March 29, 2019

'I wouldn't trade being trans for anything else'

Transgender staff member's identity adds inclusive lens to sustainability programming

“What could I do if I didn’t spend so much time thinking about how other people see me?” Alex Howard wonders aloud. Though we can all relate to this feeling to some extent, for Howard, the anxiety stems from not knowing how others will respond to him as a transgender person.

“For a long time, I used they/them pronouns at work. As my own understanding of my gender identity has changed, I’ve started using he/him. Either way, it can be an uncomfortable experience to correct people when they misgender me, especially in a professional environment where I’m trying to build relationships,” Howard says.

“I recognize that I’m often asking people to hold space in their minds for something they haven’t encountered before, but I would ask those same people to weigh their discomfort against how it might feel to be misgendered at work or to have to talk to their colleagues about which bathroom they use. I feel lucky to have such a supportive team in the Office of Sustainability — they’ve made a thoughtful, consistent effort to show respect and care in the ways I’ve asked them to, including adopting my pronouns and using them.”

Staff member’s identity makes space for inclusion

As co-ordinator of staff sustainability engagement at UCalgary, Howard’s identity is an asset that helps push the boundaries to make sustainability programming more inclusive and accessible — for everyone.

Sustainability isn’t just a set of topics like waste or the environment. It’s an attitude that we weave into everyday life and that asks us to think critically about the connections between the environment, society, the economy, and well-being,” Howard says.

“Even though trans advocacy isn’t part of my job description, when I develop programming, I emphasize that building more sustainable workplaces means prioritizing equity and inclusivity, and I connect staff with the tools they need to do so.”

Paired with his knowledge of sustainability, Howard’s trans identity gives him an intersectional perspective on key issues, including gender equity.

“We often think of gender equity as a matter of equality between men and women, but it’s also important to think about how we can redefine those categories to honour people who challenge them,” he says. “My own experiences have helped me understand that enforcing a strict gender binary and a set of norms works against gender equity. Interrogating our assumptions about gender benefits everyone, not just queer and trans people.”

Transgender experience is complex and enriching

With the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, Howard points out that developing more trans-inclusive training and expanding infrastructure like gender-neutral washrooms are two ways the university can help create a more supportive environment that reflects its commitment to equity.

Howard highlights that for him, a day of visibility means recognizing and valuing the nuances of transgender people’s lives.

“Our experiences are complex and it’s important to celebrate trans joy and community even as we work to recognize and address the daily discrimination and violence that many people experience as part of living in a transphobic society,” he says.

“As a white person with a PhD, I recognize that I have a lot of privilege in relation to many trans people. For me, sharing my story is about being visible to other trans people and showing that it’s possible to be here on campus, to have a career, to feel successful, valued and supported. Those things are all parts of my trans experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”