Last week I went to NYC to speak on a panel at the Moving Forward Conference.
The experience reminded me of this wisdom to pass along to you as we find ourselves in a time of cultural transformation, where people are rethinking identity and the many layers of power, privilege and potential in ourselves and others. And my message is that we are all needed right now, exactly as we are, to help shape the world we want to live in.
As I rode the train to NY, I reflected on all the events and experiences that got me to this point in my personal life and my career. I was showing up to this event in my identity as an integrative health coach, something I've maintained since I began in 2009 despite many challenges. Many other entrepreneurs can relate to me in that way. One of the major challenges I experienced was also going to be present at the event, and that is my identity as a transgender person. Since choosing to transition publicly in 2012, I've learned to navigate the world as a completely different person. Most people immediately think of my outward physical appearance but my inner transformation is more powerful, at least for me, because my current outward appearance as male has revealed "truths" about human nature and the culture we create collectively and my digestion of what I now see has transformed me from the inside-out. Having lived in one form for 34 years, I now move through the United States (and across the world, really, thanks to my coaching work and social media) viewed through a whole new lens. When I out myself as trans*, the lens changes again.
And I've spent six years learning to adjust to this constantly shifting landscape. It's treacherous more often than not and fun or fulfilling here and there. Learning to let go of it being easier sooner has been a profound shift. There's a part of me that likes to drift into fantasizing about what my life would be like now if I had never made the decision to transition. I imagine what my body would look like without testosterone. I think about what doors would have opened for me. I think about what I might never have known or done if I hadn't chosen this path.
Some of us choose change like this, many do not. Some of us are awake to who we are and how we're perceived, which is our true self, but most are not. And this lack of self-awareness and intentional choice to transcend it is leading to what looks and feels like chaos.
The answer to resolving the chaos is easy, but not simple. And it's certainly not possible with so many people asleep at the wheel of their lives. What do I mean? Well, most people choose to zone out in front of a television instead of cook dinner of real food. Most people choose to point a finger of blame instead of seek ways to make the world a better place with the simplest acts of kindness. Most people aren't working to see what's possible for themselves or others.
One of the biggest ways we get in our own way of waking up is by seeing ourselves as static, fixed beings instead of complex human creatures. We slap labels on ourselves and each other and sort and categorize people in boxes for convenience so we don't have to think too much.
And I judged myself harshly at this conference. I'm really good at that. I judged myself for being afraid and self-conscious and asking my friend what I should wear too many times. I asked her not because I didn't know the appropriate attire but because I was seeking a sort of permission to show up in my transgender body in a room of cisgender bodies. I was asking, myself mostly, what I could wear to make sure I passed as male in that environment to avoid the risk and vulnerability of being targeted and possibly hurt. It doesn't matter that I haven't experienced physical harm in this new form, the threat lives in my cortex every moment. It's something that happened gradually as I went from being seen as safely androgynous to somewhat male and I became hyper-vigilant to make sure I was seen as I wanted to be seen. It was important, no essential, that strangers perceived me as male so I wouldn't stand out as weird or wrong. It matters when I enter a restroom or a professional environment so I can meet my basic needs for survival.
So I put a lot of pressure on myself to be seen as an integrative health coach, first and not talk too much about being trans*. I moved through the rooms in this way, meeting people and making introductions and feeling a sense of relief, however fleeting.
Once our panel took the stage, I felt the fear creep up not because I fear speaking publicly but because I knew the moment would come: the time when the comfort of passing as male would be replaced with the discomfort of disclosure. When people in attendance would look at my body as I passed, searching for evidence of my transness. When individuals would come up to me, as they do, focusing on that one identity and not the wisdom I shared about my profession of choice.
I felt deep envy for the white, heterocisgender man who spoke earlier in the day but immediately chose to feel connection instead. I'd thanked him for his honesty when he used his platform and privilege to beseech his colleagues to embrace diversity and change in their workplaces. "We're male, pale and stale," he said. "And everyone in my work looks like me and it limits us."
He was so brave to say that, even if he didn't think so. He was needed to share that message so someone like me could sit on that stage and share what I shared. He made the moment of my disclosure matter differently to every person in that room.
When I left the stage, I felt the shame hangover and found a new friend to process the feelings of vulnerability I felt. I realized the inner conflict of wanting to be both "normal" like everyone else and just sit up there spouting my wise takeaways about workplace wellness and integrative health. But I'm more than that and to sit on the stage and not use it as a way to help people wake up a bit about the boxes we put people into and the limits we impose, would have been a missed opportunity for me and them.
I needed the friend who invited me onto the stage and be present in that room.
It gave me access to validate my accomplishments and help transform others.
I needed the man of color who outed me without my permission and another gay one who thanked me for helping him reveal his personal trans bias.
It gave me an opportunity to practice compassion and forgiveness.
I needed the white man who bravely asked for new inroads for diversity in tech and innovation.
It gave me an appreciation for the role heterocis white men play in our collective progress.
I needed the white women who shared about her white colleague who transitioned and didn't listen the three times I told her that I didn't need to hear her colleague's former name.
It gave me the chance to practice patience and hopefully plant a seed in her subconscious.
I needed the Asian-American woman who thanked me for sharing because it helped her feel ok about her sibling with autism.
It gave me the opportunity to make the world a bit safer for someone who needed it.
I needed the Senegalese intuition coach who shared her prophetic wisdom of energy and the emotional scale she uses in her work.
It gave me the opportunity to be a student as I strive to be a better teacher.
I needed them all to show me that I did the right thing by showing up fully, exactly as I am.
We're all needed right now, for the same reason. We're needed to be visible and present and brave and awake to make the world better just by being ourselves.
If we can be brave enough, we truly can make things better. Starting now.