skip to Main Content
Transgender Day Of Visibility

Transgender Day of Visibility

To celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility, we have republished some of the blogs from the FCDO Diplohub. These were shared with us by the FCDO LGBT+ Association FLAG. To get in touch with FLAG, you can write to them here: flag@fcdo.gov.uk. You can also follow them on Twitter @FCDO_FLAG. To join the DSFA LGBT+ WhatsApp group, please email shiona.morgan@fcdo.gov.uk.

 

On 31 March, we mark International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV) – an annual event to celebrate trans and non-binary people and raise awareness of the challenges they face in the UK and around the world.​​​​​​​  This year we are very grateful to five awesome colleagues who have written about their personal experiences of being trans, gender diverse, non-binary and agender.

 

Where have all the Trans people gone?

29 March 2021

A Transgender Day of Visibility Blog by Susie O’Connor

“That visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength”

– Audre Lorde, writer and civil rights activist

According to opinion polls, more Americans reported that they had seen a ghost than knew a transgender person. I like to think we can do better on this side of the Atlantic.

There are some questions which have nagged at me over the past two years that I’ve been FCDO Flag’s Trans Lead. Why am I always banging on about trans inclusion? Why do I keep lecturing colleagues about the need to understand gender diversity? Why do they need to state their pronouns? To be clear, those weren’t questions colleagues were asking me, just voices in my head. When I transitioned gender in the work-place I was one of only two ‘out’ trans employees (who I was aware of that is) so I always felt open to challenge.

Was I making a lot of noise for an incredibly tiny minority?

I knew, of course, that there must be a lot more people in the organisation like me. The generally accepted estimates of gender-diverse people in the UK population ranges between 0.5 and 1 %, translating to 300 thousand to 600 thousand. Applying that ratio to the FCO (as then was), told me that I should have had between 70 to 140 trans and non-binary colleagues. Where were they all??? I was on a mission to find them and encourage and support them to show themselves.

I came across a worrying headline in The Guardian a couple of days ago: “More Trans People Hiding Identity at Work Than Five Years Ago”. According to a survey of 400 trans employees by YouGov, 65% of trans people now feel it is necessary to keep their gender identity secret from colleagues to feel safe and secure in their jobs. That’s up from just over 50% five years ago.

Thankfully, there’s a more positive story to tell in the FCDO.

According to diversity monitoring data, the number of staff prepared to identify as gender diverse has been steadily, if slowly, rising. The last FCDO People’s Survey showed there were 87 staff (12 UK based and 75 locally engaged) who said their gender identity did not match that assigned at birth.

So, while there is a lot more to do, especially in relation to non-binary colleagues, I would still say that FCDO is a great place to be a trans employee. I had fantastic support when I transitioned in the workplace, from colleagues, from my line manager and from HR. But coming out in the workplace is still difficult because being trans in the UK is difficult, and it has become a lot harder in recent years with a rising level of media and on-line hostility and a five-fold increase in hate crimes against trans people since 2016. Its important that colleagues are aware of the hostile environment trans and non-binary people can experience outside the workplace.

But back to Transgender Day of Visibility.

I am incredibly excited to be one of four gender diverse bloggers who are making themselves visible this year. For some time now the FCDO has had a policy that everyone should feel comfortable to bring their whole self to work. It’s great that a variety of gender diverse colleagues now feel comfortable enough to do that. I hope that you will also read their blogs so you can appreciate the diversity of trans and non-binary colleagues and appreciate some of the challenges they face. Most of all, I hope you will see that we are just regular colleagues wanting to enjoy an interesting and fulfilling career. At the risk of speaking for others, I would hazard to suggest that none of us wants to be defined solely by our gender identity, but, at the same time, none of us should feel the need to conceal it.

So that’s why I keep banging on about this stuff! Because it’s important to send positive signals to people that they are not alone, that they will not only be accepted in the workplace, but they can thrive and have a successful career in the FCDO.

To give you an insight into what visibility means to trans people, I asked some of my friends why trans visibility is important to them. This is what they said:

Because it is all too easy to feel alone in the world

Because it shows the world, we are just like everybody else

Because every time someone is visible, it makes it a little easier for the next person wanting to come out to the world and be themselves.

Because it presents more accurate representations of trans people in place of the tired stereotypes

Happy Trans Day of Visibility everyone!

 

Proudly standing for equality, without even saying a word

29 March 2021

A Transgender Day of Visibility Blog by Zelda Le Louarn 

I was recently approached by FLAG to participate in LGBT+ history month. This had me reflecting on my personal experience transitioning, whilst at FCDO and my contracting company Atalian Servest.

