Last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a piece on the work of Vanessa Sheridan, a consultant who provides diversity training for companies on transgender diversity issues.
I've read Ms. Sheridan's book, The Complete Guide to Transgender in the Workplace, and enjoyed it. I'm glad to see that this issue is getting notice in the Heartland. Of course, the placement of the word trans in quotes set my teeth on edge, because it is, in other contexts, a signal that trans identities are unreal and bracketed. The Star-Tribune panegyric obviously didn't intend this, but it is emblematic of the many ways in which well-meaning people can stumble in the area of cultural competence.
Vanessa Sheridan of Apple Valley is a consultant with clients that include Best Buy and HSBC Financial. She is a conservative dresser, an articulate professional and a churchgoing Christian.
She is also a transgender woman. Some folks might find this unusual, but Sheridan does not.
"I'm a normal person with a different gender identity," she said. "You can be happy and well adjusted and transgender. The trouble with the way we're portrayed in the media is that we're either prostitutes or punch lines."
Of course, some of you Projectors are going to balk at the "I'm normal" message, seeing in it a heteronormative plot to destroy the queer agenda. But if you want to succeed in corporate America, you need to tell them what they want to hear. Is there anything wrong with the message "I'm normal"?
I see a big divide in the LGBT advocacy community. Some want to advance the "I'm normal" message in order to provide greater appeal to those who value normality. Others want to make it okay to be different, without having to be "normal" in every way but one.
"Normal" would cut a lot of us out who don't adhere to the heteronormative. If you have an open relationship, you're not "normal" (despite the stats showing that 25%-50% of married people have had affairs). If you don't "pass" well under the heteronormative standards of masculinity and femininity, you're not "normal." If you're a single parent, you're not "normal."
I am glad that Ms. Sheridan is out there working on the culture of transphobia. We need more of that. I'm not sure about the "I'm normal" message. I think I would rather make the point that we're all different and that differences should be accepted and valued. And perhaps what the "I'm normal" message is saying is that "normal" should be expanded to include differences, like gender identity differences? I also recognize that reporters often take the message that resonates most with them and make it the central part of a piece, leaving out or unintentionally distorting certain points. That could easily have happened here.
I'm wondering what you think about the "I'm normal" vs. "Different is good" messages. Can these co-exist, or are they mutually exclusive? Is the first giving in to corporatist and heteronormative values, or is it doing the work of expanding the definition of "normality"?