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Emily shares her journey and why Trans Day of Visibility is important

Category: LGBTQ+, LGBTQ+ Ally, Trans Awareness, Trans Day of Visibility, Transgender Awareness

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The 31st March is Trans Day of Visibility, ‘TDoV’ for those of us in the community, and you may wonder, what is this day all about? – To which the answer is ‘exactly what it says’ – it is about Transgender people being visible, living their lives. It started as a response to the fact that during a year of observances, trans people recognised (and still do) those trans people lost to violent death and suicide every year (November 20th) but we did not have a day celebrating our humanity and the contributions we make to society.

For me personally, TDoV is a particularly special day, as it marks the anniversary of when I ‘socially transitioned’ – which is to say, that I stopped presenting myself to the world in the gender I was incorrectly assigned at birth and made some practical steps to make the change. Interestingly, as a Project Professional I had a Gantt Chart (that’s a graphical depiction of a plan for the uninitiated) – which had a much longer timeline envisaged – there is a lot to do when you transition; medical support, emotional support, finding your ‘style’ – and I had all of these on my ‘critical path’ – things I felt I absolutely MUST have done before being comfortable to be myself publicly every day, and not just temporarily for an evening or day out.

Then something happened.  On the 23rd March 2020 I found myself being the last person in the office at Corby – everyone else already having started to work from home for a ‘short period’. It was surreal, the business knew I was trans by this time of course, and in my ‘coming out’ message I had referenced that I had a ‘lot to do’ before people would see the real me every day; but in honesty, the 5 months of living a double life was getting really tough and when on the 24th March I came home knowing that the office was now closed I started to think about what survival and visibility really meant now.

 

RS Office23rd March 2020 – the day the world changed – face redacted for my own mental health!

 

So working from home started, and TDoV 2020 was fast approaching – how can you be visible and demonstrating the value of trans lives being lived when you aren’t interacting with people? – On the 28th March, I sent a message to my then manager asking to initiate my name change on all of our corporate systems (I had already legally changed my name by deed poll) and that I wanted to change my corporate avatar – which appeared on teams calls (the camera was a definite ‘no-no’ in my mind then) for the day of visibility. To make my transition real for those I worked with, to socialise the real me, before we got back in the office together. At that point I thought I would change things back after 1st April, until I got into the office.

The reply was that the systems could be changed – but that it was a one way street, and I ‘had to be sure’. I was sure. In fact, never so sure of anything in my life.

Some things I just did – we can all change our avatar ourselves, and I shared a (then) recent selfie taken on one of my last nights out in a restaurant, the name change followed a couple of days later.

 

Emily's first work signatureThe first ‘official’ recognition of me at work

 

In terms of process, RS has been brilliant, our IT team managed the changes quickly and sensitively – my team, who had been on the journey with me for a number of months switched seamlessly to using my name and pronouns, and by and large so did the wider business. Lockdown was hard though, as part of transitioning you build a support network of trans people, as no matter how understanding or how strong the ally only trans people can really understand what it is like to struggle with gender dysphoria and the irrational and visceral hatred which is more prevalent day by day – and lockdown pulled the plug on that. I certainly found April very difficult indeed and was grateful to the many people in the business who recognised the difficulties that people in the LGBTQ+ community face in isolation for reaching out to me and supporting my mental health at that time.

One of those people was Alison Hutchings, a friend in our innovation team and fellow 3d Printing enthusiast who had been setting up a response to the national shortage of PPE which plagued the start of the pandemic.  RS set up a 3d Print farm in Corby to produce visor shield frames and Alison, knowing that I needed to get out of the house asked if I would like to ‘do a few shifts’ on the farm at our Corby site – I think I said ‘yes’ before she finished the sentence.

Agreeing to take over work on the 3d print farm represented the biggest change in my visibility at work, as it entailed being me in Corby, and changing my ID etc.

I won’t lie, this was a massive moment for me in transition; and it came much sooner than I had planned. That first day was incredibly nerve wracking, having received a message from security on the Sunday saying that I should report to our back door for a new ID pass, I arrived at the office at 0800, on a sunny day, and recognising the importance of the day stopped at the front of the building for a selfie.

