This month’s Words & Pictures theme is Diversity, and although I’m not blogging specifically on the site about the subject, I thought I’d add my own contribution here, based on some unexpected experiences I’ve had over the past couple of months. The individual I’m going to talk about has given me their blessing to write this, though I’m going to avoid including any names.
A couple of months ago, one of my male work colleagues announced he was transgender, and furthermore, would be transitioning to living as a woman from then on. As you can imagine, this was something of a surprise for everyone, and as I worked quite closely with him, I knew that the process could potentially affect our working relationship. I like to think of myself as fairly liberal and open-minded, so the actual idea of him changing wasn’t shocking to me. I did, however, feel apprehensive – though I’m sure that was nothing to how he felt about it!
The transition itself seemed surprisingly smooth – I’m lucky enough to work for a company that has high ethical standards and encourages staff to uphold them. So there was the odd double-take and a bit of whispered gossip, but generally, nothing terrible happened. Nonetheless, I remain incredibly impressed by the bravery of my colleague and her determination to just get out there and live her life. Too many of us live with restrictions that limit our life experience, restrictions that are so often based on our perception of what others may think or say about us.
As an observer to all this, there were small challenges I had to navigate. Pronouns were a particular problem, and I felt terrible every time I used "he" or "him" when it should have been "she" or "her". For the first week, it felt as though we were all operating under a strange kind of consensus reality, where this person we knew had been replaced by someone with a new name who looked and acted almost the same. I realised how much of what we call society is really an agreement to see the world a certain way, and that this view can easily shift if the will of the many demands it (which is actually pretty positive when you think about it).
A couple of months distant, I almost wonder what the fuss was about. My colleague is still suffering at the hands of petty bureaucracies as she tries to change her name on the many bank accounts, pensions and contracts we amass nowadays. But she is clearly happier and our working relationship hasn’t suffered – if anything it feels more grounded than before. The app we’ve developed together has also survived the process, and will hopefully be coming your way very soon!
In an unexpected way, my colleague’s transition links into an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot this year - gender politics. It’s a major theme of the novel I’ve just finished, and regular readers may remember the post I wrote on discovering that someone online who I thought was a woman, was actually a man. But that was a pretty superficial experience compared to recent events. Perhaps these new themes will find their way into my writing, perhaps not, but it’s given me a far better understanding of who transgender people are and the challenges they face in society. Perhaps the secret to embracing diverse cultures is to experience them up close, and to confront our own prejudices and preconceptions. I certainly feel richer for the experience.