When I transitioned in 2016 I was very fortunate compared to a lot of others in my community. I have heard and witnessed how unkind, ruthless and discriminatory some work environments can be for those who gain the courage to confront their employer about their transition.

​​​​​​​The FCDO and Atalian Servest have supported, helped and accepted me from the very start with no issues. My coming out date came and went with no issues, I was always prepared for the worse but it never came. It was “business as usual”. However, the public and visitors to the FCDO were different. At the time I came out I was a receptionist of the front of house which meant that I was a public facing representative for the FCDO and although most of people entering were either civil or chose not to acknowledge me there were a few instances of deliberate misgendering and favouring other receptionists.

I was proud of my work and the support that I received, however after the congratulations and well-wishing ended those who did not agree with who I was, were still there. I couldn’t help but realise that in the countries in which some of these individuals were from I would have been ostracised, punished or even executed for just being myself. This became a constant reminder for me as to how hard others must have it comparatively.

This empathy I felt for others forced me to think differently when faced with transphobic individuals. It made me approach them in the context of education and acceptance values, showing that the FCDO has and continues to be a forerunner in equality and leading by example. My presence itself became a way of proudly standing for equality, without even saying a word, because I was deemed good enough to be the first person you interact with at the FCDO.

In more recent times with Brexit being finalised and United Kingdom on the brink of discovery of its new identity, I can’t help but look fondly and excitedly to what may come next. Claude Cahun is a great inspiration of mine, a non-binary French resistance, Jewish, Surrealist Artist – well ahead of their time in challenging gender stereotypes and concept of the nuclear family. Claude Cahun worked towards equality and the right to just have a safe space for all without discrimination.

 

Identifying the Agender Agenda

29 March 2021

A Transgender Day of Visibility Blog by Kim Best

What does non-binary mean? It’s a difficult question – it’s much easier to ask what does non-binary mean to me? As it is, essentially, about defining something that is ‘not’ something else. It can vary from identifying as both male and female to identifying as neither. Everyone, binary and non-binary, has a personal relationship with their gender identity. Binary identities tend to fit in one of two neat groups. Non-binary identities are everything that does not. It is not a new concept – many cultures have similar concepts of third genders or being ‘two-spirit’.

So to me, non-binary means that I have no particular sense of gender identity – I would describe myself as ‘agender’; I feel neither female or male, just myself. I do not feel any attachment to being described as female (the usual choice), but I never feel uncomfortable with any other description. It all just seemed and felt like words to me.

To many non-binary people, pronouns are exceptionally important – so many parts of gendered language can feel unsettling, so getting it right matters. But, to be honest, – I don’t have a preferred pronoun. None make me feel uncomfortable, and none feel like ‘me’ either. Use whatever pronoun you like, just don’t call me Kimberley.

I definitely have certain privileges as a non-binary person. Gendered language doesn’t make me feel ill at ease or uncomfortable – this is not the case for many, just for me. I grew up in a family who never bound me by gender expectations – I got the sort of clothes I preferred, the toys I preferred and they stood up for me when others expected me to conform.

So what is the difference between identifying as non-binary and just being a woman who wants to wear a suit? It’s a question I asked myself several times. Am I not perpetuating outdated stereotypes about women by saying I wasn’t one because of how I liked to dress?

I then thought about how the alternative had made me feel – the few times in my life someone had succeeded in getting me to wear feminine clothing or put makeup on. It’s most easily described as feeling like I was pretending. Like imposter syndrome in ‘my’ gender. That someone would catch me out, notice I was just playing at being a woman. It felt like a joke, like I was mocking all the women who dressed ‘properly’. It never felt that way in less feminine clothes. It was never about the clothes. It was about how I saw myself in them.

For a long time, I never really thought of my gender identity at all. I was brought up to think there were no rules about being a woman – as long as you felt like one, you were one. This meant I never really thought about my gender identity at all. I just concentrated on being myself and not putting names on it. I never really thought ‘but do I actually feel like a woman?’. I realised at one point that I might not be labelling myself, but others were. That there were things about being assumed to be female that made me uncomfortable. I still, and probably always will, have anxieties about dress codes.

I also reflected a little on some of the things I’d done as a kid, which made a lot more sense if I thought of myself as non-binary. Giving myself ‘haircuts’ with safety scissors, my intense hatred of my long hair, the one time I thought my new school would make us wear skirts and refused to go unless my mum checked I could wear trousers. I realised I felt most myself in the middle somewhere – very, very feminine things jolted me out of that harder than anything else.

Being non-binary of any kind is not about gender presentation – plenty of non-binary people present in a very feminine or masculine way. It’s about how you feel in yourself. Nobody else can decide that for you. It’s also different for every person – I will be different to the next non-binary person that you meet. It’s why it’s important to ask, to not assume, and to use inclusive language where possible.

