It fascinates me how many kinds and colors of cars I see on the road today. I don't know their makes and models unless I get close enough to see the names or logos on the back. But, I'm taken with the variety of bodies.
If you imagine all of those different cars pulling into a parking lot, and all of the drivers exiting to a building, you'd never know who went with what car body, and you wouldn't judge the drivers' skills at lawyering, accounting, or information technology by the model or color of the cars they drove. And yet, we often make decisions about a person's skills by looking at the design and the color of the body they move around in.
Not only do we make personal and professional decisions about others based upon the age, structure, and color of their bodies, but also as to whether their bodies behave in the way we think the designer intended. "That's a Corvette muscle car. Drive it faster and with more aggression." "That's a pink VW Beetle. Slow down." "You're a man. I expect more of you." "You're a woman. Should I expect a pregnancy leave?" Boys and girls are models for which we imagine we know the designer's intentions. When the bodies don't comply with our expectations, we make decisions about their true worth.
The new focus of our civil rights battle is the discrimination faced by anyone whose gender expression is diverse. You may be thinking I'm talking about transgender people. But, the "T" in LGBT actually stands for all of us, gay and straight, who aren't "manly" men or "girly" women.
If you think about it, bullying of non-conforming gay and straight kids has the same scarring effects, and is not different from the discrimination experienced by people who identify as transgender. A sissy is a sissy is a sissy. But that says nothing about his skills as a doctor.
A college fraternity brother of mine was one of the most effeminate men I'd ever met. He was as affected as every campy gay character on television today. People used to pull me aside and whisper, "You're friend is a fag." But, he's straight. I suspect that he has suffered social disapproval and discrimination similar to that I've faced in my life.
Most gay men experienced discrimination in school, not because their peers imagined them engaging in sex with other boys, but because they didn't act in a "manly" way. They cried. They couldn't catch a baseball or football, or hit the backboard with the basketball. They played with the girls. That's transgender behavior because it is outside of the box of what is expected for a boy. The word "trans" means across. When a boy cries or is not athletic, his behavior moves away from "male." Straight boys and gay boys can both be a part of the big T.
The majority of gay and straight men say they don't understand the transgender issue. They want to be supportive of the caboose at the end of the acronym, but they don't get why anyone would want to have his penis cut off, or to dress up in women's clothes, except on Halloween or at Mass.
Many lesbians have no use for male-to-female transsexuals, and some are outright hostile to transsexual women who want to attend "women only" events, or participate in women's sports. Some lesbians see cross-dressing men as offensive in their caricature apparel of wigs, lipstick, fake eyelashes, nylons, long dresses, and jewelry. All of those items, they say, have been worn by women to please men, and are thus symbols of the patriarchy. A dress doesn't make a man into a woman, they insist. Nor does having a vulva.
But, many lesbians are transgender too. They're too good at sports to be girls. They shun traditional “girly” attire. When they get married as lesbians, one of them is often in a tuxedo, like a groom. Many lesbians love to watch men play professional sports. Some eschew cooking anything but basic food. Those are examples of gender expression deviance or diversity. As soon as a girl or woman engages in the roles of men, or dresses in the clothes of men, she is in movement away from cultural expectations of her biological sex. That’s transgender.
The phrase “gender expression diversity” is a much bigger, and more accurate, umbrella expression than is the word “transgender.” Using the broader term frees us to focus attention on the real problem at work. If corporations and other entities only focus attention on providing health care coverage for transsexual medical procedures, and on which bathroom a “T” should use, instead of on the organizations’ strict adherence to traditional gender expression among all of their employees, they're not dealing with the bigger and far more significant business issue.
Will a straight man with limp wrists and a lisp be considered for hiring or promotion? Will a straight woman with a deep voice, mannish clothes, and well-developed biceps be seen as the best person to speak for the team to the client? He's supposed to be a Corvette muscle car. She's supposed to be a pink VW Beetle. But how much does the car we drive tell others about the skills we have, and the business we'll attract? What do our bodies have to do with our skills?
Gender expression diversity is the underlying theme of most workplace discrimination, and the primary source of the loss of productivity, retention, and sales. It is a systemic assumption that a car and its driver are the same, and that we know best about the intention of the designer of the vehicle. I am not my car, and I am not my body.
Brian McNaught was named “the godfather of gay diversity training” by The New York Times. He works with corporate executives globally, is the author of six books, and is featured in seven educational DVDs. He and his spouse Ray Struble divide their year between Ft. Lauderdale and Provincetown. Visit Brian-McNaught.com for more information.