“It’s okay. I’ll just sit with the other trannies.”
My hosts usually looked aghast when I said that, knowing that there were no other obvious transpeople in the audience. There was no way I was just going to blend in, just going to be one of the gang.
I understand the pull of finding community, of not having to feel like you are alone in the world, having to pull off magic by yourself. Being a solitary prophet, telling truths that have been hidden because they are challenging and unpopular, is not a calling which is easy to embrace.
The price of community, though, is often harder to understand as it is wrapped in apparent solidarity rather than obvious singularity. As social creatures, humans are made to assimilate, to follow the crowd, to be one of the gang. How could the Germans do what they did during WWII? Well, every one else was doing it, so it must be okay, right?
When I enter spaces that are claimed by the LGBTQ community, I am most often struck by the lack of diversity they hold. Only those who agree to assimilate are included, which excludes most of the transpeople I have met over my decades, in-person and virtually.
For those enmeshed in these communities, this absence is easy to discount. After all, everyone is welcome in the safe space if they just agree to abide by the rules, surrendering their voice to the group and assimilating. Why should the cost of playing nice be a barrier to inclusion unless you have some anti-social tendencies that shouldn’t be indulged anyway?
I have trouble imagining a space where everyone is like me, at least not a functional one, nor can I imagine myself becoming like everyone else to enter the group. My experience, my stories and my voice cost me too very much to sacrifice for assimilation.
While many groups call for the end of corporate culture, it is specifically inside of corporations where I have found productive and valuable community. Instead of joining together because we all are alike, in the business world we join together to achieve shared goals.
Diversity is required to create effective teams, everyone bringing a different skill set and viewpoint to the table. Together, teams engage in the conflict of trying to find effective solutions that address all the conflicting needs, creating compromises that support innovation. By asking each member to move beyond their comfort zone teams can find common ground, celebrating mastery & excellence and lifting up everyone together.
When I have tried to enter exclusive spaces, ones that exclude anyone who is not like us enough to be challenging, I feel erased. It is only in spaces with shared goals that my singularity has been valued, letting me bring my unique contributions to the table.
It was 1997 when I participated in a Uniting as Allies workshop that I was the only one who stood to argue for inclusive organizations. At that time one woman came up to me afterwards saying that she couldn’t imagine she would believe in the need to organize around shared goals rather than shared identity — identity politics — but that I had convinced her.
Yet my efforts there left me feeling very alone. “Watch the token tranny dance the hoochie-koo!” I was aware that my position left me singular, without a coterie of others around me, and that loneliness was hard to endure, even if I had done the work I knew that I was called to do, telling truths and valuing broader connection.
It’s not like there weren’t other transpeople there, but they had not yet owned their own grace. “Thank you for representing us well,” a few of them said individually, “not like the others.” A cost.
It’s hard to find people who value the energy of diversity in identity bound spaces. As the identity spaces are policed for compliance rather than effectiveness, those who hold broader connections are pushed out while those who follow the rules, loudly singing the hymns are encouraged to police themselves and others more strongly. When people don’t have successful experiences in diverse corporate cultures they don’t understand the power that difference can bring to a team though creative conflict.
“So, what do you want?” a pastor once asked me, eyeing my trans expression quizzically.
“I want what everyone wants,” I replied.
“And what is that?” he asked, unconvinced by my assertion.
“I want to be seen, understood and valued for my unique contribution to the group.”
He thought for a moment.
“Yes,” he agreed, “that is what everyone wants.”
Sadly, in groups where people are valued by how compliant they are to group tenets, unique contributions are rarely valued.
Asking people to stand up alone and offer what makes them different and special, the experiences, truths, skills and mastery of a lifetime, is asking them to take enter the spotlight and take personal responsibility for who they are.
Is there any wonder that so many of us instead try to become invisible, blending in and staying behind the defences of group identity? And any wonder why we try to silence and devalue people who might reflect our differences, attempting to win favour with the group by policing challenges? After all, if they aren’t one of us, they must be one of them, right?
The comfort of being one of the crowd — one of the children of Aspergers parents, one of the empaths, one of the queers, one of the theologians, even just one of the girls (or one of the boys) — was denied to me. When I was twelve and that therapist tried to diagnose my transgender drives by asking who I wanted to be, I knew even at that time there was only one answer: I want to be myself.
For me, knowing we are all deeply connected meant that my singular difference was always surface deep. Trying to explain this to others who desperately wanted to believe that we should all be the same on the surface and different inside, assimilating so we could blend in nicely, has always been nearly impossible.
You are a singular creation, just like everyone else. I know that comes with a price, but if you really take the time to compare it to the price of following the gang, isn’t it really worthwhile to try in this one life we know that we are given?