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Inviting In: Tiffany Lattimore

“Not everything you face can be changed, but nothing can be changed until you face it."

—James Baldwin

Growing up, as a child you're told what your gender is from birth, and what roles are associated with that. with that in mind I recall playing this game as a child called house. The rules and the roles, in the game of house were already defined and were gender specific. We, the children, immolated the traditional stereotypical family structure, which had been taught to us. Someone played the mother, the father, the son and the daughter. So, for me, I found myself very early, assuming the role of the father. Now, to assume the role of the father in my mind was to take over the house because I immolated my mother's role at home. James Baldwin said it best, children have never been good at listening to their parents, but they have never failed to imitate them.” The duality of my mother and father coexisted because she divorced my father earlier on. So for me that role was simply to take care of the home, take charge and be assertive like my mom, cause that’s what I saw.

Let’s fast forward to my teens, in social environments it was noticeable that I was not feminine in my mannerisms, and was taking on some sort of masculine energy. I was not the typical girl who liked to do things that girls do, that behavior that was displayed was dismissed as just being a “Tom Boy". I began to be clear in my mind that I had romantic feelings towards women and had them for some time. This led me to really investigate what I was feeling, it was after the investigation that I learned about the word homosexuality, and the terms of the time, gay and lesbian. Growing up, it wasn't a great deal of exposure to the gay and lesbian lifestyle. Perhaps at school, I noticed that other girls in a specific group that dressed like me and had that “Tom boy” energy like me. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, never discussed anything, it was a lack of courage also paired with a lack of knowledge to truly articulate what was going on. I remained silent , For fear of a negative reaction, it was taboo more so then , oppose to being taboo now.

When I told my mother for the first time that I had feelings for women that are not what is considered normal, and that they did not adhere to the social norms of heterosexuality, it was uncomfortable and awkward. Now, let her tell it, my mother's intuition had already warned her, she told me that she knew before I Confessed. Well, let me tell it, I was mortified, it was agony to figure out if you are going to live your life in the closet or live your truth. It was the first of many extremely dark phases of living this lifestyle. It did not go over well, my mother took it hard, she was depressed and angry, and simultaneously I felt emotionally abandoned as she distanced herself from me to cope with the news. My mother asked me if i I was sure I was gay, but the questions seemed more like an interrogation and an attack than a lack of understanding. First it was more than the typical response of a black mother, I had to hear the "biblical rhetoric", and her interrogation intensified. In her mind because I’ve never been sexual with a man, she asked how could i be certain that I don't like men. The smart ass that I am, I quickly replied, "How do you know that you like men since you have never been with a woman? Of course, that did not take me anywhere fast and put pressure on the mother-daughter relationship.


It had been a few months and after a while I had a need to leave home, I felt uncomfortable and did not like how things were between us. So, I went to my older sister for advice or at least what I thought was advice, well, she coerced me into thinking that I should move out. Let me tell you that at that time, I didn't know that the "advice" came from a malicious place. My sister, who got into a lot of trouble as a youngster with my mother, enjoyed that now it was me in trouble with mom. It was almost as if my sister was stirring the pot , and when you're gullible you just can't see the writing on the wall.

Shortly after "coming out" with my mother, I had my first contact with the real world, getting my first apartment in the same city but on the opposite side of town. I even got my first professional job in good old corporate America. Now, to make it clear, that job impacted me in my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. The psychological and emotional damage suffered, the trauma of it all still affects me in different ways presently.

Working in the beast of corporate America, you learn very quickly that this type of work environment is very conservative. While you read this, you may ask me, well, you did pass the interview, what are you implying when you say conservative. Ah, but to the contrary, what really happened was not so uncommon in the workplace and still continues today for me and many others living the LGBTQIA+ life. Being naive at the world, initially I didn't know that many of my problems were rooted in how I showed up to the world, showing up as masculine presenting but identifying as female appears conflicting. When I was a young adult, I wore attire that normally only men wear. So, to show up for work every day in men's clothing, it already attracts unwanted attention, in ways I was not ready for.

For example, when going to the ladies’ room, of any establishment in any place that is gender specific, I find myself confronted by people (still to this day). They have attacked me without recourse, the police have even been called on me for being in the women's bathroom, implying I’m some pervert when all I want to do is use the restroom. I get it, from the lens of a heterosexual, you have this person who identifies as a woman and uses all the female pronouns, however, presents themselves as masculine center. I'm sure, that can be confusing for some, but it shouldn't be. I read the door clearly of the bathroom and entered the right place, so kick rocks and leave me be.

However, returning to this good corporate job that literally has shaped my entries career choice. I had this supervisor; He was a typical black alpha male. The race makes a difference because in the black community, homophobia is concentrated there more than any other demographic. Anyway, my boss was romantically interested in a colleague. I am a great social person and many times I accompanied this woman for lunch. Although the employment relationship with this woman was strictly plutonic among us, my boss rubbed his hair the wrong way. The supervisor felt different, apparently, he felt something for this woman and felt that he had stepped on her feet, so to speak, he was blocking her. The woman was simply not interested and talked about how she disliked her advances when we were having lunch. The chief had sent an email to his son, another office manager explaining his disdain for homosexuals, then complained that he hated Catholics and Hispanics and some other disaster. In detail, he wrote a lot of homophobic speeches and anti-Catholic nonsense, oh, he had problems with women in positions of authority, just some very inappropriate comments. 

