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Ben Greene, International Public Speaker and LGBTQ Inclusion Consultant, discusses his work as a trans activist, educator and resource for various organizations as they work to build acceptance and allyship within their communities. For more information, go to https://www.bgtranstalks.com/.
Steve Peacher: Hi everybody. It's Steve Peacher, President of SLC Management. We have a really interesting session today. Joining me is Ben Greene, who's an international public speaker and LGBTQ Inclusion Consultant. Ben, thanks for taking a few minutes today.
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah, thanks. It's great to meet you, like you, said I'm Ben Greene. I use he/him pronouns. I'm happy to be here.
Steve Peacher: You've connected with SLC Management. You've interacted with our group ‘Allies Acting for Change.’ You know we were just talking about this before we started this recording, and that was, you had originally connected to Crescent Capital that we invested in, and then that led to an interaction with ‘Allies Acting for Change.’. And I know that I got great feedback, and so today we really wanted to dive into the issues that you talk about all the time around. All the issues around transgender people, you know, issues in the workplace, outside of the workplace, etc. So I think it'll be really interesting for people. You're an activist. You're an educator. I'd be interested to know what does that mean to you? But also, maybe, before that, just tell the audience a little bit about yourself. You know what your story is. How did you come to this? And then, when that'll lead into a bunch of other issues that I know we want to talk about.
Ben Greene (he/him): So you know, I work as a trans activist. I'm a transgender man. I came out when I was 15 years old when I was living in Western Connecticut, and no one around me had ever really heard of that before. And so you know why I do this work is because, as I was coming out the people around me were largely supportive and kind, but they didn't really know what to do. And so I like to say that I feel like I had jumped out of a plane with a tarp and the sewing kit. And now, as a trans adult I like to be the parachute factory, so I like to focus on building supportive structures and systems so that people get to feel supported as they are and don’t feel like they have to build those for themselves. They can just exist happily. So I do a lot of work with companies, hospitals, schools, organizations, really anybody who wants to learn. And that's, so I think I’m an educator, an activist and a resource. I show up in a lot of different ways for people. But I’m really fortunate to get to do the work that I do is really cool.
Steve Peacher: In your in your bio that we talked about you mentioned Weston Connecticut, and you were one of 2 transgender people in your home, in that in Weston, I guess at the time.
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah.
Steve Peacher: Were you the only person at the time when you were 15 who had come out in your high school?
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah.
Steve Peacher: Well, I'm interested to maybe dive into that a little bit like, you know. I'm thinking back to my high school days which were a long time ago and I can just imagine how foreign that would have been to people, and how people would have reacted, and so maybe talk a bit about that reaction. You just said that you had a lot of support yet at the same time that it was really hard and then maybe it wasn't completely supportive. So what was what did you encounter?
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah, I think that it was a lot of. There were a lot of people who were interested in being supportive but have no idea what that meant. In the beginning it looked like a lot of questions. Some where people just say, ‘hey, what does transgender mean?’ Which for anyone who's new to that word, you know, using our SAT breaking down the word skills, trans just means across or different. And so it means that the gender I was assumed to be at birth based on the body that I had, female, is not correct. I identify as male. Someone who is not transgender would be called cisgender, cis, just meaning same. So you do identify with the gender you were assumed to be at birth. And so it started with a lot of questions about what are all these different identities? What are all the different experiences people have? And a lot of really invasive questions as well about my body parts and my sexuality, and things that like you wouldn't normally ask a person that you didn't know that well. And one of the really interesting things that I observed was that I had two entirely separate coming out experiences in my school. I had the coming out to the girls and the coming out to the boys. The girls were largely, they had a lot of questions, but they were very kind. They thought it was cool and interesting, and they were generally pretty nice about it. The boy students, I was out in my school for about a year and a half before I graduated, I would say that there was probably a male student using the correct name and pronouns for me 10 times total in high school. They wanted nothing to do with me. They were objectively unkind or let me know I wasn't welcome in a lot of their spaces. So. It was very, very different between the two groups.
Steve Peacher: As you reflect back on that experience, you have any thoughts as to why you think those responses between those two groups were so different?
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah, yeah, I think in part, you know, there is a lot that has to do with the way we socialize boys and girls to think about it and understand their feelings. So I was coming at it from a very feelings perspective of saying, ‘hey, you know, I feel that I identify as male. Here's what I'm going through. It's really challenging.’ And the girls around me have been socialized to say, ‘yes, we know how to talk about feelings, we know how to have a lot of these conversations. And boys had been socialized to say, you know, don't be emotional, be logical, be rational if it doesn't have a background in science, which, by the way it does. But if I’m not hearing the science and a the cold hard facts I'm not interested. And so there was. You know we don't spend a whole lot of time teaching young boys’ empathy and emotional conversation skills, and so I think they were just, they had a much harder time adapting and understanding, you know why feelings matter. And you know, I think that high school boys tend to be a little bit meaner than high school girls, or meaner in a way that was affecting need more directly than the ways high School girls can be mean, not to really fall into the like stereotypes that people fit. But that was my guess is that they just didn't want to talk about feelings, and that was the best way at the time that I could describe what was going on.
