top of page

Through my Lens: Visibility and Authenticity.

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Yujx Smith talks the challenges of being open about his intersectional identity in all parts of his life, to be visible as his authentic self.


Yujx stands against a white wall wearing a black top. He smiles. He has brown hair in a centre parting, and wears square glasses. He has nose and lip piercings.


In my workplace, I am openly trans – vocally trans, if I’m being honest. This isn’t

necessarily a role I sought, but rather a responsibility I have adopted as the only openly

trans person in my company’s UK market. I’ve been part of the Pride ERG only since

January, but my work with trans issues has been acknowledged in our markets from

Switzerland to Japan.


Yet, in the same workplace, not a single person knows of my disabilities.


I was a fairly sickly kid growing up, my mother used to joke the local urgent care centre

was a second home. Even as I type this, there is pain in my right hand – chronic carpal-

tunnel resulting from an art degree and a decade of scrolling on Twitter. However, it

wasn’t until my 20s that I began understanding the weight of what it means to live with

multiple chronic conditions.


As a toddler, when it was flagged that my joints were excessively hypermobile, I

attended physio briefly to learn how to sit on the floor ‘correctly’, and that was that. No

one told me what having ‘hypermobility’ actually meant, or warned me it comes with

chronic fatigue, or that repeated movements without proper support could cause long

term, if not permanent, injury. (See: the chronic carpal tunnel) Being able to ‘tie my

fingers in a knot’ was just a fun party trick, till I was 22 and couldn’t hold a dish sponge

without crying.


I was 21 when I finally got the diagnosis for ADHD I had first sought when I was 16. My

GP at the time dismissed my concerns and opted to just up my anti-depressants

instead, which of course, didn’t work. This however, perhaps as a complimentary gift for

the wait, came paired with autism. It was admittedly unsurprising.


And while I could sit here and detail my experiences with a variety of colourful medical

journeys, my point is that for something that so clearly impacts my day-to-day life, the

place I spend most of my time knows nothing of it.


There is a constant fear, when you exist with a marginalised identity, of taking up too

much space, of being too much. This is nothing new. What perhaps is not discussed

enough however, is the burden of openness on intersectionality – how being open and

authentic with one aspect of your identity can mean having to keep everything else

adamantly hidden.


In a society driven by capitalism, the risk of losing your income is a risk of losing everything;

having a secure job, for most, means being able to survive. Being accepted as openly

trans is already a privilege I have not always been granted, and truthfully, I am hesitant

to push this acceptance further.


Part of me wants to believe my fear of being open is irrational, my colleagues know my

worth and will value me the same, but part of me knows I got significantly less

responses from job applications when I was answered the accessibility questions

honestly. Disability is still seen as a burden on the production of capital, and thus, a

burden to the workplace.


The perception of disability and neurodiversity carries a stigma that I don’t feel

equipped to carry. ADHD, while experienced as a terrifying loss of executive function, is

often simply seen as being ‘lazy’. This accusation is tenfold if, like myself, you’re

targeted by fatphobia. This is a stigma that, when coupled with long-term medical gaslighting, often leaves people unequipped to advocate for themselves.


Medical gaslighting often takes one of two forms: either the complete dismissal of illness by health professionals, or symptoms being disregarded as due to the patient themselves and not to illness. It is an experience most marginalised people will have known, but disabled people are more likely to face this on a far longer scope.


Gaslighting is used - intentionally or not - because it works. To hear from people in positions of medical authority that your lived experiences are falsified or exaggerated, that you’re just making it up, works to strip away the trust in ourselves that we need to ask for accommodations because at some point you end up asking yourself - what if I am making it up? And, what if they don’t believe me?


When the people in question are those with authority over your employment, and a lifetime of lived experience tells you that even the medical professionals won’t listen to you, how can we be expected to bring authenticity and self-advocacy to the workplace? If disabled and neurodivergent people are so often denied support from the very places designed specifically to provide it, with what confidence can we ask for support from anywhere else?


Queerness, itself, doesn’t carry the same perceived impact on the ability to work – it is

considered a personal matter, while disability is not. Disability is disjointed from the

person, people often understand it as a facet, an accessory, instead of an intrinsic part

of their identity. It’s something to be removed, to be overcome, even when then option

isn’t feasible. The person is burdened by the body, and the body is public property.

These are not conversations that are easy to have in the power dynamics of a

workplace, to justify yourself as a worker. And perhaps, this is where the divide rests.

Disability is an aspect of my identity that has a direct impact on my ability to do my job,

other aspects do not; to be authentic carries higher risk.


Despite this, I realised that my disclosure of my identity has never really been my choice

in the first place.


