of trans that people have learned to at worst tolerate and at best respect. It is the cleaned up and ‘sanitized for the public’ side of trans – presented in an easy to digest format. I am sure she will look good and be thoughtful and articulate. The HR types will look at her and agree “this isn’t so bad – we can do this.” It is the side of trans that is by and large neat and tidy: she’s female and a woman – just as it should be. It’s not a bad side of trans, it just does little to challenge people’s perceptions and educate them as to the diversity in our community.
I see myself as the scary side of trans – the side no one wants to see. It’s people like me who ‘ruin things’ for everyone, at least that is what I have been told in the past. I am the ‘less-authentic’ side – the ‘not really serious’ side – the guy who ‘just wants to dress up at work’ side – the ‘confused’ and ‘in denial’ side – the ‘freak’ and ‘weirdo’ side. I amount to gender trash: something to be pushed aside and stepped over. I have been made to feel at times that my version of trans has little intrinsic value.
Discussions around trans-people and the workplace seem to come down to debates over bathrooms, medical coverage and transition strategies – important issues (for transsexuals especially) but not the only issues for trans-people. Speaking for myself: my health insurance is just fine, I am able to relieve myself as necessary without incident, and there was no need for a planning session when I did what I did. Discussions around things like flexible dress codes, employee education and a top-down driven commitment to diversity and inclusion (for example), in addition to the other ‘issues’, would serve a far wider audience in my opinion. Of course to do this, you need you have people who can speak to these other concerns actually speak to them – people with other experiences as trans-people.
A false tautology has been created: transsexual <==> transgender. The average person who has heard of either doesn’t know there is any difference. When I approached my old firm’s LGBT group, the chairperson at the time – an SVP in HR and a lesbian – asked me how far into the ‘process’ (i.e. transition) I was. I derailed her train of thought when I told her I wasn’t transsexual or transitioning, and then proceeded to educate her a bit regarding the the diversity that is trans. Talk shows, documentaries, dramas – the ‘trans’ people in these are almost always transsexuals. It’s not so much wrong as it is inaccurate – holding up only one example from any group of people ultimately does a disservice to that group. It serves to silence the other voices in that group.
When will be the ‘right time’ for the rest of us? Is it after a stereotype has been indelibly burnt into people’s minds? After policy is in place that excludes us? Is there a reason not to speak of us as a whole as opposed to just the top layer of the de facto hierarchy? In my simplistic view of things, what is so advanced about the idea that we are all people going to work, supporting our families, paying our taxes, and making money for our employers – and as such, we are entitled to the same consideration?
I’ll attend the event and listen to the discussion. Twelve years ago, when I ‘joined’ the trans community, there never would have been any such discussion – so I want to hear what the HR types have to say: what their plans are for supporting ‘gender identity and expression’ in the workplace. I’m curious to see how I will be represented, as it is the same representation that was there twelve years ago.
Who knows… perhaps I’ll be surprised…