“You’re so brave.”
People have often said that in the two and a half years since I transitioned from male to female. Hearing it is always a mixed bag; yes, it’s ego-feeding, but on the other hand, there’s some irony in being thought of as “brave” for simply living my life as I need to. In fact, my customary response is to point out that real courage is the soldier who falls on a hand grenade to save his or her comrades. Making the ultimate sacrifice for someone else—now, that’s what I call bravery.
Me? I’m simply surviving, doing what I have to do, for me. Otherwise, the statistics about transgenders and suicide (a recent survey found that 41% of trans folk attempt suicide) suggest that I might not be here
Still, not long ago, I found myself telling a group of people they were brave. I had applied for a job as the executive director of a new Minneapolis-based nonprofit. In my cover letter, I disclosed that I am transgender, since I don’t like surprising anyone. A short time later, I found myself in a conference room being interviewed. In between describing my experience as lawyer and past nonprofit board member, I talked about how changing genders has given me a fairly unique perspective; after all, not many people get to live in both genders. In other words, I tried to turn a negative into a positive.
It must have worked. Soon, I was in another conference room, this time being interviewed by a group of seven people—almost all the Board members of this new nonprofit. I walked into the room, took out a pad of paper, and put on my reading glasses. “Okay, fire away,” I said. For the next hour, I fielded questions about my experience and management philosophy. I described how I would take the organization forward, and how I was passionate about doing well in the world.
“I’m extremely lucky,” I said. “I’ve gotten something that most people don’t get—a second chance, an opportunity for a do-over, both in my professional and personal lives. It’s a true gift.”
I hoped that the interview had gone well, but I’m really bad at gauging those kinds of things. My spirits were buoyed a few days later when I heard that my references were being contacted. “I’m pulling for you,” one reference said. Another—a former client who has known me in both genders—wrote, “I just gave the best damn recommendation for you.”
Shortly after that, I heard from the Board: to my great gratitude, I got the job! My immediate response was to say “Thank you,” and to promise that I’d give it my best. In the next breath, though, I complimented the Board for being brave. After all, it’s not like I’m one-hundred-percent-I’d-never-guess-you’re-transgender-passable; remember, I’ve got that little problem with a deeper voice. More significantly, the nonprofit has nothing to do with LGBT causes or advocacy. In other words, my being transgender wasn’t a factor—good or bad—in the job selection process.
That, in my view, took a measure of guts. Sure, I’d like to believe I’m worth the risk, but still, even in 2012 there’s a chance people will scratch their heads, which could cause them to think twice about supporting the nonprofit. I want to believe that won’t be the case–particularly in the Twin Cities–but you never know.
When you consider the statistics—there I go again with numbers—it’s even more remarkable that I got the job. According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of the transgenders surveyed had experienced an adverse job outcome (not hired, fired, or denied a promotion) because of their status as transgender or gender non-conforming. That’s a staggering statistic.
Obviously, things need to change. Thankfully, it looks as if my Board of Directors is at the forefront of that change.
So, as I step forward on my do-over, I tip my hat to a group of straight people for the chance to prove myself as Ellen Krug, human being. I won’t forget how they’ve put their confidence in me.
And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll continue to write for Lavender, too, something else for which I am grateful.