Visibility should be understood more than just in the context of acknowledgement from

those unaffected; visibility dictates what degree of control we have over who we share

out identities with. With all the talk of having to hide aspects of ourselves, it must be

acknowledged that some simply can’t be hidden.


Race, for example, or body size, visible disabilities. Where simply existing takes away

your ability to control what people intimately know of you, perhaps it is understandable

that we cling to hide the parts we can.


When people see me, I know they won’t see any degree of my disabilities or my

neurodivergence, but they will see that I am gender non-conforming. This aspect is

beyond my control, it is already known before I speak a word, so my decision is instead

whether or not to acknowledge it. In my workplace, I did. Not at first, for the first few

months I simply stated my name and pronouns with no explanation – which should be

the norm, but alas. I was lucky enough to discover community with the Pride chapter in

my company however, and being open about being trans allowed me to provide

education and insight into a highly cis workplace. Someone has to be the first, after all.

But this comes with the presumption that this is all I am. If I’m so loud about being trans

– and also gay, but people seem to forget that part – then surely, I would be loud about

anything else. I must simply be a loud person.


Someone at work recently called me energetic, and it’s something I’ve been dwelling

on. Energetic is probably one of the last words I’d use to describe myself. I don’t think I’ve ever lived a day where I haven’t felt tired; it’s a good day if I can make it through

without having to go back to bed to recover. But they’re also not wrong.

Being autistic very often comes with ‘masking’ – the concept of putting on a

metaphorical mask to blend in and appear allistic (non-autistic). Most often for safety,

and most often subconsciously. Masking, for me, affects everything from the way I hold

my muscles in my face, to the pitch of my voice, my answers to questions. Facial

expressions are often not inherent to autistic people, it is something we learn to employ

at the correct time. The person I am at work is inherently in-authentic because social

interactions rely on communication autistic people don’t naturally have access to.


While I am energetic and eager at work, that doesn’t mean I am, just the part of me I

wear to work - a part that I don’t know how to undress until I have left the environment

itself. Even if someone is aware they mask, the ability to stop masking is often not there;

it is not easy to unlearn a survival instinct.


Which leaves me wondering if I could ever truly be open in the workplace when the very

ability to remove the mask is beyond my reach. While there is still the collective

expectation to conform to allistic standards, to conform with able-bodied capacity and

production, those who cannot meet this are othered. Authenticity is earned by the

conditions surrounding it.


For as much as ‘intersectionality’ has become a HR buzzword, very few people outside

of these lived experiences curate a space where it is safe to be intersectional. It is vital

to both challenge the mindset that being openly part of one marginalised community means someone is open about everything, and abolish ambiguity. If you’re not explicit in your practical support for a community, every person who contemplates being open is weighing the risk on knowing their job is at stake. Company policies should be clear, they should set out the protections for specific communities. Marginalised groups have different needs, and covering that with a general ‘anti-discrimination’ policy is the bare

minimum.


The journey towards visibility and authenticity in the workplace is a complex and nuanced one. As an openly trans and gay man, I’ve embraced the responsibility of representing and educating others through my company's only employee resource group. However, the decision to disclose other aspects of my identity, particularly my disabilities and neurodivergence, remains challenging and one I’m still hesitant to take. While there is growing awareness and understanding of intersectionality, creating a truly inclusive and safe work environment that embraces authenticity remains a significant challenge that can only be solved with our continued collective commitment.



Roxy has back hair with white streaks, she wears black glasses with a black beret and a red jacket. She stands in front of the Louvre.

Yujx Smith (he/him)

Yujx, a gay transgender man residing in London, is an art graduate who transitioned into the legal sector. He is a founder and leader of a queer World Cinema society that celebrates the work of marginalised filmmakers outside the European narrative. Currently, Yujx is working for a large international company and helps lead his workplace's Pride Employee Resource Group UK Chapter. Apart from his professional commitments, he takes a keen interest in sociological and political theories, particularly anti-fascism, queer liberation, and trauma recovery.


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


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

 

While you're here...


Did you know we consult with Businesses, ERGs and Change-Leaders providing bespoke corporate solutions? Through consultancy we design shared learning experiences, produce DEI insights and craft bespoke content that support individuals with strengthening their roles as change-agents within their communities and organisations. Find out more here.


We also organise FREE community events throughout the year! We offer a variety of ways to get involved - both online and in person. This is a great way to network and learn more about others' experiences, through in-depth discussion on an array of topics. You can find out what events we have coming up here. New ones are added all the time, so make sure you sign up to our newsletter so you can stay up to date!

Comments


bottom of page