Steve Peacher: One more question on the on this topic, as and now you look back, that was that was a while ago. Now you're I most of your time interacting in you in the adult community, not the high school community. So, do you find that your interactions or the response is different anymore between the male population and the female population? Or is that really not a distinction now, as you're dealing in a in a kind of a different group?
Ben Greene (he/him): To be honest I notice it even more. Now, you know, I do a lot of work in parent groups, and almost every parent group I join, it's mostly moms who say, you know, ‘my kid came out. I wanted to be supportive. Dad's not supportive. What do we do?’ Or, if I give a presentation at a company it's typically the women who are engaging, who are turning their cameras on, asking really good questions. I'm always a little bit nervous when they're like, because I have had very few interactions with men like yourself just being very interested and curious and open. That's not something that I see as much, unfortunately, because I think that we learn a lot about masculinity and about what we're allowed to talk about and feel and understand. And you know, the longer you live in the world the more internalized those messages get. And so it makes sense that it's even harder for people to overcome if they've been hearing it for 40 years versus 16.
Steve Peacher: That's interesting, I you know. Hopefully, we're seeing a lot of change. I think about my kids, I have 3 kids. They're all in their twenties, now one’s 30, and I just saw them grow up much more, and I don't think this had anything to do with me, but just much more accepting of, you know they did have a transgender person in their high school anything twice about it, you know. And so I think they're more programmed, and their whole, all the people they grow up with, just to be more accepting, probably not completely, but certainly much more so than the people I went to school with in the late seventies, early eighties. That's for sure, so.
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah, I think with you know, it's the statistics they came out with last summer is that one in six Gen. Z is openly identifying as LGBTQ. And that like, if you're exposed to a group that much it, of course it feels normal. It is normal in the world around you, and so it makes sense that the young people today are in general much more accepting. Nobody had an easier time with my coming out than my 4-year-old cousin who was like, ‘yeah, okay, sure, whatever. You want to come and play with me?’ like it was no big deal for her.
Steve Peacher: Let me switch gears, at the beginning of this podcast you shared your pronouns so a couple of questions on that. You know why, why do you do that and would you expect everybody to do that? Like, what are your thoughts around that, and what kind of response do you get when you know, because I’m sure that that's the normal, you do that frequently. What kind of response do you get?
Ben Greene (he/him): Definitely a hot topic for the past couple of years. So first want to say the trans people didn't invent pronouns Sometimes I’ll have people say like, ‘oh, well, you know, if you want to have pronouns. That's fine, but it's not for me.’ And I’m like oh, well, if I could call you she or he or they congratulations you have pronouns. They’re something that we all have it's just what we use to refer to each other besides our names, and there are a lot of reasons why it's great to share them. Number one is because I don't know what your pronouns are, right. I could look at you and say, all right, I see the jacket you're wearing. I see the shirt that you're wearing. I'm gonna go with, maybe you look like a Rob, that would be socially a really weird thing for me to do, to see how you look and guess your name. I feel the same about pronouns. I could make an educated guess, and I might be right, but if I’m wrong it's just kind of uncomfortable for both of us so I’d rather just ask and get it right the first time. And I think initially, when I started sharing my pronouns, especially when things moved to Zoom, and I put them in my Zoom name, I had a lot of people messaging me privately, saying, what does that mean? Why do you have that? And as more people started to do it, it became much more normalized. And so it doesn't identify me as an outsider anymore. It's not a weird thing. And then, as allies to share your pronouns, it indicates that you're a safe person. So right I live in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm always doing mental math figuring out who around me as a safe person. Do they know I’m trans. Are they going to have an issue, and there's been a really intense rise in transphobia and homophobia and hate crimes. So I've got to be really aware, like many other LGBTQ people, and when I see someone share their pronouns in my mind, I'm like, okay I can pause the mental calculus for a second. I know that this person is making a conscious choice to do a little thing that makes a big difference to be an ally. And so I see someone share that their pronouns and I identify that they're a safe person, and that, that makes a difference for the people who are kind of figuring out you know how everyone is and doing a little bit of a vibe check, as the kids say. It makes it feel a little bit more comfortable.
