Tag Archives: transphobia

Why I am Closeted as “Transgender”

Growing up I was always perplexed by the world, but that was okay. I was a child, I wasn’t supposed to know everything. I’m still perplexed by much of the world, and that’s okay too. The world is a big place, and there is a lot to learn. But I digress.

I enjoyed learning more than anything. I was always on time to school. One of the things that confused me was other children not wanting to be in class.

I loved numbers and words, colors, sounds, science, and history. I didn’t care whether it was learning about shapes or art or science or ancient civilizations, I drank it all up. Figuring out things I didn’t know was something I thrived on. The scientific method itself fascinated me. I won first place in the school and county science fairs every year. I was the annoying kid who could find all the problems with your project and, in pointing them all out to you, truly believe that I was helping. I was baffled when the other kids expressed annoyance.

I also found other social norms puzzling. Why did my cousin say that it wasn’t okay for me to go shirtless on a sweltering East coast summer day when I was barely more than a toddler? Why did my mother agree with him? Why did I have to put on a shirt when he didn’t? Why did “being a girl” matter? Why did my mother – who taught my brother and I that gender didn’t matter – agree with him?

I truly did not think about my gender very often as a young child. It only came up when other people made a big deal out of it. And then, it felt gross in ways I never had words to describe.

Why did my friend in 7th grade turn his face into a wrinkled scowl and say, “why would a girl want to be tall?” when I was happy to be one of the tallest kids in my year? What did “being a girl” have to do with one’s preferences for one’s own height? It was the first time in a long time that I had even thought about my gender. And then he threw what he thought it was into my face to stop me from enjoying a simple fact of the nature of my existence.

It struck me for most of my years as a minor that gender was fake. Everyone seemed fundamentally the same to me, but everyone was also picking sides in some weird battle between boys and girls, as if the difference was existentially significant. It seemed to me that this just didn’t have to happen, that they were making it all up and making their own lives and each other’s harder. But, it was happening nonetheless. I was certain, if nothing else, that I was apart from all of it. As an adult, the bafflement has melted into empathetic grief. I have watched the battle of the sexes of childhood harden into systemic oppression. My sadness for the depths and reaches of the harms of sexism is something I don’t have words to express. And yet, it’s still something I am generally apart from except when other people make absurd assumptions about my gender and act according to their sexist social scripts.

When the great digital cultural migration of our lifetime happened and MySpace was abandoned for Facebook, I did not select a gender. It was not required, and for reasons I did not understand at that time I had a strong aversion to the question, so I left it blank. Later on Facebook participated in the tidal wave of binary gender washing over digital platforms. Facebook’s language changed from prompting users to speak about ourselves in third person in every post to a looser format, and they also began using pronouns to refer to users. Around that time, those of us who had not entered a gender got a pop up notice upon logging in to select male or female. No other options, no way to opt out. I refused to select one. Instead, I spent a few years going up to the address bar to retype the home page web address every time I logged on. This bypassed the screen, which no longer pops up for users like me. To this day certain plugins break because I have never entered a gender into Facebook.

Why did my friends sit me down in college to have an intervention and tell me that I needed to be more girly in order to attract a man? Why couldn’t I wear my keys on my belt loop with my big baggy hoodie and no makeup? Why didn’t they understand that gender was more complicated than just men and women? Why did they balk so very strongly when I tried to talk to them about that? I was right on the cusp of finally letting myself understand that I am not a binary person, but that conversation went so badly that it shoved me far deeper into the self-closet. (Yes, being closeted to yourself is a thing, and it’s often messy.)

I did finally emerge, after some years of additional college education, into a place in my own mind where I was capable of thinking critically about my gender. I stepped out of my internal closet directly into a giant question mark: Was I really “not a woman,” or did I just hate the way the world treats women? I would ask myself this for years, punctuated by long periods of stepping right back into that self-closet. Or maybe I just ignored it because to me gender was that irrelevant. Or maybe it just took so long because “both” didn’t occur to me as a possibility for an embarrassingly long time. I don’t really know, and frankly it was likely a combination of these and other factors as well.

Why did the management team at one of my first jobs, where I was a peon in a huge corporation, refuse to call me by my name? Why did they call me into a meeting with HR to insist both that I must use my legal name and that the company was not transphobic? How could they not see the ridiculousness in that? And why, when the name change became legal, did they keep using my false old name on official documentation no matter how many times I filed a request for my name to be changed to reflect my legal name?