Emily's first day at workMy first day at work, 2 years after I started the job

 

The walk from the front door to the security station was like a marathon, I arrived with nerves I haven’t felt in a long time, wondering how security would be with me (my only real interactions previously had been from pressing the red button of doom, and submitting to a search) – but I needn’t have worried.  They were ready. ‘Good morning Emily, you’re here for a new ID today?’ was the greeting – and we got on with the process - just as any colleague would.

Emily's Official IDThe first ‘official’ ID I ever had

 

In a lot of ways, seeing my name and picture on my work ID card was the most ‘real’ thing I’d yet seen recognising the real me – and it meant that there was truly no going back [not that I wanted to]. Starting teams calls as me, and finding that I had unlocked a whole load of mental capacity by just not hiding who I was was a real revelation, and one I was not ready for. Despite all the grimness of a year of relative isolation, I have driven forward a multi-million pound programme; delivered a keynote at my first pride (at least I sort of kept one of my 2020 new year’s resolutions!)

 

Emily Keynote speaker at her first PrideKeynoting at my first ever pride

 

I took part in a panel event discussing trans experiences at work, where, with a fantastic panel of trans people we demystified our lives as trans people, trans parents, trans colleagues and trans friends.

What it is like to be TransRaising visibility at a global panel event

 

I delivered an hour's awareness training to a partner organisation, and raised $2500 for the fabulous Mermaids Charity. I was invited to speak at an international Mental Health Conference, and took my first trip alone to my home city.  I have become an ambassador for mental health with a particular emphasis on the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Mental Health AmbassadorTaking on a visible role for better mental health

 

And did I mention that I have led a fantastic team in the delivery of strategic change and operational excellence throughout? And this got me to thinking; what has been the impact on the people I work with? What’s it like to work with and for a visible, out, proud trans woman?

So I asked…. I put together a survey for people to respond anonymously; one of the problems the trans community face is that many people don’t think they know any trans people, which makes it easy to accept some of the dreadful things said about us. What has visibility meant this year?

The Good

  • I feel better. I mean it, I have stopped concealing a big part of who I am, and ‘playing a part’ – mentally that is horrific, and easing that stress has given me a resilience I don’t think I’d have had when I was in the closet
  • I dress better. Well, I just do; it’s much easier to take pride in your appearance when you actually care about it
  • I’ve made progress medically (at my own expense) to better align my hormonal makeup. This helps with physical and mental wellbeing
  • I’ve been visible and spoken on things which mean a lot to me – mental health, equality, Human Rights, and support for LGBTQ+ youth, and as a result have been approached by three separate colleagues, across multiple markets for advice and guidance in supporting their children.

The Bad:

  • I have noticed a difference in the way I am responded to; it’s not deliberate (as far as I can tell) but I am sometimes spoken over, or find my views, experience and opinions worth less than I did before
  • The social, political and medical situation has gotten significantly worse in the last 12 months. Fearmongering, lies and abuse have risen exponentially and this offsets some of the benefits to my mental health of being Trans
  • I have experienced street abuse by being visible in Corby and had abusive remarks thrown my way whilst going about my business
  • There are still inequalities to be challenged – not intentional per se, but significant; in the field of benefits and reward.

My colleagues reported some interesting things.

I asked my questions in the knowledge that one of the problems facing trans people is that for most cisgender people, they simply don’t knowingly know any of us. My first question was a baseline:

 "How would you describe your thoughts about transgender people before I came out?"

