Why do we need Allies anyway?
” To be an ally is to listen, to intervene, to educate yourself, to use your own power and privilege to improve situations for those who might need a little help raising their voice”
I am sat in the reception at our old Wollaton site, waiting for my interview for a temporary role to tide me over while I decide what to do next after choosing to change my career. As I sit waiting for my contact, I recalled how many employees Siemens had and how many years they’ve been established after a quick Google the night before. Then that familiar feeling of nervousness begins to mount.
“They’re going to guess straight away and even if they don’t, I’ll have to show them my passport anyway” and “I won’t get the job, I can’t do this!” and other thoughts then start to fly through my head. It took all the muster I had to dare to wear a suit outside. I still look like a girl, like a lesbian. I start my hormone treatment next week, so at this point, I just feel I look ridiculous. You see… my passport still has my old name on it and finding a man’s suit to fit a chunky woman’s frame is not an easy feat.
Well, as it turns out I got the job, one of my interviewers did guess, but it was all amazing. I had an incredible experience as a Transman at Siemens. The end.
I am Ben, I am a 37-year-old Process Expert from Nottingham. I am also a Transman. I properly began my transition just a few short years ago and my first week at Siemens coincided with my first shot of testosterone – that’s right, male puberty in your 30s! Not a wonderful prospect. I was moody, reactive and I generally rubbed people up the wrong way because my hormones were all over the place and I was behaving like the teenager I felt inside.
Fast forward to 1.5 years later, the hormones have kicked in and I’ve calmed down, a lot. With a few bridges to mend and a little stubble on my chin I got back up off the floor to try again. No longer behaving like a boy, I’m a man. Somehow, along the way, I started to love this job. Maybe because I didn’t get sacked for my outbursts or having so much time for blood tests, injections and surgery. Maybe because nobody in the men’s toilets has ever made me feel I’m in the wrong one. Maybe because…I can just be myself.
I have been lucky enough to have a positive experience here because of ‘allyship’. Everyone is an ally to someone; we just label it as friendship. We label it as all sorts of things. Because of the relationships built with people since beginning my career here, I have support. To be an ally is to listen, to intervene, to educate yourself, to use your own power and privilege to improve situations for those who might need a little help raising their voice.
Allyship is a relatively new term to me. Much like all the other terminology linked to the Trans community. This world was as new to me four years ago, as it may be to you right now. And that is why it took me so long to work out who I really was. Until you are around something, it is rare that you fully understand it. You do not have the language to describe how you feel. It was only upon meeting another Transman that it hit me, in the face, like a ton of bricks. My mind went where everyone else’s does; you hear Trans and you see male to female in your mind. I spent a good, long while offending my own community and using horrific language like “man up” and referring to myself as a “Tranny” because I hide everything behind a little dark humour. If I say it first, then nobody else can hurt me, right? Turns out I was wrong. Turns out my skin was not as thick as I’d always believed. Turns out I had no idea how much this community is hated. How much they were cast out from the family home, how much they were exploited, how unemployable they are.
They, they, they…no Ben, it is US, it is WE. After several years of self-indulgence, I realised that we are in this together. I realised I am supported and confident, I have a voice. After reading all the hate and seeing some of the pain it is now high time, I stand up to be counted.
I spent 32 years living as a woman, a gay woman. The world seems very different to me now. The world interacts with me differently. There have been so many learnings, realisations, whatever you want to call them, but the one that struck me most profoundly was that of white male privilege. Now that I am a few years into my transition I pass all the time. To the outside world I am a man, finally. Despite my physical appearance changing, my voice deepening and generally being lots hairier on the legs, I still have the same mind. My mind was always male, that’s how I got into this predicament in the first place. I can say the same statements now as ones I made four years ago and get positive feedback such as “you’re a leader, you really know what you are talking about.” When I said it back then I was “an angry lesbian on a crusade who doesn’t have a clue!” I initially thought “Time has moved on.” Then remembered very quickly that the world has in fact gone backwards in the last five years. I remembered this because every morning before I even get out of my bed to come to work, I read a disgusting amount of Transphobia simply by scrolling an inch down my newsfeed on Facebook. It is everywhere. Trans people are constantly under attack by the media and every Tom, Dick and cockwomble thinks it is perfectly acceptable to give their opinion on our mental health, our bodies, our treatment and even our genitalia. Diagnosing all the poor Trans folk along the way as mentally insane and telling us all we don’t deserve equal rights. Thanks guys, but our Gender Clinic has it covered, well apart from the rights of course. Anyway, I digress. White male privilege is a real thing (who knew?) I don’t have to shout so loud to be heard. I finally found my indoor voice.
Siemens are creating a Transitioning at Work Policy and reviewing our other policies and procedures to ensure we are as inclusive as possible for the LGBTQIA+ community. I would never have guessed that this had not already been done. I have been completely accepted in my building, I have many allies in our business and because of that, I am able to progress, contribute, feel valued and can allow myself to feel truly ambitious for the first time in a while. You see, hiding who you are for a large portion of your adult life is exhausting, especially when you drink a lot of Jägerbombs to mask your realisations and fears about the whole thing.
In order to be counted, I deleted Twitter to minimise my need to argue with trolls and bigots and shifted my energies towards Diversity & Inclusion at work. Scoring points on social media is not going to change a thing, just fuels the phobia. But in talking openly about my experiences hopefully I can educate people so that Trans kids have a few more fighting their corner so they don’t feel they have to harm themselves. Did you know, teen suicide rates are the highest amongst Trans kids? Did you know, 74% of homeless LGBT youth are homeless merely for being brave enough to come out? This is because of the hatred they see wherever they look. And in this; in the free world!
So, whilst I have been having a really great time at Siemens in the UK, can I honestly agree that our Trans colleagues around the world are as lucky? Being me is still punishable by death in some countries. How lucky am I? Let us work together to make sure anyone, from any marginalised group is afforded the same liberties.
Become an Ally because you have the power to change the way that people experience the world by simply standing side by side. Recognise your privilege and help create an environment where nobody has to waste energy on hiding who they are, this is how we can all thrive together.
Written by Ben Armes