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Paving it forward with inclusion


My company hosts an annual Women in Tech Experience, a multi-day event with talks, teaching, and other learning opportunities from all regions of the company. As part of that experience, I was asked to do a lightning talk on my experience where people helped with my dreams. Now, obviously, I did not talk about this in the context of career dreams, but much more personally and from the lens of an environment of inclusion.

Now that the event is past, I wanted to share the text of my speech, with the names of the guilty redacted. 😊


I was born a little less than a year before the Stonewall Riots, a watershed moment in the development of LGBTQ+ rights. But that was just the beginning of what is still a significant battle for equality almost 52 years later. As I speak here today, across 33 States there are more than 100 pieces of legislation aimed at curtailing trans rights or suppressing our very existence.

I live in a world where my right to personal dignity, to be treated with respect, to live without discrimination, to have autonomy over my own body, is being freely and openly debated online, in the media, and by government. I came out under this backdrop and learned that there were two forces that worked to hold me down.

The first is transphobia.

When I was a child, there was very little known or said about trans people, but what was said was inevitably bad. In the world of entertainment, any form of trans representation was either for laughs or for villainy. Even when it was for laughs, there was always an undercurrent that implied subterfuge and trickery. So, even in fun, we got the message that we were a lie.

“James Bond’s girl was a boy!” 

“It’s official... This is a man!”

Those are just a couple of the headlines about Caroline Cossey, a trans woman and actress, who had her personal life put on grotesque display by tabloid media. She was amongst many who would see their lives portrayed by the media as trickery, a denial of who they were. I was 10 years old when Caroline Cossey was forcibly outed and I never forgot it.

It was messages like these that engendered the need to suppress who I was. After all, the world said I was broken and a liar. Who was I to argue?

The second force is misogyny.

There was only one outcome for any boy that displayed any feminine interests in the schoolyard: intense bullying. About the easiest term one would encounter was “sissy” and it went downhill from there. I avoided much of that by being good at sports, and it was much easier for me to just be a loner, to hide away in books, to escape the world that I was in. Nevertheless, the messages in the schoolyard were clear: it was undesirable to be a girl.

The schoolyard is hardly the only place that message came out. Again and again, the messages that marginalized women came through in the words and deeds of adults around me. Seldom was a woman celebrated for her strength, courage, and a will to succeed on her own terms. Women who showed these characteristics were often portrayed as undesirable, bossy, and not real women.

I saw all of this. I internalized it, just as my sisters did. I learned that I needed to hide, to be somebody else because, after all, the world said that I should want to be a man. Who was I to argue?

I spent a very large part of my life working hard to suppress the real me. I lived in a constant fear that I would slip. That I would say something or do something that would reveal to the world who I really was. I would have panic attacks, going back over everything I said or did that day, looking for a mistake. I had to protect my secret.

That was a scary place to be given the context that surrounded me. I considered suicide more than once in my life, but I ended up handling it like many before: I just drank away that pain. A momentary, and false, sense of peace.

A couple of years ago, a close friend turned to me for advice. She was amongst the small few that knew I was trans and she wanted help in understanding her trans daughter. That began to reawaken me, it made me revisit the transphobia and misogyny that drove me into hiding and it gave me a reason to hope again.

An HR associate at work has a sticker on her coffee cup that says, “Trans equality now!” I used to stare at the sticker in meetings, sometimes resisting the urge to rotate the cup when the sticker faced the other way. What that cup said was that I was in a safe place, that it was possible to be here. It was a remarkably powerful message of inclusion on such an innocuous surface.

Many of our leaders and associates share their pronouns on mediums such as Slack and Zoom. For a trans person, pronouns are extremely personal because they’re intimately bound up in who we are. When we see them shared, we see support and allyship. It is such a simple thing, but signals acceptance and makes us feel as we though we belong.

When a good friend came out as trans it was the moment that my egg truly cracked. I sought the help that I needed to overcome what society had taught me and it saved my life. I began my transition in July of last year and the changes inside of me were immediate and profound. Everything was starting to feel right.

My manager, at that time, has been an ally for the marginalized for quite some time. He is active, enthusiastic, and he cares. It did not escape my notice that he desired to create a safe space, a space of inclusion. Before, and after, I began my transition he has been my champion.

When I told one of our senior VPs that I was trans and was preparing to come out at work, he said to me that he couldn’t think of a better company to come out in than ours. He’s right, I can’t either.

So many people have worked at creating a safe space here and I only named a few. They paved the road of inclusion before me and made it possible to really be me. One of our HRCs asked me if my intention was to inform or to inform and educate. I want to educate. I want to be noisy. I want to help people understand who we are.

After all, it is my turn to pave it forward and help unleash the potential of those who follow.

Comments

  1. Your company sounds like mine in terms of acceptance. Although I'm out a trans or bi-gendered, I am out as an ally and member of my company's Pride network.

    ReplyDelete

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