Re­ject­ing fear as a trans­gen­der woman

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY ALEXAN­DRA CHAN­DLER

Ispent the past five years lead­ing a team of in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts charged with com­bat­ing arms smug­gling and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass de­struc­tion. am also a trans­gen­der woman — born bi­o­log­i­cally male and raised by my fam­ily as a boy.

Be­ing a trans­gen­der woman has taught me a few things about the di­vi­sions in our so­ci­ety. Many peo­ple be­lieve fear and hate in the United States have risen to such lev­els that these chal­lenges are im­pos­si­ble to over­come. But my story demon­strates that good is pos­si­ble when you look across our di­vi­sions as I have.

As a child grow­ing up in New Haven, Conn., I knew I was dif­fer­ent. As pu­berty hit, I came to un­der­stand that I was a fe­male in­side. I with­drew to pro­tect against peo­ple learn­ing what I dared not share. On Sept. 11, 1994 — when I was 17 — my fa­ther died in a car ac­ci­dent. While mourn­ing him, I lashed out in fear and hate against my iden­tity, throw­ing out my hid­den stashes of women’s clothes and purg­ing my plans to tell my par­ents that their son was a daugh­ter in­side. Fear and hate won that day.

Seven years later, as a law stu­dent living in New York City dur­ing the 9/11 at­tacks, I de­cided to do my part in Amer­ica’s de­fense by join­ing a mil­i­tary agency within the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. The idea of join­ing such a cul­tur­ally con­ser­va­tive in­sti­tu­tion as a clos­eted trans­gen­der woman ter­ri­fied me, but my fear did not stop me from start­ing my ca­reer in 2004.

In 2006, when I re­al­ized I could no longer give into the fear that so­ci­ety’s treat­ment of trans­gen­der peo­ple had in­stilled in me, I de­cided to live and work as a woman. The law was not on my side: Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der pro­hibit­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der fed­eral em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors wouldn’t be signed un­til 2014.

Af­ter I an­nounced my tran­si­tion, I trem­bled each morn­ing as I walked through the turn­stile at work. Some col­leagues urged our agency’s lead­er­ship to fire me. I fought nearly par­a­lyz­ing fear in hall­ways, rush­ing to get to my cu­bi­cle where I could get on with the mis­sion I loved.

But I had al­lies who changed my life. While none of them had known a trans­gen­der per­son be­fore, they all chose to lis­ten and learn. They gave me courage against those first un­kind stares and words. In­stead of leav­ing the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, I stayed. I be­came a man­ager and a leader. I felt pride and grat­i­tude serv­ing dozens of an­a­lysts as we strove to make the United States safer and more se­cure.

I have spent years within the dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties into which we di­vide our­selves. At dif­fer­ent times in my life, I have been in men’s locker rooms and in women’s. I have walked down the street as a straight male, as a les­bian woman and as a per­son of in­de­ter­mi­nate gen­der. I have protested the gov­ern­ment, and I have zeal­ously worked for the mil­i­tary and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. I am a per­son of faith, but my faith tra­di­tion has a trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with LGBT peo­ple. I am a mother, and I am also the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther of my chil­dren.

When I look be­yond the sweep­ing state­ments of a few loud and cruel voices, I am struck more by the sim­i­lar­i­ties of the con­ver­sa­tions across our com­mu­ni­ties than by the dif­fer­ences. Most peo­ple are fun­da­men­tally good and want to be even bet­ter.

For those of you in the LGBT com­mu­nity, I urge you to re­sist the fear and hate around us by living your life as you. Know that no more than an In­ter­net search away are peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions ready to help you. Know that some peo­ple who are not on your side to­day may choose to see you to­mor­row — to lis­ten and learn from the dig­nity of your truths and be­come your al­lies.

For those who may look on with con­fu­sion or sus­pi­cion at the LGBT com­mu­nity, at peo­ple of color or at im­mi­grants or other groups, con­sider that peo­ple across our so­ci­ety’s di­vi­sions are con­tribut­ing to Amer­ica in ways you might not have imag­ined.

See me: I am an un­ex­cep­tional per­son who owes ev­ery­thing to the good­ness of Amer­i­cans. For the sake of our Amer­ica, the ex­cep­tional na­tion, I pray more peo­ple will see across the di­vi­sions and re­ject fear and hate in their lives, in our so­ci­ety and in our pol­i­tics. The writer is an em­ployee of the Of­fice of Naval In­tel­li­gence on ro­ta­tion to an­other area of the De­fense Depart­ment as a se­nior in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions spe­cial­ist. The views ex­pressed are the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity of the au­thor.

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