Elevating Voices: Transgender Awareness Month is a series of interviews, experiences, and stories from the transgender and gender non-conforming community. The series is beginning during Transgender Awareness Week – a crucial time to uplift the stories and voices of the trans/GNC community – and will continue in other facets of our work.
Ethan Alexander is the WW Policy Co Director of GLEAM at Microsoft.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey that led you to where you are now.
My name is Ethan Alexander. I’m a Black man of the trans experience. A lot of people ask me why I state “Black man of the trans experience.” It’s because when you see me, you see a Black man first. And, honestly, for me, it doesn’t get any clearer than that. I’ve been with Microsoft for almost 10 years.
I’ve been at Microsoft for almost 10 years, I transitioned at Microsoft almost nine years ago. Growing up, “transgender” was never a thing that was discussed in my house. Even LGBTQI+ was never discussed in my house. So, you go through these certain things, you get scared about feeling a certain type of way. And, then one day you just say, “Ma, I like girls.” And for my mom—I’m the oldest of four—she didn’t like it. At that point, I didn’t know what trans was, I just knew that I liked girls.
I waited a little bit to transition because I didn’t really know what that consisted of, and then one day I said, “You know what? I’m not happy.” I work for an amazing company. I did some research. I said, “The time is now. I can’t wait any longer.”
What does Transgender Awareness Month mean to you this year?
I think for me this year, it’s about being visible. This year, what I did with the Microsoft Pride campaign was very bold. I literally stated, “As a Black man of the trans experience, I face double discrimination.” That was huge for me. It made me feel like I was coming out all over again, because, being with Microsoft this long and working in multiple positions; a lot of people generally did not know that I had transitioned.
I have no choice but to be visible this year. A lot of people looked at 2020 like this is the worst year ever. For me, this has been a transformative year because this was time for me to sit down with myself, to feel every emotion, and to do something about it. This was the time where the rose-colored lens that we all had on is gone. You have to make bold decisions.
This is my life. If I decide to tell people about who I am, I will tell people. It’s not that I’m hiding, because I’m in plain sight. That’s how I’ve always been. But, when I feel the need to use my platform and speak for people who are afraid, I do something. And, I can relate to the fear of being visible—especially given the amount of transgender women that have been killed this year—because, as a Black man, I’m often a walking target in this country.
What does resiliency look like in the trans community? And more specifically, what does resiliency look like in your life?
To be bold, I feel like resiliency for a transgender person is simply making the decision to continue to live every day; physically and emotionally. I don’t think people understand how thick your skin has to be to truly be who you are in this day and age. When I think about being resilient, it’s like being able to be strong enough to say, “I’m going to withstand the storm.” It’s being a tree. A tree can go through whatever—the hurricanes, all of it. If you are rooted, you’re good. And, I’m just going to keep going.
Looking back, what would you tell your younger self at the beginning of your journey?
The message I would give to my younger self is, “Regardless of what is happening around you, you remain who you are.” I am so calm and happy within who Ethan is, regardless of anything else around me. Ethan stays the same. Ethan doesn’t change. The circumstances around me may change, which means I have to adapt and adjust to how things are done, but Ethan is the same.
And, I would tell my younger self, “Always remain the same. Always remain who you are—but make sure you’re evolving.” It does not matter what’s going on around you. There is nobody in this world that deserves the entitlement or the privilege to affect you.
What would you share with young people, specifically the younger Black and transgender community, who are on a similar professional trajectory as you? What advice would you give them for their career?
I would most definitely tell them that it’s okay to genuinely be who you are. But never allow anyone to make you a token. I say that because oftentimes, it’s so easy to say, “You know what? I am this person, and being this person I’m going to use this to my advantage.”
No. “I want you to hire me because I’m the right one for the job. I’m not the obvious choice; I am the only choice, because I’m the right one for the job. Not because you need to check marks. Not because you need a Black person, not because you need a trans person, but because I can do the job just like everybody else.”
That’s what I would tell them. Focus on being the best that you can be in whatever it is that makes you feel alive, whatever that job is that you want to do.
10 years ago, I had a boss who told me that I shouldn’t tell people that I was transitioning, because they may not agree with or like it. Hearing things like this from a boss could put you right back in a space where you are afraid to tell people who you are. Don’t be afraid. Be resilient. Know that other people’s opinions are the cheapest commodities. It’s okay not to be okay. Find a person that can be your safe place and you have a conversation.
Why is inclusion in the workplace important for transgender and the gender non-conforming community? Why does it matter?
Because my voice matters. You can have a group of diverse people sitting at the table, but if they don’t have a voice, it does not matter. The voice is where inclusion starts. Because my voice matters. Because I’m a part of the organization like you. Because I’m human.