By Jensen Matar

Published in Clarion Ledger

My name is Jensen Matar, I am a transgender man residing in the beautiful state of Mississippi, and I belong here. Like many transgender and gender non-conforming folks of Mississippi, I have faced discrimination.

I am a small business owner and former retail general manager of 12 years. I began my social and physical transition from female to male as a retail manager, where I worked face-to-face with hundreds of employees and thousands of customers on a daily basis. I had to be very strategic throughout my transition as to not impose beliefs, create a hostile work environment, and negatively impact sales all while protecting myself and maintaining a high level of respect and professionalism in the workplace.

Regardless of my efforts, I still found myself having to bypass my direct report as he would mock me when not in my presence (and with those who directly reported to me, nonetheless). I've had to de-escalate unnecessary sales associate and customer conversations revolved around my gender, name, and pronouns. I have had customers refuse my assistance. I have been called an "it", a "she/he", and "the woman that thinks she's a man". I have had customers walk into my store, shake their heads, turn around, and leave. I have been laughed at in restrooms and I have been asked about my genitals by strangers.

For someone who was already struggling with coming to terms with their own identity and lacking support from family, this was taxing.

I'd also say, for someone transitioning in Mississippi, I've been quite fortunate. You might be thinking, how? Well, I was able to build a relationship with and educate my company's corporate Human Resource manager who then traveled cross country for a sit down meeting with my direct report, assistant managers, and sales associates. She educated this group on transgender basics and spoke on behalf of the company in support of respect for me and my transition. The result? Well, a few employees decided to leave but most gained insight and understanding; most realized that they didn't have to walk in my shoes to treat me with respect. This company, since, has incorporated nationwide policies to protect those transitioning in the workplace.

I am grateful but I can't help but think - What if I wasn't a General Manager? What if I wasn't deemed valuable enough to be listened to? What if my physical appearance didn't change to reflect that of society's standards of a man? Would I have been bullied, harassed, or discriminated against every day for the rest of my life? Would I have been fired or asked to resign for being me - for living my truth?

You see, now that I look like the man society finds acceptable and my legal documentations have been changed to reflect my identity, I face less discrimination. Not every transgender person will. And, I am the same man today as I was then.

Although the company I worked for adjusted their policies, there are no policy protections in place that are inclusive of gender identity on a state level here in Mississippi. Without these protections, I and other LGBT individuals cannot fully participate in society. I am valuable as you are valuable. All transgender and gender non-conforming people are valuable. We are civil, hard-working members of society with dreams and aspirations. We deserve to be seen, heard, protected, and treated as equal. We live here in Mississippi. I am Mississippi. We are ALL Mississippi. And, we belong here.