The Worst Kind of Toxic Work Environment

Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.

When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist are explicit in their hatred, I know how to conduct myself (hide, run, ignore, placate). When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist PRETEND to be open, accepting, and inclusive, I fall prey to a false sense of safety and do things like come out at work, only to majorly regret it a few months later.

This happened to me in 2016 (along with an ugly break-up, the death of a friend, bike theft, the loss of beloved pets, slander, and more…good riddance 2016!). I was working at a therapeutic organization that supports the mental health needs of young adults. One would think that the helping professions would be more inclined towards inclusivity and diversity- they certainly pay enough lip service to these concepts- but my experience has shown that such organizations are often more hateful and exclusive than other companies; they just hide it well.

Paying lip service to inclusivity without doing the work necessary to actually create a safe enough work environment is extremely dangerous. When I first started at the aforementioned organization, I was pleased by the rhetoric around diversity. I’m a fairly obvious queer person with a shaved head and gender-bendy clothes and my supervisor made it clear that he was in support of my identity. So I came out. I let staff know that I am attracted to same-sex partners and, when that went fairly well, let them know of my trans identity several months later. I’m embarrassed to admit that my naivete prevented me from recognizing that staff would more-or-less “approve” of my sexual orientation (it’s “OK” to be a white cis lesbian in most progressive cities in the USA these days-thank you assimilation) but would recoil in fear and loathing at my trans identity.

Oops. Big mistake. Lesson learned.

From the moment I started to assert my gender, I was met with hostility. Staff members who previously expressed feelings of friendship and connection withdrew and made microaggressive comments in staff meetings. Curious about what I heard? Check it out:

  • How can I support what I don’t believe in? 
  • You need to grow a thicker skin
  • I can’t get on board with your pronouns
  • Your gender isn’t real
  • What do your partner’s genitals look like? Yes indeedy, a member of the leadership team asked me this

My colleague who is QPOC has it even worse. They experienced (and continue to experience) racist, transphobic, and homophobic harassment from clients. What is leadership doing about this? Nothing.

I presented a training on gender inclusivity and diversity to the leadership team and while they raved about the content, they didn’t do anything to change their toxic environment. It was during this training that I found out admissions personnel hid my gender from prospective clients, using binary pronouns ON PURPOSE in case the freaky trans employee scared off profitable bodies.

The scariest aspect of all this: This organization markets itself as an inclusive space for LGBTQ clients. WHAT?!

Let me repeat: Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.

If I understood from the moment my employment began that I was working in an environment that liked to be superficially inclusive but hid a wellspring of hatred and transphobia I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME OUT. Because I thought I had the support of leadership, I asked for gender inclusive practices to be instated (such as the naming of pronouns during community meetings) but I had no idea that cis staff and clients would be allowed to express hatred and microaggressions towards trans staff and clients who outed themselves.

What happened when I brought these issues to the attention of my supervisor? I was told I was being “theatrical.” In all fairness, he apologized for that remark, but I think it illuminated a truth of feeling that lurked beneath the surface.

The bottom line is that racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia abound at this organization, but administration and leadership refuse to examine their own roles in the creation of this hate culture. Why is it OK for a cisgender staff member to tell a transgender client WHO IS IN RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION AND DEPRESSION that their gender “isn’t real?” It’s not OK, but it happens.

One of the reasons I am not naming this transitional residential therapeutic center is because this issue is not unique to this particular organization. It happens all the time in the helping professions and I have said before that it is unacceptable.

Here’s why:

  • If an accountant commits a microaggression towards a client it sucks; it’s familiar, it might spur us to seek tax support elsewhere, but it won’t offer undue harm to our mental health (any more than the other daily microaggressions we experience from strangers)
  • If my postal worker tells me to “pick a gender,” I feel hurt and confused but my recovery from substance abuse isn’t called into question

However, when your “mentor” at rehab tells you your gender isn’t real, it has an impact. This person has power over you. They are in charge of your health and well-being. They are your guides on your path to recovery. And they just told you you don’t exist. Good luck moving through your depression after that.

For queer staff members of the helping professions, such implicit biases lead to a false belief in safety which leads to vulnerable admissions of identity which leaves one open to attack. I came out at work, in part, because I wanted to support our queer clients. I thought my role as an out trans person would be a beacon of safety for them. I was wrong. My false sense of safety led to a false sense of safety in other staff and clients. Yes, other people came out and asked for support. And yes, they were met with microaggressions and hostility. I still feel responsible for that.

