As my regular reader may recall, I recently posted an article about the Hollard Daredevil Run. I won’t bore you by repeating the article (please follow the link if you want to get the full story), but suffice to say, I was not best pleased that the run is only open to men (and boys) and that as such it excludes both trans and cisgender women (and girls). I felt this was both discriminatory and out of step with the 21st century.
I was somewhat surprised that within a day of the post going public, Hollard reached out to me through Twitter.
Hello Daniella and thank you so much for your views – as the owners of the Daredevil property, we as Hollard welcome & appreciate your passion. In particular, we recognise that transgender voices are important and too seldom heard, so your post and engagement is important to us.
— Hollard Insurance (@Hollard) January 19, 2018
Let us know if you’d be keen to join us for a cup of coffee so that we can share with you our thinking and the history of the race and so that we can engage more meaningfully with your perspective.
Heidi Brauer @heidibeeee, Chief Marketing Officer, Hollard
— Hollard Insurance (@Hollard) January 19, 2018
We made contact and set up a meeting. Unfortunately, due to a series of scheduling conflicts, we were only able to meet yesterday (7 February) almost three weeks after the post was published.
I was more than a little apprehensive at attending the meeting. Firstly, whilst I am confident meeting a wide range of people professionally, this would be the first time that I would be meeting face to face with cisgender people in a professional environment whilst en femme. I was unsure of how I would be received, and I wanted to behave ‘appropriately’.
Secondly, I was a little concerned about the practicalities of the meeting. The meeting was to be held, relatively informally (thank goodness) over coffee in the coffee shop in the Hollard corporate headquarters. So far, all good. Only problem would be getting in to the corporate headquarters. Johannesburg is a ‘car city’. We all drive everywhere and there are often very few (if any) pedestrian entrances to shopping malls, office parks etc. I was planning on driving so this was ok, but I also knew that the security at many office parks will scan your car registration and your driver’s license upon entry. This is done to ensure they know who has entered and exited the office park and to reduce the chance of car theft. All good… Except my driver’s license is in my male name! Fortunately, at the last minute my spouse said that she would accompany me to the meeting, I think she sensed my nervousness.
Thirdly, I was a little anxious about how the meeting would go. Would I be misgendered? Were these people reactionary or progressive? Would they be angry that I had taken issue with a project that they clearly (and obviously) were very passionate about?
Finally, what was I going to wear? Daniella has never had to attend a ‘business’ meeting before. I therefore lack professional clothes, I do not own a single pantsuit! I know, Hilary Clinton would be most disappointed!
I decided to go with skinny jeans, cowboy boots, my Venetian top and a pink scarf. I accessorised with some bling, because me, but tried to tone it down from the usual extreme blinginess. I am not sure I succeeded. What do you think?
Yes, I know I have worn this outfit quite a lot lately, but I really like it and I think it suits me. Also, whilst it was undoubtedly casual it was, I think, appropriate for a meeting in a business environment. (the denim skirt was a definite no, for example).
We got ready and I did some work before it was time to leave for the meeting. The short drive there was uneventful. When we arrived at the security check point I was very glad that my spouse was with me (and that she was driving). The security guard scanned the car registration and then asked for a driver’s license that he scanned. I am sure that if I had been driving handing over the license of a male would have raised eyebrows and led to some very personal questions being asked, possibly supervisors being called some embarrassment and certainly delays. As it turned out though we entered without difficulty.
The next obstacle to be overcome was reception. Whilst my spouse got through the security check, the meeting had been set up in my name, so I thought it best if I speak to the receptionist. She was professional and didn’t bat an eyelid. Either my voice is getting slightly less jarring or she is just really that good at her job… I am going with BOTH! She called our host’s PA and handed me a visitors’ log to complete. All good so far. Except there was a column for ‘signature’. What to do. I don’t have a signature for Daniella. I never sign anything as Daniella, legally, Daniella does not exist… I didn’t want to use my male name as that could just be confusing for all concerned and yet is it somehow dishonest to say you are someone that legally speaking is a fiction? I scrawled something illegible and decided to delay thinking about these questions until another day.
We were shown to the coffee shop and asked to wait. Within a few minutes Claire (our host’s PA) came down and was also very professional. My spouse tells me that it seemed to her that Claire was unable to distinguish between the two of us. Yay me. I was clearly having a ‘good presentation’ day. She offered us a coffee and I asked for a cappuccino, my spouse went for a hot chocolate. In no time at all our coffees arrived and shortly thereafter Heidi, our host, arrived, closely followed by two other members of the Hollard marketing team, Nikki and Warwick.