I bought a chest binder, but I wasn’t trans, I told myself. I proudly told people about how I had circumnavigated Facebook’s gender inquiries, but I wasn’t trans. I bought myself my first packer (link is NSFW), but I wasn’t trans. I wasn’t. I wasn’t trans. I also wasn’t cis. I was and am something different, something apart from the system as it had always been described to me. Cis/trans is just another false binary, another social construct used for the ease of communication. There is nothing wrong with being either one of those things. It’s just not a model that is useful for describing me. I knew this on a fundamental level but I did not have the words to say it for years.

Eventually I moved to a new place filled with the kinds of laboratories and research facilities where I’m interested in working. This place is also filled with trans people and other people who are neither cis nor trans, just like me. They all told each other my pronouns were they/them behind my back. The lie spread like wildfire. I spent my first year there regularly correcting people in my trans, agender, and nonbinary circles: I do not use pronouns. That includes “they/them.” Why did some of them call me a TERF for speaking my truth about myself?

Why did one of the few cisgender people I dated in the new place after I moved insist that I could not be neither cis nor trans? Why did he insist I must be one or the other? Why did he insist I must be something I am not? Why was he more attached to his preconceived notions of a language he himself admits is flawed than he was to listening to what I, his partner, was saying about the truth of myself?

Why was I treated like a “TERF-y faker troll” by some of the local queer communities when I was honest about my gender and pronouns? Why were they so hung up on yet another false binary that they were more likely to consider me a TERF than honest, even though I was speaking purely about my own existence, something they themselves say should be honored and respected?

Why are false binaries so voraciously present here?

Why would I ever call myself something other than “trans” when honesty caused me so much frustration and pain? Heck, I can’t even bring myself to describe my true gender here in this post. I’m too afraid. So just call me “trans,” or “transgender” if formality is a must for you.

Allyship in Professional Settings

Written in the Covid-stricken USA during the late July part of the 2020 BLack Lives Matter protests.

I was hired in March for a temporary position without benefits for an employer where I know I will not be able to get a permanent position. This gives me some freedom to perform acts of allyship without fear of losing my job. Any negative consequences of stepping up for others will be minimal in the long run. Given the circumstances, it is worth it to me to risk burning a few bridges if it leaves ash behind that others can turn into soap to use to clean up this mess. And, it is a mess.

Racism, transphobia, ableism, and more. Just like the rest of the USA, our workplace has issues. Our leadership, however, has been outspoken about wishing to correct internal issues of racism. I leveraged that to begin my allyship campaign at my new, temporary workplace. This article describes a portion of what I have done so far in the hopes that others will be able to glean ideas from it.

First, back in June after the Black Lives Matter protests hit a new nationwide height after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, a member of senior management cancelled a weekly casual Zoom meeting and replaced it with one intended to address antiracism. Being someone who is accustomed to discussions on race, I entered the call prepared to listen and learn. Instead, I found myself stifling a series of would-be faceplams on camera and acting primarily out of allyship rather than from a place of learning.

In summary, the meeting was a disaster. The interesting thing about it, though, is that the person who lead it probably left feeling like it was a success. I will skip past a lot of the details for timeliness for you my dear reader, but I don’t think this senior management person noticed that I – not the manager – was the one providing facilitation. I was the one who noticed that white people were talking over each other so fast that even they couldn’t get a word in edge wise, much less a person of color trying to work up the courage to say something in a hostile environment. I was the one who noticed that it was a hostile environment, not the manager. I – the temp who had been there for 3 months – was the one who said things like “Everyone please hold on, [person’s name] was trying to talk. I think your mic is off,” and otherwise creating space for voices of color to be heard amidst the white clamor. A caucophony, if you will excuse the pun.

Almost no voices of color spoke up, and those who did quickly stopped contributing when they saw how the meeting was going. None of the management called people to task for expressing racism. And, there was a lot of expression of racism; the people who were expressing it just did not recognize it for what it was. I don’t know whether the senior management present failed to recognize it or failed to act despite recognizing it, but either way it functioned to sanction and thereby galvanize the racism, regardless of intent. The black faces on the screen sat flat-flipped and silent for the majority of the meeting, only briefly going wide-eyed at the horrible things various white people said before carefully schooling their faces back to cold professionalism. That silence said more to me about the problems with race in my department than anything that the white people rambled on about for the hourlong meeting. The one thing that all of the different black people in the meeting who spoke all said – the thing they were clearly and unambiguously unanimous about despite only barely speaking at all – was that they wanted more of these discussions to happen. This was a start, and only a start, as far as they were concerned. Personally I found that take generous considering how badly that start went, but I kept my mouth shut.

At the end of the meeting, the senior manager asked me to send an email with the books I had recommended during the meeting. The manager was going to send them out to everyone. If that happened, I never got the email.

