Let me begin with a few statistics from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) about violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S.
- In 2019, at least 26 were fatally shot or killed by other violent means. 91% of them were black transgender women.
- In the seven years that HRC has tracked anti-transgender violence, an average of at least 22 have been victims of fatal violence each year.
- In 2020, at least 44 were fatally shot or killed by other violent means. Since HRC began tracking this data in 2013, advocates have never seen such a high number during a single year.
- Violence against us is often unreported — or misreported, as we are often deadnamed and mis-gendered by police and the media.
These are horrifying statistics for a nation that considers itself to occupy the moral high ground when it comes to human rights.
With this perspective, I want to share my story, what I am learning about the privilege of being white in America, even while, at the same time, being a member of the most reviled group of white people.
I grew up in northwest Indiana near Chicago. It was blue collar, racially diverse, yet segregated. My world was a 100% white, middle class, rural exurb – sheltered and traditional. The only black people I experienced until high school were random folks we met when we ventured into the city.
I was shy, a loner, sensitive. Even then, I knew I was different. In those days hardly anyone recognized transgenderism as a thing. If I had told my parents I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, I would not have been heard. So I did male stuff – Little League, Cub Scouts – not because I found joy in them but to fit in. Where I flourished was music and as a student – but I didn’t find joy there either.
My life was a joyless pursuit of fitting in, doing the things I felt I needed to do to prove I was male – and avoiding anything feminine – because it was still better to be a man than a woman.
So what happens when one ignores the isms and phobias of one’s upbringing – racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. What happens when one lives their life in privilege as a white, cisgender, heterosexual male – but always knew in their heart they didn’t embrace that persona? And it just didn’t fit! One ends up extremely sad and conflicted and in need of healing.
Those years of internal struggle led me to finally realize who I was. So I began living a dual existence, male at work during the day and female in the evening. During that time, I traveled the world for SAP. And it was always the same, until the end of 2019, when I could no longer keep up my double, inauthentic life.
I won’t dwell further on my transition in this post because I want to highlight the one thing in my life that hasn’t changed. My whiteness and the privilege I continue to experience because of it, even as a transgender woman.
I AM more likely to be listened to because I AM white.
I AM more likely to experience better economic and health outcomes because I AM white.
I AM more likely to be left alone and safe because I AM white. Remember the violence against black transgender women I cited earlier?
Even though transphobia is epidemic in the US, my WHITENESS makes me privileged. And it still guarantees me better opportunities than black people experience.
And now I AM finally understanding a bit of what that means. Whatever I have achieved through my efforts, intellect and experience, I wonder – would I have had the same opportunities to shine and the same outcomes if I were black? I would hope so. But….now as what I hear black voices saying finally sinks in….I’m not so sure.
I AM a parent of two daughters, adopted from China as infants. They were raised white, with as much Chinese culture as they would tolerate. They are now amazing young women, starting to make their own way in the world and deal with their inner conflicts between growing up white and the world’s prejudices against people of color, although they acknowledge the prejudices they face are nowhere near what black people experience.
I want my daughters to live in a better world. And now that I have finally started to realize the role my whiteness plays in shaping that world, I am committed to help it become a more inclusive and just place.
One of the amazing things about working at SAP is the encouragement and acceptance I have experienced. Our HR, Diversity & Inclusion and Pride@SAP colleagues were tremendously supportive in helping me to come out at work in late 2019 after spending four years in the closet. And special thanks to my manager who fully embraced my decision. I cannot thank all of my SAP colleagues enough for the amazing acceptance I have felt. I am now finally able to live my life as a woman, at work and at home.