“How did you know you were trans?” That’s the question I get asked the most when people find out I’m transgender. While I’m a fairly open book when it comes to my gender identity, that question is probably the most difficult one for me to answer as I didn’t even know trans people existed until my early twenties. And yet, the feelings and struggles of my gender identity have been around for as long as I can remember. Knowing when I was trans is not quite the same as knowing when my gender identity didn’t feel right.
By the time I could put words to it and say, I’m transgender, I was 23 years old—a bit of a late bloomer. I can firmly say that it took me so long because I had no idea trans people existed for the majority of my life. I had no language, ideas, or examples of what transness meant. Now, part of that was due to growing up in a fairly sheltered environment, and another part was growing up in the late ‘90s where conversations of gender identity and sexuality weren’t really happening as publicly as they are now. But even more so, there were really no well-known icons, celebrities, or media characters that mirrored what I was experiencing or the questions I was asking about gender.
It wasn’t until I met another trans person that everything clicked. Hearing people’s stories and befriending folks who have gone through gender struggles too—it was like looking in the mirror. For the first time, I realized that it was possible that I could be perceived and treated as the person I was on the inside, rather than what everyone else saw. I finally had language for who I was and had the words to tell my own stories.
This is why we need representation. That word, “representation,” gets thrown around so often in these conversations around social issues and identity that it’s more of a buzzword that triggers defensiveness and fear more than anything else (especially when we talk about representation of LGBTQ+ identities). People often fear that more representation of trans identities will only cause more people to identify that way. “If we have more transgender characters and people in the media, it’s going to confuse people. More people will think they’re transgender!”
Which, first, so what? If the idea of more trans people strikes fear in you, I’d encourage you to sit with that and really question where that fear is coming from.
If seeing more trans media and people causes someone to ask more questions about their gender identity, there’s really only one outcome: it will affirm the experiences and views of themselves they’ve always had. Whether they’ve had the space and freedom to wrestle with those experiences is another question…
And still, the idea that representation causes more people to be trans isn’t really true. Representation doesn’t cause identities to change—it brings to light the identities that were already there inside of us. It gives language and words to people who already felt that way. And more often than not, the impacts are massively positive. Seeing yourself represented as the hero in a story, as the love interest in a movie, as the main character who can do anything—it brings hope and an optimism for the future to people who often feel erased and unseen.
Representation is often discussed in movies, books, TV shows—and while all of those things are important—representation in the workplace has played a major role in my life. Seeing another trans person represented and celebrated is why I wanted to work at Yelp in the first place.
When I was considering applying to work at Yelp, I was just a few months into my transition. I knew I’d have to start coming out to the people in my life and this would be my second coming out. I had come out as gay years prior and had a terrible workplace experience; I didn’t want to repeat that. Wherever I ended up for work, I wasn’t going to hide myself or be in an environment that didn’t support me.
I remember going through the LifeAtYelp Instagram account to see if this was a culture and workplace I would fit into: Would people give me a problem about my gender identity? Would it be safe to be out? Would I even be seen? I didn’t have to scroll much to find posts and posts of the inclusive workplace that Yelp had created. But the photo that immediately caught my eye was a post celebrating Trans Day of Visibility. I was shocked that a company celebrated TDOV, not to mention even posted something about it.
I kept scrolling and found another post of a trans employee sharing their experience about working at Yelp as a trans person and what their role was (oddly enough, I ended up in the very same role they were in). I was so encouraged to see that not only could I be myself here, but I would also be celebrated and seen.
That is what representation is! It’s not just about existing, it’s about being seen and celebrated for exactly who you are. Transgender or not, being seen and celebrated is something we all deserve.