I thought about how that first antiracism meeting went badly due to the fact that it was lead by someone unqualified to do so. I decided I needed to say something to the senior manager who lead it. Clearly someone needed to, and most or all of the black people there were obviously not comfortable doing so. I wondered whether I should offer to pass on information anonymously, but none of the black people in my department are on my team and I am so new that they have no reason to trust me any more than they do anyone else. I ultimately sent this to the senior manager in the body of an email:

“I would recommend creating an anonymous way for anyone who wants to give you feedback to do so. I imagine this would make anyone of any given minority you aren’t a part of feel more comfortable bringing up issues in the department and criticisms about your handling of related topics.”

The response I got was disheartening. I won’t quote it directly here for privacy reasons, but the senior manager essentially said that anonymous surveys are not offered because they do not allow the senior manager to address the individual. The message also expressed that anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable going to the senior manager directly can go through someone else they do trust. I thought about how I had only been there for 3 months so it was silly to think I would be able to trust someone else enough for something like that. I thought about the silent faces and didn’t think it was reasonable to expect any of them to trust someone else like that either.

The next week’s casual Zoom meeting came, and I had not yet heard anything about another antiracism meeting even though it had been asked for by several people of color, both black and nonblack. So, when the senior manager asked for questions at the end of the casual Zoom meeting, I asked, “I was just wondering when our next antiracism discussion was going to happen.” The senior management expressed surprise that people wanted to talk about it more, then decided to schedule one for the following week. That’s how invisible people who aren’t white are in a working environment with white leadership. This is why we white people need to listen to our black and brown coworkers and reinforce heir voices with our own. I then carefully suggested, “I think if we could have some clearer goals for that meeting it might be a bit more useful.” The senior manager smiled and promised clarity.

Leading up to the second antiracism conversation, I considered the fact that this senior manager should probably not be the person who runs these antiracism talks. These kinds of conversations have a lot of different goals they can encompass, and each one needs something different. For example, if we want to give black employees a place to air their grievances with the company, the expectations and ground rules are going to be a lot different than if we want to systematically go through our policies and look at what might need to change. The first meeting didn’t have any clarity over what kind of meeting it would be, and that is part of why it was unproductive. I sent another email:


I am CCing [my direct supervisor] and [the relevant middle manager] because I’m not entirely certain who the right person is to send this to. I believe that the following are important goals for our antiracism talks:

  • Creating a learning environment about race, racism, and antriacism, especially for white people.
  • Working together to recognize and dismantle racism within ourselves, especially white people.
  • Creating space for people who aren’t white to voice grievances about the racism in our department.
  • Working together to recognize and dismantle the systems of oppression present within our department.

I don’t think we can do all of those things at the same time both because it’s too much all at once and because several of them are contradictory in terms of responsible ground rules. Each one is also big enough that it would make sense to pick just one at a time for each of these meetings. It is my hope that clear goals such as those above will make the next antiracism meeting a bit more productive.

That is why I asked for clear goals to be set for our next antiracism meeting. I realized after the Zoom meeting ended that my request was itself ironically unclear, so that is why I am sending this email with additional context.

I also think it would be a good idea for whoever leads these antiracism meetings to be someone who has experience doing so.


The senior manager’s response started with thanks and went on to inform me about a Zoom event happening the following week put on by an existing inclusion and diversity group for the entire department. According to the email, the antiracism talks for our part of the department were to be put on hiatus until after the bigger event, that way it could be used to inform policy and tactics moving forward.

The contrast between the bigger event and the earlier Zoom meeting was utterly stark. It was well-organized, with speakers prepared to speak on relevant topics in useful ways. I did not learn anything because they were speaking to those who are just beginning to learn about race and racism, but it was heartening that they were so prepared and the questions people asked showed that they were learning a lot. Best of all, they prospered concrete steps for each group in the department to utilize.

Fast forward to late July, and there was another large department Zoom meeting. This one was designed for people to ask questions about anything, so a lot of them were about things like working from home and salaries. However, this was also the first time since I started working here that I saw an anonymous feature in use. In addition to Zoom’s chat window, there was an anonymous question feature that displayed people’s anonymous questions in a secondary chat for everyone to see. There was also a thumbs up feature, and questions with more “thumbs up” responses got boosted further towards the top of the list.

At the top with the most thumbs up was the question: “When can we expect to see a coherent and transparent plan to address the rampant racism and transphobia in [our departement]?” There were also a slew of other questions, each with their own collection of thumbs up, that made it very clear that there are several people who are very unhappy with the working environment due to these axes of oppression. For context: these questions got as many or more thumbs up reactions as the questions that didn’t have anything to do with social equity.