  • Neutral but respectful. (If that makes sense)
  • Transgender people are a part of our diverse multicultural society. We are all individuals who have their own identity, race, gender, age we are all different. Having seen a child leaving junior school and be their true self and the happiness this brought him. I am a believer that happiness is the most important thing in life. Be kind.
  • Sadly mainly what the media portray, and I didn’t realise how common it was and how deep rooted a mental health challenge it could create
  • I had seen first hand the hardships that being born Trans can present a person with, both before and after coming out. I knew how often Trans people choose suicide as their only way out and that they can face incredible prejudice. I had and continue to have incredible sympathy and compassion for anyone in this situation. I can't imagine what it must feel like, but I try my best to understand.
  • I had had very little direct interaction with anyone from the trans community, at least that I was aware of. I had/have followed a few trans social media influencers, and through them started to grow more aware of various challenges they and other trans folks faced. Hence, my thoughts toward trans folks were mostly compassionate and curious.
  • I like to think I have an open mind so had no prejudice. I'd never personally known a transgender person so always difficult to know how you would think and react until it becomes part of your life.
  • The same as I do everyone, although I didn't fully understand the internal struggles you must go through to get to a point where you are confident to present your true self.
  • I had a hairdresser about 15 years ago that went through transition and Matt described every part of the transition to me as she went through it and became Em. I was lucky to have had that experience.
  • I had a lot of respect for people who publicly 'came out' as I still think its a taboo subject. I also felt a lot of sympathy for them not being able to feel comfortable about the body they were in.
  • Neutral and indifferent but completely supportive of anyone on their trans journey
  • The same. I am open and understanding about this topic and individuals who must do this to be happy. Since your transition, I am better informed but my opinion on the topic has not changed.
  • I have grown up around/been to school with/worked with transgender people so my thoughts have always been that trans people are the same as everyone else.
  • Not much exposure to transgender people in the past.
  • I would describe them as limited. I had only ever personally met one other trans woman who openly discussed her story with me. I know I wasn't as aware of the challenges and abysmal treatment of trans people.

And then as a quantitive baseline – with 0 being nothing and 5 ‘lots’ - "How much did you know about transgender people before I came out to you?" Alongside:  "How much do you know about Transgender people now, following my transition?"

Graph

On this point, it is clear that simply knowing a real life trans person, living their life increases awareness and understanding.

The question is, does it increase acceptance and possibly advocacy?

Asked "How have your opinions about trans people changed since my transition (if at all)?"

  • I understand how and why, and I feel incredibly happy I understand it and can support it
  • Not much change. I have previously worked with trans people. I like to think I already had a positive set of opinions, and that is, if anything, only reinforced.
  • Just wish that narrow minded prejudiced people in society would reflect on themselves rather than others.
  • I hope my understanding has grown, as has my compassion.
  • Yes, I am so much more of an ally towards the trans community now than I ever thought I would be. I know longer passively sit by when I see trans folks being mistreated. I do my best to actively and intelligently engage with those who are ill-informed and sometimes malicious towards trans people.
  • My opinion hasn't changed but my understanding has grown immensely
  • Yes, I don't think I had ever truly appreciated how difficult it could be for someone to supress and hide who they are meant to be for any reason and then on top of that, hide the fact that this is making them deeply unhappy. I have always thought that people should just be who they are, I now realise that it is not that easy and trans people who have been brave enough to come out are incredibly strong.
  • It's given me an appreciation of how ready the world is to change but also how pockets of small minded individuals can make it so much harder. For me, it's not about your sex, appearance, race, religion, it's about the person, who they are, how they treat others and how they treat me that counts.
  • No. but that's because I have always had respect for the trans community but you have brought it to life and explained it in such a positive way. You openly talk about it and your'e transparent. Your'e taking us all on the journey with you and I feel honoured to be part of that.
  • Not particularly , however I do have a greater understanding of support I can offer and what trans people could be going through when transitioning
  • I don't think my opinions have changed as such, but due to your & Preston's involvement in Spectrum I feel more informed and educated on the issues that trans people face. I think that because I treat everyone the same I can be blind to the fact that there are people out there who wish to cause harm to the LGBTQ+ community.
  • I now have much better understanding about the issues trans people face and troubles they have to overcome when going through the transition.
  • As I'm more aware now of the challenges and daily onslaught on trans people I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for all of you - despite feeling like it will never end you still show up and stand together, speaking out against the injustices. I just want to be able to be a better ally and support.

To my mind this is encouraging, being Transgender, you tend to notice every single article, every news report, every piece of discriminatory legislation which seeks to impose controls and reductions in the right to live openly – whereas for Cisgender people, these things pass them by (unless they are engaged in Transphobic lobbying) and it’s clear that my visibility and openness about being a Trans Woman has improved understanding and provided a counterpoint to the often absurd, usually vicious things said about me and people like me.

