The Person Inside ... The Gulf Between Us

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Identity Wars, Part 1: Getting Past Passing

When I transitioned, I quickly learned that, when people tried to define me, they really defined themselves.

I can’t seem to get through a day without some discussion of my identity.

… You’re not a woman. Give me a break!
… How dare you call yourself a woman! You haven’t a clue what we have gone through! You are hurting us politically.
… Honey, if you were really a woman, you would know that we don’t speak that way.
… Your hands are too large for a woman.

Such comments used to send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and sadness. Who and what am I? What do people find so offensive about me?
I hid in shame and resolved to improve.
Today, I know better: How people respond to me defines their identity, not mine.
When I finally came out of the closet, I presented the same “me” to everyone. I wanted the world to finally know me for who I really am.
In the process, I noticed something interesting: everyone responded differently to the person they saw. One colleague enthused, “you are so courageous!” Another dismissed me as a selfish coward. Some people had trouble seeing anything feminine about me. Others struggled to discern something masculine. I was a beauty to one person, a freak to the next.
Eventually, it dawned on me: If everyone was seeing something so different, their responses must reflect their identity, not mine. They were revealing their own assumptions and prejudices.
Only I can define who and what I am. What others make of me defines them.

This is not to pass judgment. My experience of womanhood is no more authoritative than anyone else’s. Like everyone else, I am simply revealing who and what I am.

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Tina White

Tina White

Tina White is the Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Pride Center, in Asheville, North Carolina, and a member of the board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign.

Tina spent 35 years consulting to and working for global corporations. Her specialty was large-scale business transformation: redesigning companies to pursue new strategies and improve performance. She has since shifted her focus to activism, writing and speaking. She speaks and writes on issues of diversity & inclusion, organization transformation, social justice, and personal identity.

Tina is the author of Between Shadow and Sun. She describes her 50-year struggle with gender and her wife's efforts to embrace her revealed identity. She holds an MBA in Strategy, Marketing & Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and an AB in Economics from Princeton University. She and Mary live in Asheville, North Carolina.

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