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Overcoming My Internal Bias

My name is Roberta Jane but please call me Jane. I am a business professional with a 20 year career in project management and software engineering; working with the government and companies in both private and public sectors. I am a member of PMI and have served on the Board of Directors for PMI Toronto as well as serving as past president of the chapter. And … oh yes, I am transgender.

 I first knew that I should have been a girl in 1973. It was Summer, or very near because I remember it was a beautiful sunny day when I first knew. As a child, I used to play dress-up in front of the mirror trying to visualize myself as a female. When I heard someone nearby I would quickly pick myself up and flee back into my room and close the door behind me hoping that I wasn’t seen—it would have been the end of me if I was caught, or so I believed. Growing up my perceptions, from every part of society, made me feel that my desires were wrong. I shouldn’t want breasts or curves. I should be happy with who I was because how we are born is the natural order of things.

Terrified of My Feelings

 I knew what was expected of me but it didn’t change how I felt and I struggled with these feelings for many years. My struggle negatively affected my relationships and even though there were times, in my teens and 20’s, when I wanted to come out to a special someone, I just stopped myself. An overwhelming sense of dread would silence me from speaking out. All I could hear was that inner voice telling me all of the unkind and transphobic nonsense that, if I revealed myself, would destroy me. While at university I had a very good male friend and we were very close. We would go for long rides in his car, talk about life, often joke around and at times open up about personal things. On a few occasions he would say things to me that I still think about today. He was trying to get me to open up to him, I can see that now. At the time, I was in deep denial about myself so such invitations to share weren’t obvious to me. I built a wall of shame around me so strong that nothing he could have said would have allowed me to open up. Looking back now I realize how open and honest he was being with me about his own desires.

I recall him telling me a few times about a certain movie he wanted me to see. The movie was bad but it turns out he was sirisvisual-lcfZmDhQP5g-unsplash.jpgobsessed with a specific character in the film. The character was a cliché portrayal of a trans woman (played by a cis woman). What should have been clear to me then was his desire to be with a trans woman. I now see that over the years of our friendship he provided other hints of his desire to be with a trans woman. During our time together, he sent me many signals but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t allow myself to see it. He would even jokingly offer (or perhaps he was being serious) to obtain estrogen for me. Looking back at all our talks I can’t believe that I didn’t come out to him then. I often fantasize about how that conversation would have played out between us. It’s very telling that in those fantasies they always ended well. We end up together with me fully transitioned.

 Instrument of My Own Bias

Today I ask myself, “What was I so scared of?” My friend clearly suspected something about me that I was unwilling to admit to myself. He was so sure of his suspicions that he frequently opened up to me about what he wanted and yet I couldn’t tell him or admit my feelings. I allowed my fear and my shame of who I was to hold me back. I was the instrument of my own bias against myself—and by extension anyone like me. For years my internal bias strongly influenced me and my self-esteem. It was like a lead weight on my soul each time I considered telling anyone what I kept hidden for so long. It’s no wonder I decided to remain in the closet for 40 years.

Since coming out I have been accused of being deceptive, of lying about who I am, of not being a “real woman” and that no amount of pills or surgery would be enough. Yet, the loudest critic in all of that ignorance, hatred, and bigotry was me. I listened to this bigotry all my life. The casual transphobia/homophobia was everywhere when I was growing up and well into adulthood. I listened and internalized all of it while at the same time harbouring thoughts and feelings that told me I was different, that I was this thing, this figure of fun. I listened, internalized, ruminated, agonized, and suppressed all those feelings all while hating myself for having them. But by coming out I did not decide to be transgender.

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Speaking My Truth

I want to make one thing clear; I did not decide one day to be a woman. In fact, my decision was to hide for all those years. Hiding was a decision that came from internalized bias. This bias told me that being transgender was wrong and I was scared to death of anyone finding out the truth so I forced myself to live the life that others expected and I hated myself for being this way.

So, coming out was a great relief. I allowed everyone to experience the real me, the person I was hiding all along. It took years of self-reflection to convince myself of the above. Still this internal bias exists in me today and I turn it on myself still when I look in the mirror. It does cut me down when I look back at my life and criticize myself for some of the choices I’ve made. Maybe some of that is “normal” and part of the human condition. I can tell you that negativity in the media or transphobic attacks on Twitter don’t help me cope with these feelings. Surrounding myself with positive and supportive friends gets me through difficult times.

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How can I keep internal bias at bay? It certainly helps to have allies who speak out for me and other trans people who are often verbally attacked. Knowing that such allies are in my life helps settle that internal bias. A random compliment helps as well.  

Get Involved

Looking to get involved in PMI Toronto DEI initiatives? Support the PMI Toronto Steering Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. For inquiries please contact Roberta Jane Heggie.