Then, my boss in question harassed me every day, all the time when I entered the office, for example, I received disciplinary measures for violating the dress code. It was so green to the world that this man wrote to me about things like dressing up as a man, he told me that the woman had a specific dress code. I didn't know anything better, blind to my rights, I signed the bull's shit. At the time when there was no one to talk to about all this, I didn't know what a union was, only that I was very protected. My mother and I weren't talking and separated, my sister and I weren't talking, not to mention that I really didn't have gay friends to talk or talk to, here alone. One day, my boss decides to send an email to the other office manager, my boss must have really felt somehow, so he entered this email. My boss sent it to the other supervisor through the Internet, but somehow the email was sent to everyone's spam box. Well, usually, in the mailbox you delete everything, no, I was checking it and found that email. That email was immediately shown to my director, who was an operations director, who opened another can of worms. Therefore, it goes without saying that the supervisor in question was permanently relieved of his previous duties and escorted off the property by the police.

Months after the termination of the boss, all of a sudden I began to receive random phone calls at work, or late at night on my cell phone, but all I heard was heavy breathing. I was knocked on the door or window of my room on the ground floor, when I looked outside, I didn't see anyone. At first, I couldn't understand what the hell was going on, I was terrified, I felt like a prisoner in my own house, I discovered that I was the former boss. The former boss would announce his presence, tell me he was going to kill me and complain about how I broke his livelihood. These interactions became frequent and worse, the former boss would be waiting for me outside of work or trying to be physically be aggressive. The straw that broke the camels is the day I arrived at my vehicle after work and found it vandalized. All four tires of my car had been slashed in the parking lot near where I worked, I had a spray-painted slit of the word dyke on the door of my car. I called the police, the responding officer said, “what you want me to do about it, you were not hurt.” I couldn't have my vehicle towed out of the garage, the height clearance in the garage was too low, so I had to manually change one by one each tire to replace it and then complete the alignment, after all that. Ughhhhh , so The former supervisor had access to my personal file through the other office manager upon termination, my file had everything about me, so that's how he was to find where I lived.

After doing some research, trying to present what I thought was a restraining order, I quickly discovered that the state in which I reside. They only grant “A peace order." I needed to have documentation about the harassment I was being subjected to. The failure to produce something really tangible, apart from him being fired and for what he was fired, was not enough.

My first visit to any kind of court, to talk about nervous, I had no idea what I was doing. When I explained what had happened to the judge, the ruling came shortly after and he did not grant me the peace order. The judge had the audacity to tell me in court that "it seems I can handle myself." I'm not sure what the hell that is supposed to mean, but I felt some type of way in my soul behind that comment. Later that same day, when I arrived at work, they took me to a meeting and fired me for being late, and because I didn't wear professional clothes for women, men's clothing was inappropriate. I was green, I didn’t know you couldn’t do that, i feel dumb even now telling that part. Between the comment made by the judge and the comment made by the employer, I began replay a saying my mom had in my head. My mother used to always tell me when I was a child "Appearance is everything, and the way you carry yourself says a lot about a person." I assumed that my mother was making a vain statement, in my mind who cares what other people think of you, is what I felt was important right. At that moment I knew exactly what she meant, at that moment I knew exactly what she was trying to teach me, reflecting on those negative comments from the judge and everything that was going on. It was my appearance and I was being judged. Treated prejudicially based on my life, my life it didn’t fit corporate standards. As I lived an alternative lifestyle that is taboo. There was no chance to be discreet about living this way because my male attire told the story before I had the chance too. It is an oxymoron and confusing for most, I look masculine, but I don't like being called sir. I do not refer to myself as sir. Initially, when I meet someone new, I agree to correct it if they call me sir. It is usually the second time that they refer to me as a lord when I have to politely correct them and it offends me a little.

The views of society on gender are still increasingly narrow, they are all in these small compartmentalized boxes. To ease the hassle of awkward conversations or denial of my lifestyle, or even fear of being terminated, which happens. I chose uniformed professions; the idea was to disguise myself. I’ve tried to be androgynous and basically felt uncomfortable in my own skin. The psychological implications have been so profound that I am realizing how I basically was operating in trauma and living in fear. professions like blue color work, allowed me the luxury of discretion. Blue color work uniforms helped me manage “Fear” the fear of being judged, fear of being fired , fear of being killed or harassed That is a hell of a thing to live your life afraid , you can’t imagine a day in my shoes.

When turning 30, only then did I realize  that I was not happy with my line of work and now I know why. I have matured significantly because I feel comfortable with my own skin and I don't try to confirm or deny who I am. I also learned not to apologize for who I am. I live out loud and unapologetic, see It breaks a person down to live in fear, I believe that accepting myself has helped me be more assertive.

Accepting of myself was only half of the battle, the confidence helped to thicken my skin. Being a woman, being of color and, finally, presenting in a masculine way, those three intersect and each of them are met with their own levels of injustice. I have tried to apply for jobs, for example, as an investigator, I have had an employer look me up and down and tell me that the position is full, when the other candidate only had a high school diploma and no work experience. How do prove the person had a problem with you? I had all the qualification factors; the other candidate didn't even have a degree. It is a constant struggle even now.

It is also difficult in friendships with heterosexuals of both male and female. Women exclude you from things, I guess for fear of being called gay for hanging out, or exclusion occurs in social events like bachelorette parties because I present as myself as masculine. It’s almost like they assume I don’t desire sister girl interactions of that capacity. There are difficulties with straight men also, they want to try to have sex or pimp you to get a woman for them. Sometimes Those experiences of discrimination and harassment seem singular, masculine identifying women wither don’t talk about it or have not had those shared experiences.

Concluding my significant events, the main lesson I’ve learned is "Sometimes there are things that happen in our life, that you must forgive without the benefit of an apology for your own emotional survival." So, whether an apologize is received or not. I had to forgive people, I had to forgive the old supervisor, the judge, or whoever hurt me above all, I had to forgive myself. That has been the biggest challenge in my life so far. 


Tiffany Latimore!

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.