So how do we create our own safety?

  • Don’t assume that organizational lip service regarding inclusivity is backed by training, professional development, or policy in any way
  • Be wary of cis-het white people who claim to understand multiculturalism and diversity without offering any education or training on such topics to staff
  • Remember that it’s not your job as a queer person to educate everyone else on inclusive practices. You can point out areas that need improvement if you feel safe enough to do so, but know that leadership teams and management are the ones who need to work to create a safe enough environment
  • Form groups with other queer and marginalized employees. Share experiences. Support each other. Do not tell management you’re doing this
  • Take your time in coming out. Do what feels right to you, not what you think might be in the best interest of clients or other staff

“Ninety-seven percent (97%) [of trans people] have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job including: invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault” (National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011).

Nice to know I’m just a statistic.

I’m starting a new job next week. As of now, I am uncertain of how to show up. I could let everyone misgender me without correction which feels rather craptacular, or I could come out and risk hostile encounters. There is a trans adolescent client at this organization and I already feel the pull to come out in order to stand in solidarity with him, but I think I will assess the situation over time before making any decisions. This makes me sad.

And thus I begin 2017…

 

 

 

 

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Binge Watching Heteronormativity

I am not a huge fan of movies and even less of a fan of television. Therefore, it is rather odd that I have recently found myself watching an obscene amount of really bad, really heteronormative media.

What is going on?

On November 8th, when this country elected Trumpy Wumpy to the office of President, I fell into a deep and somewhat debilitating despair. I cried for two solid days and started looking at immigration websites for countries which I thought might accept me as a resident on day three. As someone who normally stands at the front lines of every fight for social justice, this time I just felt defeated. I have no more fight in me (or so I thought).

A week after the election, feeling like a shell of a person, I sat on my couch and stared at the fire. Then a thought popped into my head, “I need to watch something hetero.” I sat a bit longer, trying to come up with the most heteronormative movie ever made when the title, Father of the Bride flashed into my head. I gleefully found it streaming online and immediately watched the entire outrageously heteronormative film. Then I found Father of the Bride II and watched that on the same day. Admittedly, I growled at the actors, pointing out the not-so-subtle instructions on how to be a man or a woman…

Man: Bumbling, unobservant, goofy, tyrannical, possessive of the the females in his life, wealthy, out of touch, playful, juvenile

Woman: Pretty, intelligent (for a girl), nurturing, wiser than man, soft, wants nothing more than romantic love, stylish, mature

I won’t go into the overt racist and homophobic stereotypes that appear in the films, but know that they are there.

Over the course of the following several weeks I watched (this is highly embarrassing):

Gilmore Girls
Little Women
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

At some point in this train wreck of a past time, I realized that I was engaged in an activity from my younger years- binge watching heteronormativity in the hopes that intense study of the phenomenon would allow me to accurately perform it.

I am reminded of all the years I spent trying to be a girl, pouring over fashion magazines and watching What Not To Wear to gain a better understanding of how I should perform my gender. I have not engaged in this activity for a decade, but it showed up in November after we elected Cheeto-head.

Why?

I am still uncovering the motivation for this recent hetero binge fest, but I suspect it has something to do with fear. I am an out queer/trans person. I write about the experience of being a queer/trans person. My doctoral research centers around the experiences of queer/trans people. My survival instinct likely kicked into overdrive and said, “Hold the phone! If you want to live you better learn how to perform their shit and assimilate into their world. Otherwise they are going to kill you.”

I had a dream last night that I grew my very short hair out into long, luscious locks. I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but people kept complimenting me on my beautiful, feminine hair. My only response was, “I feel like a drag queen.” I did not like the hair, but I noticed how nicely I assimilated into the dream society. This is not so far removed from my actual experience. When I shave my head, most people raise their eyebrows and say, “why did you do that?” When it starts to grow out I hear, “Your hair is starting to look nice again. I’m glad it’s growing out some.” If I ever wear anything that remotely looks like girl clothes, I am complimented. “You look so pretty in that.” “You look very nice today.” But when I wear my normal men’s clothes, no one says anything.

It’s interesting how people use compliments to let you know how well you are performing gender or not. The subtext of their words are:

“When you do things that push the boundaries of gender, you make me uncomfortable and I hate you for it.”

“When you assimilate in a way that makes sense to me, I feel better and therefore like you more.”

