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Through My Lens: Crippled, Queer, and Femme at Work.

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Mark Travis Rivera writes about his experience with Cerebral Palsy, and how it intersects with his Queerness in all parts of his life.

A black and white image of mark looking at the camera through a window - reflections of plants slightly obscure his face. He is a latinx femme-identifying man wearing a nose ring


Crippled at Birth.

While some people become disabled, others, like myself, are born disabled.


My mother gave birth to me at five and a half months, extremely premature and weighing in at one pound, my mere survival was a miracle, and I would grow up as a child with cerebral palsy.


While my physical disability has become less apparent, partly because of surgery, over 15 years of physical therapy, and my dance career, my cerebral palsy will not stop being a part of who I am and how I navigate life.


Long before I discovered my queerness or understood the concept of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic class, being born premature and living as a disabled child taught me what it meant to be “othered.”


Being othered at such a young age taught me how to develop tough skin and gave me the audacity to be seen and heard for exactly who I am in all areas of my life, including how I show up professionally.



Crippled at Work.

As a full-time creative entrepreneur, I’m proud to exist at multiple intersections as a queer, disabled, Latinx femme man. While I have had many successes in my career, I can’t help but think of how my intersectional identities and outward expression of my authentic self have prevented me from entering certain rooms.


Due to anti-discrimination laws, companies didn’t tell me this was why I was passed over for a job or didn’t get a promotion. Still, it was the microaggressions and sometimes overt aggressions that I experienced that reminded me that who I was and how I showed up was an issue for some people.


During the interview process for my first role after graduating from university, I had to make many decisions to ensure how I showed up didn’t negatively impact the prospect of getting the job. At the time, I opted to wear a suit and tie, which is the norm, though the societal stance on professional attire is evolving. I kept my nails on but painted them nude to prevent them from being too distracting, and I chose not to wear makeup.


While transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary identities were just beginning to emerge in the lexicon of conversations in everyday life during the time of my interview at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, many people were and continue to be uninformed, misinformed, or confused about what those identities mean.


The woman responsible for hiring me, Rosann Santos, an Afro-Latina from the Bronx, admitted that she didn’t know what gender nonconforming meant as it related to my attire and that she hired me because of my professional experience and skills. After explaining that I wore dresses, heels, and makeup, she responded, “You can wear whatever you like. There is no official dress code policy, as long as your body parts aren’t showing…wear what you want.”


On my first day on the job, I wore makeup but dressed more conservatively because I was not convinced she or the school was genuinely ready for a person like me working at the college. Later that day, I told her about my identity and how I express myself through clothes. She assured me that I was supported because she doesn’t believe people can do their best work if they can’t be their authentic selves in the workplace.


The next day, I showed up in a dress and heels. When I had to use the bathroom, I expressed my anxiety about using the men’s room when I was wearing dresses because of the anticipated stares and remarks that guys may say as they saw me entering the men’s restroom. Upon expressing my concerns, she gave me access to the all-gender, single-use bathroom in the wellness center.


I would spend the next three and half years working at John Jay because I was supported and encouraged to be my whole self. I didn’t have to suppress, alter, or deny who I was. I just had to be true to who I was so I could do good work.



Crippled and Proud.

We live in an unprecedented time–for marginalized people worldwide. We aren’t simply fighting for equality or a more equitable society where we all have the same fundamental human rights and liberties; in some countries, we’re fighting to maintain the freedoms we were guaranteed.


For instance, when the Supreme Court decided to go against precedent and overturned the Roe V. Wade decision in the United States, we started to see the rolling back of reproductive rights. Returning the reproductive right to abortion to the states to decide has led to a handful of states passing some of the most extreme abortion bans.


This ruling also made other marginalized people worry about their human rights, leading to the US government codifying marriage equality. President Biden signed the bill to ensure LGBTQ+ Americans don’t lose the right to marry who they love.


While I have had many successes in my career, I can’t help but think of how my intersectional identities and outward expression of my authentic self have prevented me from entering certain rooms.


As an openly disabled, queer, femme Latinx man, none of this surprises me. In the US and around the globe, there has been a dramatic increase in anti-LGBTQ+ laws that aim to dehumanize, restrict fundamental rights, and in the most extreme cases, kill people who are LGBTQ+.


It is no wonder that these attempts to roll back civil liberties and human rights have led to increased suicide attempts and mental health challenges for LGBTQ+ youth. For many trans people in the US, unemployment rates are higher, and studies indicate that many trans people are underemployed and more likely to experience workplace discrimination.



Through My Lens.

If workplaces want to be equitable, they must examine how their culture fosters discrimination against marginalized people. Despite disabled LGBTQ+ people existing, more often than not, disabled people are dehumanized and desexualized.


The work ahead is plenty, and while it can be frustrating at times, I am hopeful that a more inclusive and equitable workplace is possible if we all commit to doing our part to dismantle systems that aim to keep us oppressed.


I am a proud Latinx man.

I am a proud queer man.

I am a proud disabled man.

I am a proud femme man.


I am all of who I am, and I don’t plan on altering my authenticity to “fit in and belong.” To quote researcher-storyteller Dr. Brené Brown, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”



Mark is a femme man of Latinx heritage, wearing pink eye makeup and a colourful tunic top.

Mark Travis Rivera (he/him)

As a professional storyteller and consultant, Mark Travis Rivera focuses on intersectionality through the lens of a person who is a Latinx, queer, gender non-conforming, disabled man. He has addressed audiences at various institutions of higher learning, including Harvard, MIT, Rutgers, and NYU. As a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional and facilitator, he has spoken to corporate audiences virtually in the UK, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, Israel, China, and India, just to name a few.


You can find more information about Mark's work here.


If you would like to book Mark as a speaker for a workshop or panel event, please get in touch with us via email at hello@wecreatespace.co

 

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