The senior-senior management team’s response to these questions? Waving it away, denial of there actually being issues, and an admission of not having any plan to make a plan. Somehow the same managers who said things like, “Without more data we can’t really be sure these things are happening” also said things like “If someone really thinks this is happening, they are welcome to come talk to me privately about it.” No one is going to have enough trust left to talk to a manger privately about a serious issue after that manager makes it clear they don’t and won’t be taking it seriously.

One of the managers was new and spent very little time speaking except during introductions, as new people often like to listen more than speak. This was the new manager’s first big meeting. This manager is also black and went from smiling the smile of a giddy new-hire excited to work their new job to the same careful mask worn by the other black people in that first awful antiracism meeting in June.

Yesterday, the senior manager for our part of the department (the same one who had run that first antiracism meeting back in June) had a follow up meeting with us. The email invitation said it would be to discuss working from home, transitioning back to working in person, or anything else from the big meeting that people felt like discussing. This senior manager opened the Zoom meeting with something along the lines of, “This session is for you, does anyone have any questions?”

After a long pause and some chuckling comments about no one wanting to speak up, a middle manager decided to go first. “I found it very informative just how strongly people are feeling about their working environment right now,” the middle manager said carefully. I wondered whether this referred to all the people who hate working from home while their kids were also home, or to all the people who were feeling marginalized because of race or gender.

The senior manager decided it meant the first one and went on for about 5 minutes about working from home, the stressors involved in that, transitioning back to the office, and what that might entail. The middle manager politely waited for the senior manager to finish talking and then clarified: “I was referring more to the people who were expressing concerns about racism, and disparity in pay, and things like that.”

The senior manager was probably embarrassed, and awkwardly repeatedly gave assurances that we can talk about that if it is what people wanted to do. Awkward chuckles and comments came from both managers, and then I asked if I could ask a question. The senior manager welcomed it warmly.

“It seems like a lot of the questions to that end, whether it was racism or transphobia, got rather hand wavy answers. I saw a question on the anonymous chat that was up there towards the top of the list, and I’d like to ask it here: When can we expect a coherent and transparent plan for addressing these things?”

That was enough to get the ball rolling. I was able to sit back and listen, learn a little, and watch as the team finally began to start moving towards taking real action instead of just talking about how important it is to take action.

At some point the conversation moved to trying to adjust hiring practices to ensure a wider diversity in hiring. During this, the senior manager said something about trying to get the gender balance to be 50-50, and a few other transphobic/binarist remarks. I finally spoke up again and asked, “[Senior manger], are you open to some feedback?” The senior manager said yes, so in front of all 20 or so people who work under this senior manger, I quoted the manager’s own words a few times and said, “I would like to remind you that there are more than two genders, so if you really do want this to be ‘an inclusive and welcoming place,’ you might want to consider adjusting your language. It can never be ’50-50′ if it is actually inclusive.”

The senior manager responded by thanking me for the feedback and expressing an intention to do better moving forward. A coworker privately messaged me emojis of clapping hands and called me courageous, saying, “I have never seen someone call [senior manager] out like that!

The next time I spoke up, I wrote out what I had to say ahead of time for the sake of getting through it all despite nerves. In fact, I had written this up before the meeting even started specifically because it needed to be said, and of all my coworkers, I risk the least by speaking up. I put it on a Notepad window directly below my camera and made the window super narrow to minimize eye movement from reading. Our senior manager is so verbose that I was able to edit it to match the nuances of the context of the moment I chose to speak up prior to unmuting my mic. That moment came when the senior manager said something which had been said so many times before: “I would hope anyone who has a concern would feel comfortable talking to me directly.”

I asked to speak to that point, and then said this (which I have done my best to edit to match the words that I ended up actually saying):

“I think it’s important to talk about the intricacies of how the power dynamics involved in leadership roles preclude people from speaking up. By their very nature, the kinds of issues that marginalize people also break down the trust that is necessary to speak up about those issues. Since we know that those issues exist, and we know that we have serious problems in [our department] with racism and transphobia and perhaps other axes of oppression as well, it makes sense to be sensitive to the fact that people on the harmed ends of these spectrums risk a lot when speaking up. Whether it’s a promotion or the chance for a temp like me to get a permanent position or whatever it is, marginalized people are unlikely to be without fear of being passed over for these things or otherwise treated poorly for speaking up. I know I mentioned to you before that I believe it is important to have an anonymous feedback mechanism. This is why. Asking people to trust a leader enough to speak to them directly when they are a leader in a department that marginalizes those people doesn’t make much sense in light of these dynamics, regardless of good intentions. Regardless of your very clear and obvious good intentions.”