I don’t tell many people I’m non-binary. I might if they asked. I might if I had not felt anything other than accepted as myself. One of my other privileges is that I don’t feel anything needs to change by describing myself as non-binary. I don’t need to ‘come out’ to be comfortable. I’ve always been like this. Nothing has changed or will change. I just have the right words to explain it now.

Through normalising the use of pronouns (e.g. in your signature), you can help others feel this way. It is hard to be made to explain yourself – to have to come out to everyone who you want to use a pronoun correctly. By adding two (or three) words to your signature, and respecting others’ preferences, you can make others feel as accepted as I do.

Non-binary is what I am, but it’s not all I am

29 March 2021

A Transgender Day of Visibility Blog by Ash Green

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the Netherlands Embassy in Beijing for a meeting with the OECD and its member countries. There were about 30 people there altogether, most of whom I’d never met, having only moved to the city 6 weeks before. It was my first time at a large multi-lateral event and I wondered if I’d dressed appropriately in a dark green blouse, polka dot pencil skirt, and black suede modestly high-heeled shoes. As I (slightly gingerly) stepped into the room, I heard a familiar voice say ‘Ash… hi!’ and I turned to see my Australian counterpart, whom I’d met a few weeks previously. She glanced at me and said ‘I nearly didn’t recognise you with your beard’!

You see, I was assigned male at birth and I am non-binary.

I promise this is not going to be my autobiography and neither will it be a lecture, but I do hope that after reading my ramblings, you’ll all leave this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility a little bit more informed than you entered it. Besides, I’ve been told I have ‘no more than 1000 words’ but I could – if possible – ‘keep it lower than that’.

Okay so, what does non-binary mean?

Non-binary: is a catch-all term for people whose gender falls outside of the binary (non-binary technically falls under the transgender umbrella – the ‘T’ in LGBT). NB people do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth; some reject gender altogether, some have a gender which is fluid, some are androgynous, some aren’t.

But that doesn’t really help paint a picture of what a non-binary colleague is like. Well, we’re just people doing our jobs, living our lives, and being perpetually disappointed by Aston Villa’s failure to live up to past glories (okay, that last one might just be me).

For me – my gender has been something I’ve been questioning for a long time but I feel like I’ve only just begun to understand it over the past 2 years (and even then, I use the term ‘understand’ incredibly liberally). What I know: I don’t feel comfortable living in a way society considers traditionally ‘male’, but I don’t want to live in a way which society considers traditionally ‘female’. I want to live an authentic life, which reflects who I truly am – if that means growing a beard, and wearing earrings, or going to an external meeting in a skirt and heels then that’s what I’ll do. The truth is though, whilst I feel comfortable talking about it and I look comfortable doing it, it’s largely terrifying and confusing. It’s taken a lot of soul-searching, a lot of emotion, a hell of a lot of time, patience, and unwavering love from my incredible partner to get to where I am today.

I’m getting used to being stared at by every single person who passes me by in the street if I’m wearing a dress, I’m getting used to the double takes from people I’m meeting, I’m even getting used to people taking less than subtle photos of me (though the past 2 years as one of a handful of foreigners in Chongqing did give me a good grounding there).

I wish I could live in a world where it didn’t matter what I was wearing, how I was presenting, how I identify. I wish everyone could be free to be their authentic selves and live in a way that truly makes them happy. We’re far from there yet, but we are making progress (very slowly) and I am fortunate to work for a Civil Service (and the British Embassy Beijing), which not only allow me to by myself, but actively encourage and promote me to be myself and we can all play a part in creating that environment.

How can we support non-binary colleagues?

Well here are a two easy linguistic tricks:

Pronouns

  • Pronouns are not a ‘new fad to further the gay agenda’ (I wish I was joking with the quotation marks) but an important linguistic tool in English, used to refer to just about anything.
  • Traditionally English has gendered pronouns (he/him/his or she/her/hers) and lots of transgender/non-binary people don’t feel comfortable using these, so you may see they/them/theirs or other gender-neutral variants.
  • Cis people displaying their pronouns on email signatures/online directories is really important – it helps normalise the usage of alternative language and it avoids us all making assumptions, which can be harmful and upsetting to trans/non binary people. It also shows allyship – I always notice when people display their pronouns, especially senior people, and I feel much more able to be myself in those situations.
  • For more information, try https://www.mypronouns.org/

Gender neutral language

  • Switching out phrases like ‘ladies and gentlemen’ for gender neutral alternatives like ‘esteemed guests’ helps break down the societal binary and helps normalise non-binary identities.