How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days shattered something in me. Even straight people must be offended by this! It was so overtly misogynistic, both men and women appeared ridiculous. Maybe it is supposed to be satire and I just didn’t get it which is quite probable. It did have a serious moment were the audience is supposed to “ooh” and “ahh” at the slender lead actress in her swanky yellow gown. I wonder what would have happened if they sent her to the party dressed as a Dapper Dan in bow tie, vest, and hat? And the lead actor could have worn the beautiful yellow gown (I’m sure he would have looked marvelous in it).

Shit. There I go again with my inability to assimilate. This period of binge watching has ended. As much as I might think I want to give up my queer identity in order to be accepted by the masses, I know I won’t. Living a lie won’t help me or anyone else. If I’m killed for being queer, so be it. I won’t be the first person. Plus, who knows if Mike Pence will get his bigoted little hands on our rights, or if there are enough people who don’t hate us to stop him and Trumpy Wumpy’s team of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic cronies. And finally, if I go into hiding, then I’m not standing in solidarity with my fellow queers and we all need each other as we head into a period of time that we may refer to as “The Dark Years.” Or maybe just “The Years of Cheeto” which at least makes me smile.

What Does it Mean to Heal From Abuse?

It means finding your breath and breathing deeply again.

It means seeing the beauty of a sunset.

Healing from abuse means knowing it was not your fault.

It was not your fault.

Not one part of it.

It means letting the tears flow, letting the anger grow

and not getting stuck

When the crying stops, when the raging ends

you feel your heartbeat

the wind on your skin

your feet on the ground, supporting you

supporting you

and you move on.

Healing from abuse means one day you find yourself spontaneously dancing

One day you do not flinch when someone gets close

One day you do not walk on eggshells

or fly under the radar.

One day you allow yourself to be big

without fear

or maybe with a little fear but you face it anyway.

It means listening to the plea of your heart

and trusting that your heart carries wisdom.

Healing from abuse is a journey

A journey that gets easier as we travel the path

and practice the art

the art of healing.

Healing from abuse means knowing it was not your fault.

It was not your fault.

Not one part of it.

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USA DECLARES WHITE SUPREMACIST VALUES TO THE WORLD!

I wear black because I am in mourning. I am in mourning for the country I thought I lived in. The country that is most certainly dead. My privilege allowed me to believe that Hillary would win by a landslide. It was beyond my comprehension to think there were enough United States citizens who aligned with Drumpf’s values of hatred to elect him president. I was so wrong.

In the past year, Drumpf has said the following:

Mexican immigrants are rapists

He will kill the families of “terrorists”

He wants Hillary assassinated

Muslims should be banned from the USA

Women should not have reproductive rights

Marriage is for straight people only

It’s OK to perpetrate non-consensual sexual acts (i.e.: Nothin’ wrong with rape)

He is narcissistic. He is a pathological liar.

He is selfish, self-centered, inarticulate, incites hate, preaches hate.

He does not understand how to run an ethical business, let alone a country.

The subtext for the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is “Make America Hate Again.” Or, as the electoral college just informed us, “Bring Forth America’s White Supremacist Values Again.”

Drumpf is not my president. Drumpf will never be my president. I do not acknowledge his position because I do not believe in hate.

I do not acknowledge his position but I do acknowledge my racial privilege. I acknowledge the ideological, institutional, and systemic racism upon which this country was built. I acknowledge the implicit and explicit sexist values upheld by Drumpf and his supporters. I acknowledge the extreme violence perpetrated against trans people. I acknowledge the high rates of alcoholism and suicide of Native Americans.

I have been saying for years that this country is ill. I see the symptoms of its illness manifest as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and PTSD in the children and teenagers to whom I offer therapeutic support. The election of Drumpf to the presidency of this country is proof of this illness.

I hear some of my fellow writers and activists calling for strength and action. I wish I could say that I am in a place to offer such things, but I am not. I am afraid for my life and my liberty.

We just elected a man to the highest office in the world who admitted to molesting women and denied any wrongdoing in doing so.

I support everyone who holds enough privilege to face this embodiment of hatred head on. As of now, that’s not me.

To all the people who voted for Drumpf: You can have this country. I will take my brilliance elsewhere.

