Do you ever feel like you’ve only been invited somewhere or asked to be a member of something because you’re trans? It’s like the opposite of what’s been happening, and continues to happen, for most of modern transgender history which is to not be invited somewhere or to be unwelcome because of who we are.
Now, because of our activism and advocacy on trans issues, people, organizations, research studies, and companies are eager to hear from trans people, whether as part of focus groups or as an employee. It’s a good thing. Our voices are finally being heard and we’re starting to be valued for who we are.
But sometimes it feels like it’s not me they want, but my identity. I start to question, Am I only here because I’m trans? Would I still be here if I wasn’t? Am I being valued for what else I bring to the table? Am I checking off some sort of box so that the people who brought me here feel better about themselves? Am I only here so that this company doesn’t get called out for discriminatory practices?
It’s hard to separate, if not impossible, who I am as a person from my identity and experiences as a trans person. Nevertheless, it can be difficult sometimes to feel like I’m only welcome because I’m trans and not for any other part of my identity.
As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us.” It’s imperative that decision makers and policy makers have trans people at the table if decisions are going to be made that affect our lives. This is crucial. What’s even better, though, is if instead of just bringing trans people to the table because we’re trans, trans people start to become the decision makers. Trans people start deciding who sits at the table and what is even on the agenda to begin with.
I feel like my professional life has only happened the way it has because I’m trans. This isn’t a bad thing. Because of my experiences based on my identity, I’ve helped over 100 people legally change their name and gender. I’ve given dozens of trainings and presentations across the country on transgender competency. I’ve led support groups for trans men. This all happened because I chose to be out about who I am.
I’m proud of my professional career, and it’s opened so many doors. Nevertheless, I’m tired of feeling like I’ve only been brought to the table because I’m trans. I want to be at the table making the decisions because I’m smart, and articulate, and passionate, and I have something to say worth hearing.
I recognize that there have been times when I’m part of something because I’m trans. But it’s time for others, and myself included, to step it up. Maybe I was brought to the table because I’m trans, but I can use that to my advantage – I got my foot in the door, now what am I going to do about it? How am I going to help other trans people get their foot in the door? And not just trans people who “look respectable” and have a college education. I’m talking about all trans people, including trans women of color, I’m talking about trans people who engage in sex work, I’m talking about trans people who are immigrants or don’t speak English, or are living in poverty, or have been kicked out of their homes. Too much of the public face of trans identity looks exactly like me – white, cis-passing trans men as well as feminine, white trans women. No more.
It’s time for companies and organizations and research studies to stop using trans people like a token and stop making us feel like you’ve brought us to the table so that you can pat yourself on the back for being so inclusive. We’re worth more than that.