Do you find a different reaction in general when you either travel out of the “New York bubble,” if you will, in the way people treat you?
Yeah. I traveled, actually, a fair amount during COVID, mostly within the country. I’ve done a few international trips before COVID, and there were certain places in the country and outside of the country, generally south from here, where I’m just a lot more wary and on guard.
And I need to do that. Because I’ve always been told I’m a little bit too naïve, innocent, trusting. The world isn’t really great for us out there. So, yeah, I’ve had some, not “major” issues, minor issues, in other countries and in other parts of this country, and they’re not good. Because, quite frankly, I’m a little bit spoiled because I spend most of my time here.
Brendan Riley: All right, we have some questions from our colleagues, Maeve, that we’d love to hear you answer. “As a communications professional, what would you say are the most important messages from the transgender community that are largely misunderstood? And how would you clarify them?”
Really, the biggest one is just this myopic focus on the physical side of transition, and in particular the surgeries. I have this friend who said, “Once you had the operation, you became a woman”—uh, no, not really. So there’s still some work to do there.
The physical transition is important, obviously. I’ve had the surgeries. I like to wear nice clothes, do my hair, wear makeup. That’s important, it makes me feel feminine. But it’s really the internal dynamic that’s the most important, it’s how you feel internally. That’s a big misconception.
“Are there things you did not like to hear after you came out—things that people maybe intended to be encouraging but maybe came across a much different way? And maybe things that you got tired of hearing?”
This one’s really good, and doesn’t come up in conversation, but it comes up in conversation among transgender people. There’s a lot of people who say that me coming out at Goldman Sachs, and talking about my experience in venues like this, is “courageous and brave.”
But if this is who I am, and this is what I’m driven to do, and this is what I have to do to be myself, is it really “courageous and brave”? I feel like this is what I’m programmed to do. This is what my current DNA is telling me to do, I don’t have a choice. I don’t really get offended when people say that, a lot of people say it. There are some people in the transgender community who get offended when cis-gender people say that.
Jeanmarie McFadden: I think there’s probably a tendency, and I think it often comes from the right place, to overthink what you’re saying, right? Because you want to be sensitive and say the right thing—as much as you don’t want to say the wrong thing.
This brings up another point: Women almost immediately knew how to compliment me on my appearance, but men sometimes had a problem with that. There’s guy in our office who’s funny but a little uptight.
And I’ve noticed recently he’s giving me the perfect compliments. When I think back over the last couple of years he’s just experimented in little ways, he’s taken little risks. Maybe based on my reaction, or my expression, he’s just calibrated and learned. And that’s an important lesson for everybody, I think: When you’re around diverse people and you’re not really sure what to say or act, you can take little risks. And over time you can learn from taking these little risks, and then you can interact in a fully comfortable way.
Brendan Riley: A question from another colleague: “Hi there, young nonbinary kid here. It’s hard sometimes to know when and how to go about correcting instances of misgendering, especially repeated misgendering. Is there any advice you can give about bringing your authentic self in a way that’s ‘work-appropriate’?”
My thinking on this has evolved. Up until maybe about a half-year ago, I really only corrected people around me who I was going to be dealing with repeatedly.
I most frequently get misgendered on the phone. I don’t know if people realize this, but the physical side of transition just doesn’t stop just because you get the surgeries. I’m going to be doing hair removal for—I don’t want to think about for how long. I take voice lessons every week to feminize my voice. But back to the question. I get misgendered on the phone by doctors and nurses that I call, for instance, and these are people I might only talk with once. In the past I didn’t bother correcting them.
Now I do—not just for me, but also for other transgender people they might talk to in the future. And so I politely say, “I’m sorry, I’m transgender, I’m a woman, I’d prefer not to be called, ‘Sir.’ I want to be called ‘Miss.’” So I do it in a polite way, and I do it to pretty much everybody now.
Maeve, thank you so much for your time, for sharing your story, and for doing so with such humor and honesty. A final question from a colleague: “What does being a woman mean to you?”
Wow. What a question.
I have a depth of feelings that I never knew I could have. Some of those feelings are happy feelings, some aren’t. But I’m grateful that I can experience that depth of feeling no matter what it is.
Brendan Riley, Andrew Williams, and Jeanmarie McFadden are Partners based in New York.
Brendan helps lead Brunswick’s work related to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and is a key member of Brunswick’s Litigation Communications and Workplace Conduct practice groups. He is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Jeanmarie is co-Head of Brunswick’s New York office and has over 30 years of experience in strategic and crisis communications. Most recently, she was the Chief Communications Officer at MetLife, where she led all internal and external communications.
Andrew specializes in financial situations, regulatory and media relations. Most recently, he was Managing Director of Corporate Communications at Goldman Sachs.