The Trans community is not homogenous – there are Gay Trans people, Lesbian Trans people, Bisexual Trans People, Asexual Trans people, kind Trans people, mean Trans people, tolerant Trans people, intolerant Trans people.  Because we are people, humans, with all the weaknesses and strengths of any other. But we have suffered from being invisible, closeted and feeling like we needed to be hidden to survive – and for many of us, hiding is not just undesirable, but impossible – and it should not be something we even have to consider.

Being Trans is about as common as having ginger hair – there are lots of us, more than feel we can be open about it – and the answer to that lies in the hands of the Cisgender community. Being visible, living is not an additional privilege we are seeking, it’s just the basics. Securing medical care is not an additional right or privilege we are seeking – just the same as anyone with medical needs.

And responding to the lives of those you know (and those you don’t) who are trans is transformative.

I asked the question: "In what way do you think I have changed since transition?"

  • You have become much more ‘yourself’ in that you seem comfortable in your body and in your identity
  • I think the change may be subtle. You may seem calmer, controlled, more you. Nothing majorly different from a work point of view; perhaps a little more 'accessible'? Its tricky to say if that's my perception. I actually now find it hard to imagine you as you were (possibly harder than it might have been previously imagining you being Emily)
  • Empathic, confident, calm and you smile
  • I have thought about that a lot, particularly in the context of our friendship. Would the fact that it became a fm friendship rather than a mm friendship change anything? Honestly, I don't think it has. I feel closer to you because I feel I know the real person now rather than the mask you have been forced to wear but you still have the same values and the same passions and so we still get on in exactly the same way.
  • I knew very little of the person you were prior to beginning your transition, mostly because I only met you days after you started coming out to teams at RS. That being said, other than the more obvious physical changes, I would say your confidence has grown more and more.
  • (Excuse the pun) Transformed, and by that I mean emotionally and behaviourally. You have relaxed, work has become more focused and you appear much more confident, even if you don't feel it inside.
  • You seem happier in yourself, I have always thought that you have been confident and assured in what you do but now it feels more authentic if that makes sense.
  • Outwardly you have a sadder persona which is understandable as this doesn't just affect you, it affects those you love most. I only see you in work which is (hopefully) a safe place for you, I don't see the reaction and interactions you have outside of work which is definitely not a safe place. When you talk about your true self, whether that be on video, through articles, face to face, you light up.
  • There are moments of true happiness but I think it is more a confidence thing. You know who you are and your happy to be that person.
  • You are happier! Despite all the challenges you have faced and are facing into, you are clearly more comfortable in your own skin and that radiates!
  • I find you much more self confident, empathetic and compassionate.
  • You are happier and more confident, it was instant from when you started coming out at work. There was another shift up when you were able to come to work as your authentic self. It's clear milestones mean a lot to you, documenting them and celebrating them along the way clearly brings you great joy and it's great to be able to celebrate them with you. Yeah there are tough challenges faced and tough ones ahead but the net change in you is wholly positive. Although there was warmth from you before I don't think I ever actually saw a genuine smile until you were authentically you.

These comments are revealing – people noticing happiness, smiles, confidence – and I feel it! – My own daughter, when I came out to her and shared some photos of me as me, said something which cut very deeply – ‘I love them, because you are smiling, and I can’t remember when you smiled’

The outlier which mentioned being sadder was one to ponder. And I think it’s something worth mentioning, that trans people have been dealing with lockdown, home-schooling, extra work, restructuring, the stresses of life – just like everyone else; but seen through an additional lens of a hostile media and government, so yes, sometimes I’m sad, sometimes I feel stress (and remember – I’m doing puberty again at the age of 44!)

So – a year is done, the first of the rest of my life. It’s not an easy life, and that is not on me to resolve alone. Get to know me, get to know other trans people and in doing that you’ll remove some of those stresses – and let us concentrate on the ones that impact all of us together.

Emily Hamilton

#TransDayOfVisibility

Emily outside the RS office

Same place – one year later – Just ‘Ems’

 

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