This Is What a Lesbian Looks Like: Kate Freitag
As the head mechanic of Bike and Roll New York City, Kate Freitag is an out lesbian transwoman overcoming financial and emotional obstacles. Freitag talks gender reassignment surgery, combatting discrimation and sharing her wisdom with the online community.
On being a head mechanic: I started working for Bike and Roll NYC in February of 2010 to take part in the largest bicycle assembly project the company has taken on to date. Included in the assembly of new fleet were about 600 pieces of equipment that would be sent to Governor's Island—the location for which I was hired to manage a team of mechanics. I took it upon myself to develop database systems for tracking the maintenance and inventory reporting on Governor's Island aside from my regular routine of maintaining and repairing the featured four-wheel bicycles for the whole family. By 2012, these systems included Bike and Roll NYC's entire fleet. I'm very much self-taught when it comes to computer hardware and software and I pieced together plenty of experiences working with nuts and bolts to be confident in what I do today.
While I am always a mechanic by trade, I became Fleet Operations Manager in October of 2011, a title that better describes the responsibilities I've taken on. Today, I oversee the movement, maintenance, repair, and reclaim of the bicycle equipment. While each bicycle gets individual attention, the work of processing as many bicycles is a full time job of its own. I enjoy working with all the staff, making time and space to develop their skills.
On gender reassignment surgery: Gender reassignment surgery has always been on my mind as long as I have known that I am transgender. I spent most of my days learning about the types of surgeries and the doctors who perform them. It takes so much planning, aside from the many tests one must "pass" in order to have surgery. As medical and psychological institutions are beginning to adjust standards to reflect a better understanding of transgender needs (with the general exception of the insurance industry), I would hope that I could be a candidate without trying to perform to an unrealistic test. More doctors recognize that each case is as unique as the next. My own decisions to change my given name and documented sex, take female hormones, sit through hundreds of hours electrolysis, and to have gender reassignment surgery all account for the fact that I understand the risks and the possible outcomes.
On overcoming burdens: I have not completely overcome all the financial burdens related to being transgender, but a few events in my career have increased my level of access to the services I need. The company has not tried to suppress my identity or encourage me to be quiet. Instead, we share my story as part of what makes our company unique. We tell that story as a team and encourage others to share what part of their story makes our company just as special. There's more to it than a paycheck. This puts me in the right place emotionally, so that when all the finances are worked out, I will not be waiting long to take the next steps.
I have also reached a point emotionally where I am willing to move slowly through all the physical steps of transition because with or without surgery, I have already transitioned and present myself as the woman I am now. It happens to be true that my body doesn't always help me pass as a cisgender woman. I was never really trying to hide that I am transgender. I wake up proud of the fact that I have come this far and there are a few items left on my checklist that would make me more comfortable with my body and sense of self.
On Orange Is the New Black: I can relate to so many of the characters in series. The institution can only force one to look and act the same for so long before one's identity may be the only thing that is allowed to break through. Given access to only the most basic essentials (or perhaps less), a person with a strong identity will find a way to get what they need. You can tell that Sophia very much appreciates to do her sentence in a women's facility despite whatever hardship she will face during her time there. One could only imagine how out of place she would be in a men's facility. When she realizes that doctors will take away her hormones, they could not take away her drive to get back to what is so important to her (and her health). I can relate in a very direct way, having been told to use a certain facility or being denied access to hormones. These characters' stories are told from so many directions and it's nice to see a trans character that is not the brunt of a joke. We realize that there is so much more to her transition than physiology: she has to be a family member too, inside and outside of the institution. Her story is told and accepted as seriously as the next character. I love them all and can't wait for the next season!
On facing discrimination: I don't face discrimination from either today. I suppose there was a time at which I thought I should avoid work that is usually dominated by men or that the lesbian community would not take me seriously. I recently marched and found a widespread acceptance of lesbian identified transwomen at the Annual Dyke March. I did not feel the need for a special invitation. I just showed up and knew that there would be a place for me. I share in the spirit of the march and it felt great to be around so many who would stand together against harassment and discrimination.
I guess I just don't like to keep bad company for very long. I find I will spend more time sharing with those willing to accept my story and move away from those that refuse to understand at all. I feel like I've become good at reading who is most willing to accept, but where I can't chose to stay or walk away is when I fear being discriminated against the most. I have experienced plenty of discrimination in situations where I need to deal with government administration. As much as I find people can adjust their thinking, government has always been slow to adjust when questions come up.
On sharing her wisdom: I was once a regular member of support channels where transpersons could reach out to one another when Internet Relay Chat before blogs and Twitter became popular. My first safe space, these online hangouts, were where I found most of the conversations to actually be completely unrelated to being transgender. People would just share greetings and a story of their day. It felt like we were all just real people who would occasional share about being trans. Today, I share my thoughts primarily through Facebook with most of my posts available to the public. (twitter.com/twopinkwheels)