“Unfortunately, transgender people end up at the very bottom of the financial totem pole, simply because we are who we are,” contends QueerCents’ new financial consultant, Ashley A. Wilson. “We get discriminated against employment wise, we get discriminated against when we go as consumers to buy things. The challenges are huge.”
Born in a small Philadelphia suburb to “your classic old fashioned, mainline, blue-blood family that’s been here since 1632,” Wilson still lives in the house she grew up in.
Although she identifies as a transsexual female, Wilson maintains she’s “not going to shy away from the fact that I spent the first 47 years of my life pretending to be a man. That experience in part made Ashley Wilson the woman she is right now. I like to think God gave us the global view, to sort of see both sides of the fence.”
In her male guise, Wilson parlayed a BS in Journalism from Temple University and an MS in Library and Information Science from Drexel University into a 25-year career as a “very successful” fundraising specialist serving nationally recognized nonprofit organizations.
Now, three years post transition, Wilson fears she’ll never again have “the kind of clients I used to get; the glitzy ones like the Independence Seaport Museum, and the Historical Societies and the Devereux Foundation.” Instead, she maintains, “I’ve been scrambling to get clients. And the ones I get now are nowhere near as well known or high profile or profitable.”
She may have spent 47 years in the guise of a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant man, but Wilson insists, during that time she “never realized just how privileged they are, and how the world caters to them. I was your classic blue blood republican WASP in a three-piece power suit and I completely repudiate that world now. I went to the polls on [election day] and I voted for Barak Obama!”
Brought up in privilege and comfort, Wilson admits “when I transitioned, it was such an incredible experience to…hear the stories of my fellow transgender people and realize just how insulated I had been from the world.”
She met less fortunate trans women, who were, Wilson says, “like broken human beings; I mean they just had horrible lives. And to hear them talk about their suicide attempts, and having to prostitute themselves…it makes you so angry.”
“I never would’ve imagined that at the age of 50, I would feel this way, that I would have become so—radicalized, and left wing,” says Wilson now. What she heard propelled Wilson to “do something,” and she asserts, “I’m determined, before I’m finished that I am going to make a difference for us in the world. I thought QueerCents was a good place to start.”
After a chance meeting with a QueerCents (queercents.com) representative, Wilson joined the LGBT finance syndicate a few months ago. Under the title ‘Our Money is as Good as Your Money,’ she addresses the unique fiscal issues facing trans people.
Although Wilson believes that the current economic situation “will get better eventually—it always does,” she maintains, “we’re going into a period of at least a year where stocks will either stay the same or get worse.”
For the trans community, already “horribly underemployed,” Wilson projects, “Things are going to be rough for us for a while—very rough. It will be harder for the transgendered to find employment, because they’re laying people off left and right. We’re going to have to do whatever we have to, to survive.”
“When you transition,” Wilson contends, “it almost forces you to become an activist because there’s no other way you can survive. You have to stand up for yourself, everywhere. You get tired of it. Like why does it have to be hard all the time? As I say in my [QueerCents] series, in those instances, ‘Remember, you’re a consumer: Don’t back down, don’t get scared and run away—stand up for your rights.”
Wilson suggests a similar approach to addressing the trans community’s legal and political woes: “We have to become activists…come together and come out of the shadows and stand up united and say, ‘We’re not asking for anything more than the rights that are supposedly ours as citizens of the United States of America.’”
Wilson also proposes co-opting mainstream society’s “strange fascination with us. You see us on the talk shows and the news magazines all the time. We have to, somehow, harness that interest and use it to our benefit.”
As a Board member for Trans Kids Purple Rainbow Foundation (transkidspurplerainbow.org), Wilson hopes that media exposure will translate to funding for research and education about transgender youth.
“Anything we can do to help these children I see as sort of our duty and our gift to the next generation,” enthuses Wilson, who recalls “setting off a fire storm,” herself as a toddler insisting, “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.”
“I know what I went through when I was that age. How lonely and scared and confused I was and how the world so beat up on me, to the point where I had to lie about everything, even to myself about the truth and try and try to fit in where I could never fit in—as a boy. People looked at me and saw an extremely effeminate boy and they assumed I was gay. And they beat the crap out of me because of it.”
“If we can keep these children from having to go through [those] kind of experiences,” Wilson argues now, “I think that would be worth something.”
That goal is one reason Wilson agreed to have her story featured on MyRightSelf.org, a project—funded in part by Philadelphia’s LGBT Health Center—exploring issues of identity perception and the body, which is aimed at educating health care professionals.
She also helped organize this year’s Philadelphia Trans Health Conference (trans-health.org).
“It was just a really life-affirming experience to see a thousand transgender people and their loved ones and family interacting in a positive way. It invigorates you. If a thousand people can come to a Pennsylvania convention center then yes, we can make a difference.”
In honor of The Transgender Day of Remembrance, the November 18th episode of Gender Blender, the radio show co-hosted by trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall, will focus on gender-based violence. Tune in 6-7pm PST, on Portland, Oregon's KBOO 90.7 (streaming live at kboo.fm). Contact Jacob at [email protected].
Missed the last "TransNation?" Read it here.