 

 

 

When the Body Cries

I used to think I was alone in my hatred of the body I was given. I believed that no one could loathe their skin sack as much as I did or feel they had been given their body in error. My body did not belong to me and I was going to do whatever it took to beat it into submission. This body with the wide ribcage, broad shoulders, and tiny wrists could not be mine. This body with the beautiful face, mammoth calves, and belly that I cannot starve away did not belong to me. It is not mine, I tell you and it must be controlled, whipped, starved, and drugged so that it will become the body I know I need.

I am many years removed from feeling that extreme hatred of my body. Six years of intensive therapy with a brilliant art therapist supported my healing in a profound way. There are still times, in moments of stress, when I stop eating but that is not because I want to be thinner. For me, food is stressful and when life becomes overwhelming, it’s easier not to eat than eat. I recognize that this is an unhealthy coping skill and I work very hard not to let it overtake me, but sometimes it does. I share this because I was told this year that my unhealthy coping skill was a character flaw; something I did to make someone else’s life difficult. I share this because I do not want anyone else who struggles with disordered eating to endure such a lie.

Everyone has unhealthy coping skills. Life in a body is very hard and sometimes it just plain sucks. Unhealthy coping skills include but are not limited to: drinking and drugging, gambling, binge watching Netflix, overeating, under-eating, drinking caffeine, over exercising, under exercising, lying, stealing, manipulating, not talking, gossiping… the list goes on and on. The point is we all engage with them sometimes so judging each other for them is hypocrisy.

Most people who struggle with disordered eating also struggle with perfectionism and telling us to be perfect (i.e.: don’t have an eating disorder) doesn’t help. Just saying.

I am currently developing a hypothesis that unhealthy coping skills are actually the body’s way of trying to get our attention. We live in a mind-based, left-brained world (thank you, Descartes) but our bodies carry wisdom and are constantly communicating with us though we mostly don’t listen. We don’t listen because we haven’t been taught to listen.

Body might try quietly at first to let us know that something is off. Maybe we get a stomachache or a headache, but we take some Advil and get on with our day. So then Body starts telling us it needs something but we mistake that need for sugar/alcohol/television/sex etc…. These unhealthy coping skills cause us to numb out which makes it even harder to listen to Body. So Body gets louder and louder and we engage more and more with our unhealthy coping skill, thinking “I just can’t seem to get out of bed,” or “I will just have one more drink,” or “there isn’t time to eat.” And before we know it we are in a delicious spiral of addiction or a maze of an old pattern and Body cries and cries, “listen!”

There have been times in my life when everything had to run into the ground before I listened to Body who was trying to offer life-saving messages like, “get out now or he’s going to kill you,” or “this is not the life you are meant to live,” or “this is a toxic relationship.” More recently, there were times when Body said, “you’re not in the right place,” and I could hear the message clearly the first time it was stated. When I listen to my body, the doors of opportunity open. When I do not listen to my body I end up in a state of starvation and turmoil.

How do I listen? First, I must be still. Body’s guidance is felt rather than heard and if I’m moving, it is too easy to lose the message in a flurry of activity. Second, I must quiet Mind who loves to chatter and drown out Body’s wisdom. Then, in that space of quiet stillness, I can feel the messages from Body with clarity.

Life would be so much easier if we were taught these steps as children so we could easily hear and take action when Body cried.

I wonder if the hatred I felt for my body was due to the fact that Body always had the truth and I didn’t want to hear it. Don’t we often get angry with people who hold us accountable for our actions and expect us to live up to our highest truths? I think Body is doing this all the time. I’m glad to be in a position of love for Body, even if they always speak the brutal truth and ask me to take difficult action in order to actualize my potential. It’s like having my own personal guru with me all the time. And all I have to do is listen.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Abuser…

You likely have no idea who you are because insidious acts of emotional abuse are often inflicted unintentionally. However, in quiet moments of self-reflection, you may wonder if you have acted in hurtful ways towards your partner. Domestic violence shelters determine who is a perpetrator and who is a target, in part, by noticing whose life has gotten bigger and whose life has gotten smaller. In your partnership/s, who is shrinking and who is dominating?

When you tell me my experience isn’t real, you are abusive

That’s not what happened!

You’re wrong

I remember it correctly, you don’t

You do it wrong

I do it better

I didn’t say that

You don’t want that

You didn’t say that

You’re having a breakdown

When you react with emotional aggression, you are abusive

Fuck you!

