Ada Fairweather, a 29-year old trans woman, describes her journey to living an authentic life as going from thinking she was a boy who fantasized about being a girl to living as an adult woman. “I no longer see gender as a big deal. So I describe myself as pansexual. “I identify as a woman, but my transition has made me feel that gender isn’t really important to me in choosing a romantic partner. This term pansexual seems to be a bit more inclusive as it gets out of the binary.”
Unfortunately Ada’s employer, a Greenville based information services company, felt Ada’s transgender status would make the other ten or so people they employed uncomfortable. Hence, on October 12, 2012, she was summarily fired from her job as a computer programmer. After giving her a month and a half of severance pay, they told her not to return to work. Prior to this date, she chose to come out as transgender to her boss during a performance review held a few weeks prior to this date. During this meeting, Ada expressed her fear of being fired but she was reassured by her boss this would not happen. So far, Ada has been unable to secure another position despite being employed in her position for that past six years where she designed much of the code used by this company.
Ada landed this job at a job fair and noted how her Christian employer was impressed by her computer science major, as well as the fact that she attended Bob Jones University (BJU). She grew up attending churches connected to BJU, which led to her enrollment in Bob Jones Academy. Since her mother worked at BJU, Ada was able to attend this school without incurring any debt where she graduated in 2006.
During her time at BJU, she seemed to have the typical life of a student attending a fundamentalist college–she hung out with friends, went to classes and graduated without any incident. But unlike those students looking to find their biblical soulmate, Ada did not date. Instead, she bottled up her feelings because she did not believe she was a whole person due to her desire to be a woman. She reflects, “I was taught that homosexuality was a sin and a sign that a person is so far gone they can’t be saved anymore.” The barrage of sermons and lectures given at BJU and affiliated churches touting the evils of any sexual expressions outside of traditional marriage added to her profound sense of shame about her inner feelings about her gender identity.
Until Ada went on reddit in early 2011 and found the transgender sub-reddit connected to the LGBT sub-reddit, she didn’t have the language to express her internal sense of self. The stories she read meshed with her own experiences and helped her to take steps to live her life authentically. She moved out of her parents’ house and found an apartment. This gave her the private space she needed to move beyond her very sheltered childhood so she could begin to explore her feelings and experiment with wearing her dresses.
Shortly thereafter, Ada began to present herself as a woman in public. “The idea of going stealth is not for me. I feel it’s important to be honest and say, this is who I am. I feel there’s nothing to be ashamed about in being transgender.” During this journey, she met a trans woman who also lived in South Carolina who helped her come out. In addition, Ada, now a self-professed agnostic, began communicating with some former students from BJU who were also going through their own journeys in rethinking the fundamentalist religion of their childhoods.
During the same time frame when Ada lost her job after she came out as transgender, she experienced a similar dynamic with her family. After she got up the courage to share her transgender status, she found herself pleasantly surprised when they acted loving and understanding toward her though they clearly did not understand what was going on. They decided they would tell her sister and brother-in-law during a dinner on October 5, 2012, which was the Friday before Ada’s birthday.
“I was elated regarding what looked like acceptance by my family until my dad called and told me not to show up to my birthday dinner wearing women’s clothing. During our phone conversation, I expressed concern for my niece who was ill and he questioned how they could tell her given her current state. When I got the dinner, the evening wasn’t a conversation but emotional abuse. None of them brought up religious arguments against LGBT people, though they did feel I was being manipulated by the Internet. After my Arabic brother-in-law told me that if he had come out to his father like I did to mine, his father would have murdered him, I just curled up into a shell. Since this evening, I’ve only had one conversation with my dad where I set up some boundaries. To date, my dad has only contacted me via text messages. I don’t have any family at the moment.”
Following this family dinner implosion, Ada met for a scheduled post-birthday dinner with her friends on October 12th, which incidentally was also the day she got fired. Currently, she relies on her network of friends for support. After talking to one person through BJUnity, a group that affirms and empowers LGBT+ people from Bob Jones University and other Independent Fundamental Baptist organizations, she put a post on BJUnity’s Facebook page. Ada was encouraged by the fantastic and loving responses she received after this posting. Also, she notes that even in conservative Greenville, SC, she is welcome as a woman in the the same restaurants and stores she frequented when she presented as a man.
Moving forward, Ada continues to look for a job where she can be accepted as a trans woman. “Going back in the closet is not an option for me,” she states secure in the knowledge of her gender identity though her employment prospects remain uncertain.
For those who might view this case as yet another case of Southern bigotry, South Carolina is one of 29 states that at present do not offer protections that prevent employers from firing someone on the basis of their gender identity or expression. Check out this map courtesy of the Center for American Progress to see if you live in a state where trans people can be fired for simply choosing to live their lives.