I have to admit, I didn’t know much about transgender people before making this podcast. But I’m glad I took the time to learn, because it has opened up a whole new perspective for me about how to treat people who assume a different gender identity than the one they were assigned at birth. In this blog/pod, we’re going to talk about building a trans-friendly financial advisor practice. Thanks to Ciara Keeton, a transgender woman, for offering her insights.
There are some lessons here for financial advisors about how to be sensitive to the needs of a transgender person. Although they are a small percentage of the US population, it is not uncommon to have transgender people as clients, coworkers, employees, vendors, etc.
For those of you who are new to my blog/podcast, my name is Sara. I am a CFA® charterholder and I used to be a financial advisor. I have a weekly newsletter in which I talk about financial advisor lead generation topics which is best described as “fun and irreverent.” So please subscribe!
Sex vs. Gender Identity
Transgender: You are transgendered if you do not identify and express with the sex you were assigned.
Cis gender: You are cis-gendered if you identify and express with the sex you were assigned.
Ciara’s sex assigned at birth was male. Her gender identity assigned at birth was also male. She now considers her gender identity to be female.
Identity and expression are not necessarily tied to a person’s biological sex. Being trans isn’t an ideology or a movement, it’s who people are as human beings.
Ciara acknowledges that many people assume that somebody wants to be trans. She claims that she didn’t chose to be trans, she just is and she wishes that more people would understand that.
Everyone has a different experience. Here is Ciara’s story about how she came out.
She knew something was different when she was about nine years old. The things girls were doing she liked, and the things boys were doing she didn’t. Her parents were very religious, and she was not allowed to explore her gender identity because in their view it went against G-d.
She had to suppress her feelings and try to be what everyone wanted her to be. She eventually joined the military and was honorably discharged due to injury. In her early thirties, she got to a breaking point. She was already married with two kids.
According to Ciara:
Everything was wrong. My body was wrong. How I saw myself was wrong. How I sounded was wrong. How I looked was wrong. Everything – I hated everything. I just hated everything. I hated my hair, I hated how I sound, I hated how I looked, I hated my body. I hated how I had to dress because it was how people demanded. I hated that people demand that I go into the men’s bathroom when I’m super uncomfortable around men and I don’t want to go into the men’s bathroom, but then if I go into the women’s bathroom someone is going to attack me. So I just came to this point in my life when I’m like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ This isn’t me.
She started her transition, and she came out as trans. It did not go well. It took some adjustment, but Ciara is still married to her wife. Her kids say that they have two moms. She underwent hormone treatment to change her body to look more feminine which took a couple of years.
Challenges of being transgender
Ciara tells us of the many challenges she has gone through being a transgender woman in society, many of which are emotional. Building a trans-friendly financial advisor practice requires awareness of these challenges.
Before coming out, Ciara experienced dysphoria which she describes this way.
Imagine being almost in extreme mental, emotional, and physical pain just by looking in the mirror and seeing your body and you hate it that much, like to the point that you probably don’t want to be alive anymore.
Ciara says one pain point for her is her voice. She wishes she didn’t sound like a man. She wants to change it, but surgery is too dangerous.
Anxiety, seclusion, and vulnerability
It’s hard everyday…I really don’t go out unless I have to. My wife and I went out to dinner last weekend for the first time in 18 months. Because when we’re going out to dinner, I have to watch what I drink because I can’t even get up and go to the bathroom.
Ciara fears that people will assume she is going into the women’s bathroom to assault people when she really just wants to use the bathroom. She either has to wait until there is nobody in the bathroom, or she doesn’t go at all until she gets home. Sometimes this results in physical pain. She feels she is a target for violence.
Life is full of anxiety for Ciara, as she constantly fears that she’ll run into the wrong person and they’ll hurt her. This corroborates with data from the HRC stating that in 2020, 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed, the highest amount on record since they began tracking it. As a result, whenever she has to go out in public she tries to execute whatever action is required as quickly as possible and not talk to anyone.
Working in the games industry, she has to be concerned about what companies she applies to. She doesn’t know if they have rules and regulations to protect her. Ciara is a professional communications director and that requires her to be the face of a company. She’s had a few studios say that they don’t want to employ her in this role due to her gender identity.
There are federal protections, but it’s hard to prove and expensive. Given she is unemployed in the first place, prosecuting someone for not giving her the job is prohibitively expensive. Unless you recorded the conversation, you can’t prove that’s what they said.
Even though legal protections exist, trans people are often kicked out of housing and/or denied housing due to their gender identity.
Tips for financial advisors who want to create a welcoming environment for trans people
Here are some tips for building a trans-friendly financial advisor practice.
#1 Use the right pronouns
Use the right pronouns, the ones that a person wishes to be called. When people do that, it’s great. If you make a mistake, politely apologize and move on without making a big deal.
In your pre-meeting questionnaire (link), ask every prospect what pronouns they prefer.
#2 Treat them like a human being
Sounds basic, but unfortunately trans people are often denied human dignity. Everybody is a human being with feelings. We can all stand to improve our ability to be sensitive to each other’s feelings.
Trans people just wanted to be who they are and be treated as a human being. Ciara says it is helpful when people are “willing to be educated or to listen to us [deleted] about the problems that we’re facing, about what we’re going through, and why we just want people to see us as normal people.
#3 Defend the rights of trans people
If you see someone being abusive to a trans person, stand up for them, just as you would for anyone else whose human rights are being violated.
#4 Be an ally
I’ve written about the Rooney Rule before in this diversity article. If you are looking to hire someone, please support diversity by including at least one diverse candidate. Transgender people fall into that category.
#5 Have a trans-friendly bathroom
If you have a physical office, give some though to making the bathroom trans-friendly. Whether you have single or multi occupancy bathrooms in your office, review the OSHA guidelines and consult with your legal and/or HR teams if need be.
#6 Be understanding
Trans people may face some of the struggles Ciara mentioned above. Have an open mind and don’t make assumptions about them because they may be confronted by adversities on a daily basis that could complicate their financial situations. Ask intelligent questions and listen to the response instead of making assumptions.
Summary of tips for building a trans-friendly financial advisor practice
I’m a human being. Please just let me be. I just wish people would listen, just treat me like a human being. Just be nice. But they don’t. So that’s the world I live in.
If you wish to connect with Ciara, please visit Ciara Keeton on LinkedIn and say hello!
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Butler, Tijen. (2019, April 2nd). PinkNews. What percentage of the US population is transgender? https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/04/02/percentage-us-population-transgender-statistics/
Roberts, Madeleine. (2020, November 19th). HRC. Marking the Deadliest Year on Record, HRC Releases Report on Violence Against Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/press-releases/marking-the-deadliest-year-on-record-hrc-releases-report-on-violence-against-transgender-and-gender-non-conforming-people.