Get out and never come back

I hate you

I can’t wait till you’re gone

Your brain is fucked up

I wish I was with someone else

[throwing things]

[kicking things]

[slamming doors]

When you insult and humiliate, you are abusive

Put your grown-up pants on

Stop being emotional

You’re hysterical

You make people feel badly about themselves

You’re too sensitive

You don’t know how to act in social situations

You’re having a midlife crisis

When you overly control situations, you are abusive

We have to do it my way

Move over, I will do it

Give it to me, I will do it

I don’t want that, I want this

We have to go here, do that

I don’t care how you want to do things

Your way is wrong

You have to eat this

You must do this

Sign this

I will spend whatever I want

When you explode in anger because your partner made a request or set a boundary, you are abusive.

When you tell your partner what they are like and what they should do, you are abusive.

Healthy expressions of anger are necessary, but reactive, emotional aggression is not healthy.

Violating a partner’s privacy is not healthy.

Attempts to control a partner’s life are not healthy.

You may think you are “helpful.” You may think you know better. You may believe your way is right, but these beliefs and subsequent actions do not leave room for body autonomy. I get to be in charge of my body. It’s ok for me to set boundaries even if you don’t like them.

To you, I say never again. Find your anger somewhere else.

Reflections on Invisibility

Despite my horror at the multi-ring circus called the 2016 Presidential Election, I am committed to seeing it through to the end and am therefore tuning in to the debates between Donald (who I affectionately refer to as Trumpiewumpie) and Senator Clinton. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to call oneself a United States citizen this century, we have now gifted the world’s stage with a reality-TV-show-style election. Sigh.

On Monday evening, Trumpiewumpie and Senator Clinton debated (can we even use that term?) the issues… or rather, Senator Clinton attempted to articulate her stance on national security, foreign trade, and racial tension while Trumpiewumpie sniffed, snorted, and made fish faces into the microphone. I am not a die-hard Clinton supporter (shout out to Bernie), but at least she has a modicum of decorum and poise and is undeniably intelligent and capable of being the Commander-in-Chief. And she deals with a heck of a lot of sexism, microaggressions, and discrimination. Hey Trumpiewumpie, if she has a face, she has a presidential look.

I am used to being invisible when it comes to our nation’s ideology. President Obama mentioned trans people for the first time ever in the 2015 State of the Union address, but it felt more like throwing us a bone than highlighting all the issues we face. I’m fairly certain most people on Capitol Hill don’t have a clue what non-binary means and if they do, they certainly wouldn’t acknowledge our existence. For today, I’m going to let that go. Cause watching the debate on Monday illuminated all the other people in this country who are invisible.

The two candidates were asked a question about the current tension between races in this country and both candidates responded as if African-Americans and Latinx were the only people of color in the United States. Trumpiewumpie referred to them as one group: “Africanamericanhispanics” and Senator Clinton fared only somewhat better by giving them their own and slightly less colonial labels: African-American and Latino. But if memory serves, neither candidate mentioned any other race (someone fact check me, please!).

Hmm, am I wrong in noticing that there are many, many races of people represented in United States citizenship? Aren’t there Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, Korean-Americans and (gasp) NATIVE Americans (goddess forbid we mention the people whose land we stole and now reside on) etc…? Maybe I see people who aren’t really here like the kid in The Sixth Sense who sees dead people (I see racial minorities), but I’m fairly certain I’m not wrong about this. So why is it that when our politicians discuss race in the United States they only talk about Africanamericanhispanics?

It makes sense to some extent, considering the rampant killings of unarmed black men by police. There is definitely a major issue with the ways white supremacy specifically targets and discriminates against the black community and the candidates should address this, but when asked about the racial divide, shouldn’t they at least acknowledge that there are more than three races in this country?

Politicians, Senator Clinton and Trumpiewumpie included, perpetuate white supremacy when they fail to acknowledge their racial privilege. When a politician gets on stage and says, “I have racial privilege and therefore have many unearned opportunities because this nation was built on white supremacy” then I will be excited to vote. But wait, I WANT our country to change in ways that will actually create equality, not just give it a head nod and I’m guessing most white politicians want to retain their unearned white power soooo I suppose I will wait a long time before I hear the above phrase.

I shall save abelism, classism, and heteronormativity for another post.

So while my gender and sexual orientation are completely invisible at the ideological and institutional levels and nearly invisible at the interpersonal level (a barista just “ma’amed” me), there are plenty of people who are also invisible for other reasons. I have race, class, and ability privilege. I am represented in that regard.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

-Toni Morrison