In addition, supporting or campaigning for the inclusion of gender-neutral changing and toilet facilities in FCDO buildings (including overseas) can really help make non-binary colleagues feel more comfortable at work.

So to summarise, I hope I’ve helped in some way humanise non-binary; I’m not Ash the non-binary Diplomat, I’m Ash, a Diplomat who happens to be non-binary. Whether you see me in King Charles St. in a suit, or you hear my high-heels click-clacking down those famous old corridors, I’m still the same person just doing my job and living my life in the most authentic way I can.

Hopefully one day I’ll be joined at that OECD meeting by another openly and proudly gender diverse person, though I hope for their sake they’re not also an Aston Villa fan…

One Person, Two People

29 March 2021

A Transgender Day of Visibility Blog by Jonathan Davies

I have been trying to work out how to write this for some time. It started when Valerie Benguiat, FLAG Committee Member, used the term ‘gender fluid’ and suggested I write a blog about it. That was a few years ago and I’ve been starting it ever since.

Gender fluid was something I had never used about myself before. It can be best described perhaps as an identity which moves between one gender and the other over time. I’m still not entirely sure I understand it myself despite my personal situation, other than to say somedays the identity I assume is not necessarily the identity I was born into. I am still me, I identify as me, no matter how I look or what I wear.

If I ever try to explain myself, I find it easier to say that I am somewhere on the T part of the LGBT+ spectrum. Whether that is non-binary or gender fluid or something else I can’t honestly say I know. I inhabit a male body and for the most part I’m pretty okay with that. There are times, however, when perhaps I feel better being the other person that lives inside me.

It’s not an easy existence.

Growing up through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s it was one of those things that was stigmatised, ridiculed and in some case, met with violence. The perception I had then was that there was something wrong with me, a view that certain parts of our society still hold today. Naturally I kept this side of me well hidden, thinking of it as my ‘dirty little secret’.

Through my various jobs I occasionally opened up to very close friends/colleagues within the environment. I was lucky enough to have chosen the right people as they were quite positive and supportive. One of my colleagues in the prison service suggested that I should go along to a fetish club which essentially he ran. It was one of the first times I ever went out dressed. The club was as accepting and welcoming as you might imagine, there being a very open minded group of people there. I found it a welcome relief once a month to go out and have a drink with some people who frankly didn’t care and just accepted you for who you were.

It was also the first time anyone ever referred to me as ‘her’ or ‘she’.

Coming to FCO Services, as it was then, the vetting process required me to be totally open and honest.  It led to a long interview – two sessions of five hours, but I was cleared. Only three years at first, as I had been very covert at my last role in the prison service, but it was clearance and being here has enabled me to be far more open about who I am. I came out to my colleagues on the first day when they expressed surprise over how long my vetting interview took. It did rather kill the meeting in its tracks, but I figured if Vetting were happy then that was fine. My group manager did later say that it had been the best option, get it out in the open right at the start.

Since then I have been more open about who I am. At worst, the response is one of acceptance, but indifference, kind of, “Oh yes, that’s nice,” or one of slight confusion as to what to say next. Not that this is a bad response, far from it. It’s good that this is the worst response. The best responses has been one of positive acceptance and then multiple questions about it because they want to understand more.

Pronouns can be difficult.

It is rare that anyone sees my other self, so it’s rare that I hear female pronouns towards me. To be honest, I’m not sure where I personally stand on it. I present as male so he/him are fine, bit when I’m out, I don’t really know. Whatever suits I guess. Either way it feels slightly unusual.

As you might suspect, I don’t get out much but I did, during the warm bit of 2020 take some late night walks en femme. On the whole, as there were few people around there was no issue although one night as I walked past a man and his wife walking their dog, he looked up from his phone to announce to his wife, “transvestite”.

In a way, it was kind of him to point it out. Up until then I hadn’t noticed.

I wonder if he would have done the same if my skin had been a different colour. Unfortunately comments like that, however innocently made, can be quite concerning and uncomfortable. Fortunately I recognised them having seen them walk past my house regularly, so it was merely uncomfortable rather than threatening. I spent a lot of those walks with my hand in a pocket wrapped round a small but dangerously bright torch, making sure I knew what my response would be in case the situation was less manageable the next time.

We are encouraged to bring our whole self to work, but I wonder sometimes if the world and I are quite ready for that. One day as me, another day as her. Irrespective of how I feel, is it fair on other people to expect them to deal with that? I don’t know.

It is encouraging, however, that recent HR guidelines that allow for a gender fluid person to have two security passes to reflect their different gender presentations. Whether I will make use of that remains to be seen, but it is an excellent step in the right direction.

You may find this link helpful in clarifying some terms and terminology: https://gender.wikia.org/wiki/Gender_Wiki

Leave a Reply