My Gender Journey
And how it relates to Diversity & Inclusion practices
As a trainer and a consultant, I often must assessed how important it is to disclose my personal identity to the participants. My golden rule has always been: only share if it’s going to benefit their learning. As someone with multiple, intersecting marginalised identities, the interplay between these identities must be carefully navigated while, at the same time, built rapport, professional relationships and credentials with workshop participants.
This on-going navigation has contributed to training design and delivery, as I often used my own intersectionality to explore the complexity of identity navigation. To the public, they may only see me as a gay man of Asian background. However, there are many other hidden identities that are not visible, as it cannot be easily identified through appearances alone.
For example, not many people are aware of my gender journey, as I slowly but steadily embraced my gender identity that does not fit the cis – trans binary. These days, my gender identity is complex yet exciting. I would consider myself to fall under the broad umbrella of ‘gender diverse’, with my own interpretation of gender and gender identity. At the same time, I continue to acknowledge the many unearned advantages that have been given to me based on my sex characteristic (male) and assigned gender (man). This awareness has improved my understanding of gender inequity and inequality, and has shaped my work towards dismantling sexism and gender-based discriminations.
However, because of my appearance, many people assumed that I'm a cis man and treated me accordingly. It is rather common for people to made negative comments about trans and gender diverse community as if it does not relate to my identity based on this assumption. Interestingly, many people assumed that I'm a woman when speaking to me over the phone due to my soft spoken voice. As you can see, these assumptions have influenced my interactions with others, indicating that biases and stereotypes around gender continued to persists, with negative attitudes and prejudices used to regulate and maintain a strict gender hierarchy.
How does my gender journey relate to Diversity & Inclusion practices?
As described above, people often made an assumption solely based on appearance. It is part of our biases, as our brain has limited capacity to constantly process every information that we received through our senses. It is both a biological and psychological condition and part of our survival mechanism (for example, we don’t think critically and analytically about putting out a fire when we know it can endanger our safety). Yet, biases can easily turned into prejudices when we don’t consciously and analytically examine the influence of social stratification and power structure that marginalised different groups based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, faith, ethnicity amongst many, and all of its intersectionality.
As such, when people subconsciously assumed my gender identity based on my appearances, transphobic languages started to emerge because they felt that they did not have to filter their prejudices and biases in front of me. Similarly, because many people are not aware of my intersectionality, they often grouped me based on what’s visible (my skin colour, my ethnicity, my race, and to a degree, my sexuality) and unconsciously excluded me from conversation around trans and gender diversity. Indeed, in some instances, organisations are looking for trans and gender non-binary individuals that fits their preconceived notion of a trans identity, a far cry from the plight towards inclusion of diversity.
As I constantly reflect on my gender journey and non-binary gender identity, it is equally important for Diversity & Inclusion practitioners to examine the biases and stereotypes surrounding trans and gender diverse communities. Appearances alone cannot be used to make a quick judgement about one’s identity, and as with individual’s personal journey, present pronoun does not always indicate what’s really taking place inside a person’s psyche and identity. To disclose a little bit about my own pronoun, I use 'he' when I feel more masculine, 'they' when I feel gender neutral, and 'she' when I presented my feminine side; it depends on context, yet not many people realises that context matters.
So, what can Diversity & Inclusion practitioners do?
First and foremost, we must undo our own stereotypes, biases, and assumptions about gender. Gender is a personal identity as much as it is a social construct. We simply cannot assume one’s gender based on appearance, and even then, we cannot assume that their gender identity is fixed. Once we understand this, then it becomes automatic for us to not make assumptions based on what we can see, and to practice inclusion without being intrusive. This can be done by creating a space that constantly reinforce the value of gender inclusion, such as a zero tolerance environment for gender-based discriminations, on-going in house training on gender diversity and gender inclusion, gender-neutral and/or all gender inclusive uniforms and facilities, and a strong leadership that reinforces gender equity and equality to include trans, gender diverse, and non-binary communities.
In essence, what we can do is to ensure that our language, interpersonal interactions, daily operations, and organisation system cater and advocate for gender diversity and gender inclusion, whether it is cis, trans, non-binary, gender diverse, gender queer, agender and many more, and to embrace individuals’ gender journey. This can be done through policies and practices that specify the unique needs of trans and gender diverse communities in the workplace, and to make sure that safety and belonging are practiced across all level of the organisation; no ifs, no buts.
At the end of the day, my gender identity is my own. What we can do as Diversity & Inclusion practitioners is to ensure that gender equality does not stop at advancing the rights of cis women at the expense of overlooking the rights, inclusion, and belonging of the trans and gender diverse community, including some of us who are still on a journey towards embracing and celebrating our non-binary gender identity.
Contact us to explore and improve current strategies on LGBTIQ+ inclusion, including trans and gender diverse specific policies, strategies, and practices.