Transitioning is only part of the story: A Transgender Awareness Week spotlight

  • Posted on November 14, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 6 minutes
transgender awareness week

Transgender Awareness Week, from November 12-19, offers us a recognized moment to bring visibility to the transgender community across the globe. And it gives us an opportunity to have meaningful conversations that elevate issues the community is facing, as well as highlight experiences and stories that give insight that may not otherwise be known. With the current climate for the LGBT+ community across the world, and more specifically the trans community, there’s no better time than now to challenge norms and be bold in how we approach those conversations.

Gender is a spectrum

Before we go any further, you might wonder what being transgender means, or perhaps you have some general awareness but aren’t sure about some of the terms. Let me break down some of the gender spectrum.

To be transgender, or trans, means that your gender identity differs from the sex you were assigned at birth. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not synonymous; sexual orientation is defined as a person’s physical, romantic, emotional and/or other form(s) of attraction to others, while gender identity refers to one’s internal sense of being. The term gender expression can be defined as the physical characteristics one presents related to their gender identity, such as clothing, voice or hairstyle. And the term cisgender, cis for short, describes a person who identifies as the same gender in which they were assigned at birth. (Check out our terminology guide to learn more.)
Gender truly is a spectrum and cannot be defined solely as binary based off birth assignment.

Telling the transgender story

Today, I’m joined by one of our transgender colleagues in Japan. For this article, she has asked to remain anonymous, but her passion to share in this message comes at a time when it’s more important than ever to tell our stories and help educate others.

I’d like to thank her for taking time to chat and discuss what’s going on for our trans family in Asia and across the globe, as well as providing some insight and visibility into the transgender community. It’s often assumed that all of us in the LGBT+ community can fully relate to each other, or that we all experience the same things in our lives. But as a gay cisgender man, I know I’ve had different life experiences than someone within the trans community.

So let’s open with her story.

When it comes to Asian society, what have your experiences been as a transgender woman living in Japan?

Everyday life is not that hard in Japan where I live, at least for me. But for those who are in the process of changing their sex, there are lots of things to overcome. For example, the law is not in our favor and the cost is overwhelming. The starting point is when you have transitioned, so if you have not begun your journey to the new “you,” you are stuck in a muddle.

In Japanese society, there are still very strong gender stereotypes. Due to this, if your “uniqueness” is visible, it becomes harder. If you are male to female, it takes time to transition, not just physically but also culturally (there are certain mannerisms that are expected of each gender).

Public facilities and medical care are still gender-biased. There are lots of issues of “misunderstanding.” Some believe they are working for the LGBT+ community but in fact they are just hurting the community. Even those who are “diagnosed” and transitioning are not fully accepted by Japanese society. The World Health Organization no longer classifies “gender incongruence” as a mental illness. But in Japan, a doctor’s “diagnosis” is required for gender non-conforming people and mandates further medical procedure regardless of choice and expression. The educational system in Japan is teaching younger generations from early years about diversity so the society is trying to catch up.

Speaking about society and workplace experiences, do you still see issues within the workplace? Or barriers preventing transgender people from fully excelling?

With Avanade Japan, the view on LGBT+ has become very supportive. Avanade has addressed issues regarding dress code, use of chosen names, restrooms, gender at birth and others, and shown flexibility for minorities. It was impressive that this was all done within a year and everyone accepted it. With new people coming in every month, I thought it might be a bit awkward, but all are accepting the diversity as a part of Avanade’s culture, which is just great!

Japanese society tends to “leak” people’s secrets, not just with gender-based differences but also with pregnancy, sickness and other situations. This is something we are notorious for and we need to work to fix it.

Do you see society moving in a positive direction for the LGBT+ community?

If you tally it as a whole, we are moving in a positive direction. But there are still lots of people who are influencing society with their own biased knowledge. We still have lots of gaps to fill.

From your perspective, what are some actions that others can take to help foster inclusive behavior and attitudes, both in and out of the workplace? What do you wish others could be educated on that might help bridge the gap for allies, or for anyone really?

Everyone should be accepted. It is not whether we came out or not; there are those who do not need to come out or who do not want to come out, but to be accepted as we are. If we do come out, we are trusting you with our most sensitive secret. We hope you see the significance of that.

We also have to make sure everyone shares the mindset. As transgender, you cannot be saying “me, me, me” or “I am not being treated as I need to be.” Everyone may not be treated as they would like. Everyone is not special, but at the same time, everyone is special.

Do you see areas where companies could better support the transgender community?

If there are guidelines, those need to be shared around the company. The guidelines should keep different cultures and religions across the world in mind. If possible, companies should refrain from asking people to make business trips to countries that are more strict and dangerous for transgender people.
And learn from other companies and incorporate best practices.

Is there some advice that you could provide for those who are currently going through a transition, or even exploring their own identity?

There is no need to come out. The gender you know in your heart should match the gender people around you see and accept. There are differences and issues depending on where you are. Transitioning is not the goal but the starting point of your “real” life. Make sure you have the will and power to enjoy your new life.

Thank you to my colleague for sharing her story. We invite you to learn more about Avanade’s Prism LGBT+ Employee Resource Group. And discover some tips on how to make your workplace more inclusive.

*LGBT+ is an abbreviation that refers to people with diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. They include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and other sexuality, sex and gender-diverse people, regardless of their term of self-identification. The abbreviation can vary and can include additional letters, such as I (intersex) and Q (queer/questioning) or even appear in a different order (e.g., GLBTI).

Stella Goulet

Thanks to both you and your colleague, Christopher, for sharing your insights and experiences. It's important that we keep educating and learning about one another so that we can change things for the better. 

I learned a lot from your colleague's answers and was particularly struck by what she said last: "The gender you know in your heart should match the gender people around you see and accept.Transitioning is not the goal but the starting point of your life. Make sure you have the will and power to enjoy your new life."

November 14, 2018

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