Steve Peacher: I definitely notice I think everyone does it in people's email kind of by line. You see it all the time. What I don't notice as much is that people will mention them when they when they introduce themselves. I think that's, I find that's much less common. But I would say over the last 5 years it's been a dramatic increase in those who would you know, after their name and their email.
Ben Greene (he/him): Yeah.
Steve Peacher: Let me, you know. Let me let me talk and you know step back a bit. I mean you're very open about your identity, I mean I watched the Ted Talk that you had recorded going back, I think you said in 2019, it was all about being open about it and what it meant to you and trying to educate people about it. Why has that been so important for you to do this? I mean you could have not been this public right? You could just kind of go about your life, and be who you are, but not be kind of shouting from the rooftops when you you've looked for those opportunities. Why have you done that?
Ben Greene (he/him): When I was coming out there were, they say you have to see it to be it. And that means that you have to be able to see someone doing something you dream of doing to know it's possible for you, and so I had never seen ever a happy trans adult. And so, when I was coming out and growing up, it was really hard for me to imagine that I could ever be happy or successful, or just age at all, because I had literally never seen it, especially not in trans men. And then I met this trans actor, who put on a really powerful production of a show where he had a happily ever after, and it was so cool and I was so excited to talk to him after and he shared with me that he had had a similar experience 20 years before. The first time he saw a transgender person on stage, and how much it changed his world to meet a trans adult, and that he was then getting to be that for me. That was a really magical moment for him. And so I said, you know, I want to be able to be the reason someone can look at me and say, oh, I can be trans and find success and love and joy, and there's no wrong way to be trans. I don't think that people who are just, you know, having it be one part of their history and living as they are, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I want to build a world where everyone gets to do that, and by being really visible I let other people know that it is possible to be who they are, and go into anything to, you know, to be trans and. So I love getting into spread that message to people.
Steve Peacher: The question I want to ask is around what advice you can get to others. The word allies has been a used a couple of times in this in our conversation and I know on the Ted Talk I watched you spent part of that on talking, kind of giving advice, what people can do to be supportive. So, for the listeners who are listening to this, what can you tell them about the best way to be an ally, to be supportive of those in the transgender community as you're at work in out in society, wherever. What would you tell me?
Ben Greene (he/him): You know, when I think of allyship I think of 3 categories which is knowledge, language, and action. Language we already kind of talked about, which is one of the biggest tips, is just share your pronouns. It's a small thing that makes a really big difference to a lot of the people around you. In the knowledge category, you know, try to learn more about the trans community. Learn more about what's going on in your area. If you're in the U.S. you know a lot of different states have very different things going on with anti-trans policies. Learn more about trans stories. If you like books or TV shows or movies, find trans stories in those pieces of media because that helps build that empathy and that understanding. If you want to learn more about the general vocab, the TEDx talk that Steve and I have mentioned, it's called ‘Where are you sitting?’ That's a great kind of one-to-one level resource for a lot of this information in that knowledge category. And then for action the biggest thing I would say is, step up if you hear something, and I know that it's really obvious to say. If somebody is saying something, you know, super homophobic or super transphobic, it feels pretty obvious that you would step in and say something. I want to talk more about the casual jokes and things that people make, because that's where a lot of it spreads in the locker room or behind the closed door when you feel like nobody's watching, and you can make a joke about the pronouns someone uses, or the way Caitlin Jenner dresses or whatever it is, those jokes are what, they're not all the way really jokes. They are the belief that we have, and we're making those jokes because we have those beliefs. And so stepping up for those jokes lets people know those beliefs, aren’t okay and they're not going to get all the way to the level of someone making homophobic or transphobic comments because they will have been stopped a little bit earlier. So, stepping in, saying things like I'm curious can you explain the punchline of that joke. I don't think I get it. Or can you explain why you think that's funny? Standing up against transphobic jokes is something that I think it seems small, but makes a really big difference, and you never know who's watching. You never know if there is a trans person in the closet right? Only 30% of LGBTQ and employees in the U.S. are out to everyone in their workplace. You never know who has a transgender child or loved one or family member. And so saying those things lets all the people around you know A. that they're not allowed to do things that are hurtful. And B. that you are an ally whenever someone needs it or feels ready to tell you.
Steve Peacher: Well, that's all, it's all really good, and this has been really fascinating. I as you're talking, I could think about 5 or 10 more questions I'd love to delve into, of course, that we just don't have the time. I thank you for interacting with our ‘Allies Acting for Change.’ That's what led to this podcast, and I hope everyone got a lot out of this. I know I did. So, Ben thank you very much.
Ben Greene (he/him): Thank you for having me. This has been a pleasure.
Steve Peacher: And, thanks to everybody who's listening to this episode of “Three in Five.”
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