Talking trans: A 56-year-old straight white man’s learnings
My learning about LGBTQ+ matters has been too slow, but I am committed to better understanding all of the complexities and social correctness involved. I am choosing to engage because it is important.
This week I had a bit of a breakthrough in understanding and respect for the transgender population. It came while listening to Elizabeth Day’s Podcast How to Fail, with Paris Lees, and a transgender woman.
During the course of the podcast, Elizabeth made a very helpful observation, noting the desperate state a person must be in to choose to put themselves through gender change. It is a Herculean effort of mental, emotional and physical stamina and courage to go through, at the end of which you may well be subject to ongoing abuse and discrimination. And so why would anyone choose this unless they felt they had no choice?
In life, we celebrate people who have achieved extreme endurance goals and admire all the qualities needed to go through such a huge undertaking.
This really helped me come to a new understanding of the terrible situation most of society puts trans, as well as other LGBTQ+ people in, telling them what they should and shouldn’t be, can or mainly can’t do, verbal and physical abuse, condemnation from some faiths, and so much more provocation and persecution.
As a person with so much privilege within the societal structures I was born into, albeit having no choice about those privileges, and for years very little awareness of all the unconscious biases they embedded in me, I find it difficult to relate to people without those privileges because there are so few things in my life where I can imagine being told that I’m not allowed to be who I am. So if you know for sure you are one thing and most of the rest of the world, and even your own anatomical body, is telling you that you are something else, I cannot meaningfully imagine how that must feel.
As a cisgender, heterosexual male in an anatomically male body, everything is so natural for me, it fits/works for me. However, if I start to imagine for one second that one of those elements was different for me, if my mind knew that I was something different such that one of those elements did not fit, or if my mind knew all of that but one of my sex organs were not present or dysfunctional, how would I be?
I have a hard time beginning to think about that. And yet, to me, that seems to be the position a trans person is in. They are someone in the wrong body, they have the wrong physical parts, they are a woman with male sex organs, feelings and mentality, or a man with female sex organs, feelings and mentality.
I am slowly getting to grips with who I am. I know my values and beliefs pretty clearly (though still have so many questions). But if someone was to tell me I was not allowed to hold a particular value or belief that is very important to me, they would not be very popular with me. I try to stay open and I’m actively working on my own personal development to be the best version of me I can. I am unique and special, and there is no one else who is me on this planet. And the same goes for all of you and every other human being.
So who is anyone of us that we feel we can tell another of us who they can and cannot be?
To be me in a woman’s body would not be me! So, to be you in the wrong body must not be you! And moreover, it would be really really hard to cope with, to an excruciating degree.
Having come to some of these realisations I have a whole new level of respect and admiration for the trans community. Frankly, they are more brave and courageous than I will ever be #respect.
How does this apply to coaching?
As a coach, I’d say this reflection enforces in me the need to come to any coaching session with the most open of minds. We are all so conditioned - consciously and unconsciously - to think and behave in particular ways, influenced by our history, relationships, social media, the news etc.
This has taught me yet again to beware of the unconscious biases that we have and to continuously examine my own thinking on everything and seek to keep learning. I learn so much from clients who bring all sorts of different views, experiences and knowledge, some of which I can apply to my own life.
And for those looking for a coach, I’d encourage you to be open-minded as to who you select as a coach. Often we might initially think to find someone very similar to ourselves, but there could be a great benefit to finding someone who is different to us in their thinking, demography and life experiences.
What I have learnt has been deep, significant and changed me for the better.
PS. I have written this from a sincere and honest place, trying to carefully and respectfully share my thoughts. I hope I have not offended anyone with these thoughts. I am also aware that I may not have used the correct terminology, and if so please educate me. I want to engage and learn and recognise that may involve failing at times. So if I have offended anyone or got anything wrong I apologise. Thanks for taking the time to read this.