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Out and Loud: Finding Community and Comfort at WE

1/27/2022
— Jade Cook, WE 

When I first joined WE, I was still exploring my identity. I still am — and likely will be for the rest of my life — but I do know one thing for sure: I am transgender.

I was not “a woman born in a man’s body”; it’s deeply more complex than that. But I have suffered much of my life knowing something inside me didn’t “make sense.” But now it does.

Even now, these words on my screen serve as a reminder to myself: affirmation of who I am, a label that has been a source of community, comfort and yes confusion.

Transitioning is not easy. There are too many details to get into here, but “how will I navigate employment?” is a big question trans people grapple with every day.

I am fortunate to have been born into the highest tier of the privilege lottery, having navigated most of my job interviews as a straight, white, masculine-presenting person. But when I was let go from another job and had the benefit of time to question my identity, that was totally flipped on its head. Suddenly, I found myself near the bottom of the privilege ladder. Trans people are targeted by violence four times more than the general population. We’re twice as likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to be unemployed, and experience homelessness at a shocking rate.

And that’s to say nothing of dealing with common misconceptions that individuals aim toward members of my community without thought, the hurtful stereotypes I have to work to ignore or spend effort to undo, even in 2022.

This created a strange dynamic: I can choose to hide my true self, walk through an “easier,” softer working environment, and continue to reap the many benefits systemic structures in our society lavish on white men.

Or … I could finally be myself for the first time in my life and find true happiness and meaning.

At this stage in my life, it was an easy choice.

WE has made my decision to be “out and loud” (ask anyone, I am a talker!) much easier and more comfortable. I am often a cynical person (we think about the worst-case scenario a lot in PR) especially when it comes to corporate messaging. But I firmly believe WE cares about creating a more equitable environment.

I came into a workplace where pronouns — a constant source of anxiety for many trans people — were already somewhat common in email signatures, saving me the awkward conversation of asking for something that helps my day-to-day work life feel better. Co-workers are very open about talking or dealing with personal issues, which creates a sense of trust and comradery, that we’re all “more than just workers.” This environment — coupled with conversations with other marginalized people at the agency — has helped me get to the point I am at in my life: a loud, open book who just wants things to be better for as many people as possible.

After a short time, I realized that talking about myself and my journey at work is part of the role I was cast in this show called life. I spent 35 years in the closet, and once I had busted out, there was no going back. I want to make sure anyone behind me in a similar situation has an easier time, even if I can change only a tiny sliver. If being openly trans is part of that, I owe it to my people to do that. If it’s having hard conversations with colleagues or penning a blog that’s outside my comfort zone, I will do that. It pales in comparison to what my ancestral trans people fought and died for. Maybe one day this blog won’t be needed. Trans and other marginalized people won’t need platforms to explain their experiences; we will just be fully integrated members of society. We’ll be like everyone else.

That is not a one-person job. But it does start with one person who cares. Because that leads to more people caring and implementing change in areas they can influence. I see that happening at WE, want it to continue, and encourage every other corner of American society to think about what can be done to improve things for their fellow people.

You would not be reading my thoughts without the support I feel at this agency. This information is deeply personal, and I do not share my journey lightly, as I have seen the consequences of being too forthcoming about myself (it can lead to pain). But I feel empowered and insulated here to talk about myself, that my thoughts are not only welcome but valued and listened to. My manager is understanding of my situation and never makes it feel burdensome. I feel my voice is valued beyond the details included on my resume, as exemplified by this piece you are reading now.

There is progress to be made, make no mistake. We are far from the mountaintop. But I can tell WE is trying. And trying is where love begins to grow.