Heidi and Warwick gave us a rundown of how the run has evolved over the last nine years as well as some details on how the event works, why the event has been structured as it has been structured and more importantly what the purpose of the run is. They explained some of Hollard’s underlying philosophies and how the event feeds into these philosophies. My big take away from this was that Hollard as an organisation is genuinely committed to improving people’s health and wellbeing and that prostate and testicular cancer is seldom if ever spoken about in South Africa and that there is a lot of stigma associated with these cancers as a result of ignorance. Hollard wants to change this through awareness and education.
They pointed out that they have been challenged before with respect to women not being allowed to participate in the run itself. Their view is that the run provides men with a chance to interact with each other in an honest and non-competitive environment (it was explained that this is a run not a race). It seems that wearing nothing but a Speedo and a pair of running shoes strips away much of the pretence and machismo that so often afflicts men and that this then stripped away some of the inhibitions so many men have when it comes to talking about sex, sex organs and indeed health in general. I was reminded of what I often hear naturists say in relation to their interactions when nude… The Hollard team pointed out that if women were to participate in the event, their real concern (an opinion I happen to share) is that the spirit and the ethos of the event will change and in a manner, that is direct conflict with their stated goals. They fear that men will start to be more macho and more competitive. Those men who are more than averagely embarrassed by their bodies will stop attending (men are not immune from the negative self-image problem) and crucially those that do attend will be less open. They will be embarrassed to talk about their testicles, penises and prostates in front of women. Whilst I immediately recognise this is a symptom of fragile (and indeed toxic) masculinity, I also simultaneously realise that you are unlikely to change this problem in one day by suddenly allowing women to run in the event. Indeed, such a decision would likely be counterproductive and may in fact increase the likelihood and the instance of this fragile, toxic masculinity. Clearly the status quo is not ideal but how do you change it whilst still achieving your stated (and laudable) objectives?
The Hollard team were genuinely interested in hearing more about my perspective as this was a new challenge to them and they genuinely engaged with me in this regard. I started off by explaining that I was not representing any organisation, transgender people or indeed anyone but myself and that everything that I was telling them was very much a personal perspective. I went into some background about the health challenges transgender people face and pointed out that transgender women were almost as likely to develop prostate cancer as any cisgender man and that many transgender women could be at risk of contracting testicular cancer as well. This was surprising to them in that it was not something they had ever considered before. I then tried (with my admittedly limited ability) to explain dysphoria to them. I am not sure if they got the link between the need to self-examine your sex organs to detect potential problems and the problems this will create for a transgender person with extreme dysphoria, but I tried. I also tried to explain some of the problems transgender people have accessing health care and how being transgender often is at odds with looking after one’s health. I acknowledged that the transgender community was a relatively small niche within the broader society but we all agreed that we shouldn’t be excluding anyone and that making a small, but positive difference to society is what we are all about.
I agreed with them that suggesting that women could run down the road if they wore a bikini was probably not an ideal solution. Not only would it change the event, but not too many women would want to participate (I know I would be somewhat less than enthusiastic). I pointed out that I have participated in events that may have been primarily aimed at women, but that men were also able to participate in (eg Slutwalk) and that these seemed to work well. We agreed that given the issues and Hollard’s objectives for the run, there were no easy solutions, but the Hollard team did agree that they wanted to investigate this more and that there were perhaps things that could be done to make transgender people feel included in the project.
They were interested in some of the lived experiences I shared with them and they were struck by the insights I was able to give them into how our society works when you experience it from two different perspectives. We had a wide-ranging discussion talking about gender politics, transgender issues and other issues. We bounced around some ideas. I found the conversation stimulating and refreshing.
After one and half hours we all needed to get going. We agreed that whilst we had not solved any issues we had all got some food for thought. We also agreed that there was very little time to address anything before this year’s run (the run takes place in just over a month on 16 March), but that we could do some more thinking and see what could be done next year. Perhaps the language could be made more inclusive, perhaps we can use some the publicity the event creates (for example on radio stations) to start conversations about transgender health (and other) issues? There is quite a lot of good that could come out of this and I am looking forward to seeing where Hollard goes with this and I undertook to help them wherever and however I can.
I remain convinced that ideally no event should exclude any person based on their gender, sexuality, race, religion or any other factor. I would therefore still like to see the event being open to all, but I do realise that in the immediate future this would probably not work and could in fact undermine the good work that Hollard has done so far.
In conclusion I was really struck by the team’s willingness to engage, their openness to me as a person and to the transgender community as a whole and their genuine desire to improve and help. I hope that we do not lose the impetus that we have created and that we can all follow through on the ideas that we generated. My impression of the Hollard team is that they are a very empathetic and caring group of people and I look forward to working with them in the future.