I muted my mic again. The conversation immediately progressed to how to go about creating anonymous feedback systems with multiple active participants already on board with the idea. Concerns were raised about how to ensure that it is truly anonymous, considering we are a department of IT people and that means we all know the data exists somewhere if you have to log in with your company login credentials to access the form. A very productive and efficient conversation ensued about the logistics of putting together something that people can actually trust.

The coworker who had messaged me privately before sent a private new message that said, “I would have expected the language you used to be used in an upper level seminar course on power dynamics and institutionalized gender discrimination.”

I talk to a lot of queer people in my spare time. It’s kind of like informal grad school lol,” I responded. Please note dear reader that I used the word “queer” knowing my coworker is about my age. Older LGBTQIA people are often still stung deeply when they hear that word so I do my best to avoid using it as a blanket word when speaking in groups.

In our private chat, this coworker – who has been there for many years – told me that it is very good for this department to be exposed to this language.

Meanwhile, the conversation on the Zoom meeting returned to hiring practices. People threw out some well-researched ideas that have been implemented by other organizations with great success, such wiping names from resumes and CVs before handing them to the hiring committee to remove bias from perceived race and gender, something which studies show happen even when people don’t think they are exhibiting this bias. Look up “unconscious bias in hiring” for more information.

The senior manager voiced support of all ideas that were discussed. It was the first meeting larger than my small immediate team that I have attended since I was hired in March that seemed to be productive in any capacity whatsoever, much less within this context. It would not have been productive if people had not decided to talk about racial inequity even though it is uncomfortable.

After the meeting ended, someone I have never met thanked me privately for speaking up, saying that it made the meeting purposeful and productive, and expressing fear that if they speak up, it risks too much, so they will not be doing so. Speaking up makes a difference for those who can’t. That is why I do it, and that is why I recommend you do it too.

Transphobia and Racism

Anthropologists are aware that there are a plethora of genders around the world. Whether we are talking about gender identity or cultural gender, which are two distinctly different concepts, this remains true. Refusal to accept the reality of the existence of more than 2 genders is refusal to acknowledge the validity of many of the world’s cultures. This is therefore a form of racism or cultural supremacy rising up under the mask of transphobia and/or binarism.

Modern Western imperialism has its roots in the 15th century when various European nations began colonizing other people’s countries, glorifying it as “discovery” and justifying it by insisting that the people who already lived there were animals, not people. This likely played in to their immediate dismissal of cultural differences as “wrong” or “inferior.” Several cultures around the globe enjoyed the freedom of multiple recognized genders before their lands, societies, and resources were taken over by European colonizers, missionaries, and so on. These freedoms often also extended to general acceptance of various relationships that we might call LGBQ through our modern, Western lens. These were among the other freedoms European colonizers squashed during their whitewashing of the cultures of other nations.

Examples for further reading of case studies include:

Decolonization began in some continents in 1945, five centuries after colonization began, and never happened in North America. While many countries regained their independence, it wasn’t until after devastating impacts on their cultures were enacted by the withdrawing conquerors and entrenched over periods of time that were sometimes hundreds of years and multiple generations long. For example, 34 countries in Africa now outlaw homosexuality as of this writing. This isn’t surprising, when we consider that the colonizers came from Europe and 17 European countries still require sterilization of transgender people to this day. Sexual orientation and gender aren’t the same thing, but European rigid requirements around gender include rigid requirements around sexual orientation because their concept of sexual orientation is based upon gender. Thus, many of the world’s nations that are currently very hostile to LGBT people weren’t always that way, and only became that way because of the influence of missionaries and conquering nations from European (and later, American) origin. Nations beginning to relax their death grip on LGBT existence and behavior as transgender and queer rights are slowly won back is thus an aspect of modern decolonization.

North America was never decolonized. Canada and the United States continue to engage in genocide towards indigenous peoples. The fact that most of the states in the United States only recognize two genders legally despite the existence of several indigenous genders is part of this. Our societal and legal refusal to recognize that genitals do not necessarily define gender, and that there are more than two genders, is an extension of the same racism and cultural supremacy that fuels ongoing genocide of various indigenous peoples, that brought anti-gay laws to multiple continents that did not previously have them, and which we must actively combat both within our own minds and at all levels of government if we wish to undo the ongoing evils of those who came before us, and which are still enacted by many of the people around us.

This topic was selected by the author’s Patreon patrons.