A Quiet Thank You to our Transgender Colleagues

by cv harquail on November 19, 2010

November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to honor people we have lost due to anti-transgender bias, prejudice, or hatred.

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While I can be thankful that I have no friends or family members who have died due to anti-transgender bias, I do have friends and family members who have been hurt by anit-transgender bias and by the fear that undergirds other prejudices about how we are ‘supposed to be’.

There are too many of us who continue to experience this world as a place where we cannot freely, safely, and joyously be our authentic selves.

A few days ago I came across a video that moved me to tears, and reminded me how very lucky I’ve been. I had as a colleague a woman who was in the process of coming out into her authentic self. She introduced me and my co-workers to the real life experience of supporting a transgender colleague.

Although, now that I think back 10 years, I’m not sure how well we supported her.

I remember the day she sent us all an email explaining in detail the concrete steps of her transition, asking us for our support, and telling us some very simple ways we could show our support. I remember having that sudden “oh, now I get it” when her disclosure explained and made sense of behaviors and appearances that had, up until that point, seemed a little odd.

I remember being impressed by the way a senior colleague took a visible role demonstrating how the community should support her, and who behind the scenes protected this colleague’s job and professional status during her transition.

I remember talking with some of the administrative assistants (women) who were scared about whether our colleague would be using the Ladies Rooms, and I remember feeling challenged about how to address their fears in a way that supported my colleague. I remember the conversation we (cisgendered) women had about whether to invite our colleague to the Women’s Faculty dinners. I remember talking with my closest friends about my own discomforts, my own awkwardness, and my own things I didn’t quite understand.  And, I remember when our colleague arrived at the Labor Day picnic wearing opaque black hose, and thinking “that girl needs a stylist”.

But most of all, I remember feeling a little bit scared, the first time I saw her in person as the woman she knew herself to be. I did not really know how to acknowledge her, and her courage, and her willingness to share her transition with a community that was so unevenly supportive (meaning, not very). So, I walked up to her, held out my hand, and said, “Christine, I’m glad to re-meet you.”

Lame, I know, but that was all I could think to say at the time.

After that, it was a little easier. Still, I look back and see that I could have been more supportive, more of an advocate, more of an ally, than I was.

I personally don’t like to discover that I’m being homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, or blind to my own privilege. I’d rather think that I can take all my academic, theoretical knowledge about what I believe about social justice and right action, and make it so in my daily practice.

But, I can’t, and we can’t, do this automatically. We have to learn how to act in real life, outside our heads, in a way that matches our beliefs. As we learn we make mistakes, we fumble, we feel embarrassed, we hope not to offend.

With these mistakes in mind, I want to take a moment to day to thank my colleague Christine for her courage. Her courage has made me a better person. I thank her for creating an opportunity for me and for others in her community to learn, in real life, how to be more like the inclusive, supportive, authentic people we want to be.

We remember, we learn, we move forward.

See also:
Greeting Card Emergency #6: Four Coming-Out Cards
It’s clever and helpful up until 3:00. After that, it’s transcendent.

{ 1 comment }

Karla Porter November 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

A beautifully crafted post with an important message I have been delighted to recommend. ~Karla

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