“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”
On March 31 we celebrate the “Transgender Day of Visibility”. Visibility, refers to the option that every trans person has to be openly recognized as trans, or to remain stealth, which is a common term used by the trans community for not being openly trans.
In this case, there is no right or wrong and no one should be criticized for making the decision either way, once the implications could be enormous and life-changing. That’s why every person needs to assess their own situation and decide the pros and cons.
I could speak about the advantages of visibility and how it helps the trans community and also about the advantages of not being visible, but I think the best way to do it is through my own experience with visibility.
How It Started
My case is rare, because I transitioned after 40. The reason was that I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and that it was difficult to get good information when I was younger and to do it safely. Back then I was single, had the advantages of a great job, good health and I was close to my family. I knew there was a risk of losing all of that, but living my life through a character was no longer negotiable.
I live in Mexico–rated second worst on the global list of countries with the highest reported crimes against trans people.
Society is far from understanding and therefore accepting that someone could be trans. In a country full of machismo, where cis- and heteronormativity prevail, there is hardly a place for us.
My psychologist explained:
“Trans men are better off than trans women in a macho society, once people think that they are women trying to become better (to become men). But Trans women are seen as men who want to denigrate themselves by becoming women; that’s unforgivable in their minds!”.
How ridiculous, but I’ve never been able to get rid of that feeling every time someone stares at me in a weird way.
My fears became true, when my family and the company I worked for kicked me out. Both did it in a way that confirmed what my psychologist mentioned before, and it was terribly painful, but there was no turning back. At that time, I met a person who was super important in my transition and a wonderful ally: a lesbian girl at work. That’s when I realized for the first time that, unlike what happens with cisgender people -even if they’re gay…
TRANS PEOPLE DON’T HAVE THE BENEFIT OF REMAINING STEALTH WITHIN THEIR INNER CIRCLE.
My friend had the benefit of never having to disclose her sexual orientation or gender identity and therefore kept her job, whereas my gender-affirming social and legal changes had given me up. How could I transition and hide it at work, family or friends when the changes are visible?
Decisions on Visibility
It was the hard way that I realized visibility was a very serious business. I thought I had nothing else to lose, so I would be proudly announcing to my extended circle about my transition, which meant a general statement on Facebook, inviting friends and family into my new life. Most of them responded very well and followed me to my new Facebook account, with just a minimum number of people who decided not to. That meant they didn’t want to be in my life anymore.
But wait! There was the matter of safety. Simply going out of my house was scary as hell! If someone invited me to go out, I had to investigate about the general safety of the place, the toilets, the neighborhood, and if I had a bad feeling about any of those, I always preferred to stay at home. At that time, I was selectively visible. And there was the issue with passing, or better said, “Cispassing”, in order to avoid being identified as trans. When trans people reach the point in which society accepts our existence, the horrible matter of having to keep ‘passing’ as something one is not will have no purpose.
But not everything was bad, because for the first time ever I was able to attract a girlfriend into my life; unlike before when I was acting as a character, I was now being myself and that became attractive to others. It was hard for my girlfriend because she used to call herself a “pedigree lesbian”.
“What’s that?” I’d asked.
“I’ve never even kissed a guy”, she told me. She didn’t see me as a guy, though my bottom surgery was scheduled for 6 months later.
She put me back in the closet with her whole world and even with mine, so the choice of visibility was taken from me without asking. I finally had my surgery and when I came back, a movie director called me because he wanted me to be part of his project about the life of trans people. I held some meetings with him, in which I explained with every detail what it means to be trans and what we have to deal with. He offered me a main role in the movie! My girlfriend said there was no way we would be exposed like that. I thought she had a point and I declined.
The director offered to blur my image and change my voice, but still the idea that there would be original footage of me that could harm me in the future was enough for me not to take that chance. There’s no right or wrong in this, and I learned that one can go back and forth to a certain extent, because if I star in a movie, that’s pretty much it. However, life had something prepared for me and my situation was about to change in a dramatic way.
The Dark Night of the Soul
I had confidence in the future and I thought that I could resume my career working for some other international company and everything would be fine. I invested the rest of my savings to move to another city and started a business that my girlfriend would take care of. It was really a business made for her, once I knew nothing on the subject.
But I was discriminated against by every single company where I applied for a job. I had transitioned, but my past had not! I was forced to disclose my previous identity, and no one wanted a trans person in their company, let alone a trans woman applying for high level positions. My girlfriend’s “love” for me ended when I ran out of savings and she kept the business for her, leaving me in the most difficult situation ever.
As destroyed as I felt and questioning if I would even survive, I made the decision to fight, to wake up early every day and give my best shot at solving my situation. Some companies claim to be inclusive, have certifications and paint their logos with the rainbow colors every June. I sent hundreds of applications, mostly trying to target the “inclusive” companies.
Very few even called me back or invited me to participate in the selection process. I won one process against 500 other candidates; after very difficult tests and interviews, I received an offer. The last step was “just a formality”: an interview with the group’s president, once my position would work very close to him. His colleagues had hidden from him that I was trans, but when he found out, he withdrew the offer.
I applied to 8 positions at another “inclusive” company, all of them relevant to my experience and below the level that I used to have as a “cisgender guy”. They invited me to participate in three processes in which I reached the final stage, which was normally an interview with the CFO or CEO. It never worked, and I found out that they were using me only to demonstrate to the auditors that they were considering trans people in their recruitment so they got the certification.
What was happening in the job market? How could companies get certifications and use us, but never give us jobs? Who was fighting for us? Who was raising consciousness and fighting this kind of discrimination?
Not many people, and not very effectively. I was at a crossroads and needed to decide. Time was of the essence, because I was close to starving. On the one hand, I thought that I could use my educated voice to defend the community, but on the other hand, that implied becoming more visible than ever. What was the risk? People who “make noise” here in Mexico get killed. But wait! I was going to starve anyway!
I thought I had many things to share to help the trans community, and that, if I didn’t make it, that would be my gift so other trans people didn’t have to suffer what I suffered. I communicated with many members of the trans community and they started to spread their voices. I received a call from someone who represented a business magazine that was preparing a special issue for LGBT business leaders, and apparently, there wasn’t a trans person in the whole country who met their criteria. I had the profile, but not the job, so I couldn’t be an option.
Nevertheless, they invited me to write for an LGBT magazine, where I published many articles with information exclusively directed at trans people and Trans Families. That led into invitations to speak at podcasts, and I was selected to present the manual for the inclusion of trans people at the work spaces, a beautiful job that we did with a trans team, lawyers and other companies involved.
I’m being invited regularly to hold conferences at companies, with great results. I’m going deep, destroying the stereotypes that prevent them from knowing we’re normal, good people who can help them achieve their business objectives as any other employee. I’ve altogether forgotten my previous career, and I’m dedicated to raising my voice for trans people.
The greatest lesson has been deciding to help others, as the universe helped me in return, and now I can make a living by doing good in the world.
“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying”
People believe more in what they see with their own eyes than what they’re told. The best way I have found to break their stereotypes is by being impeccable, smart, educated, with good values. Suddenly, they find out I’m trans and their beliefs that had been fed by the system cannot hold themselves any more. I BECAME A VISIBLE EXAMPLE.
That’s the importance of visibility, and it’s the most effective way to eliminate discrimination. Visibility, however, has come at a great cost for many trans folks. I have to say, many of them didn’t make it, but their legacy is more alive than ever.
My story goes back and forth, as many external events could affect one’s decisions about visibility and there are many pros and cons depending on one’s very personal situation. The decision is personal and safety should ALWAYS come first.