Tamsin Wallace wants to empower allies with knowledge and encourages active allyship, inside and outside of the workplace. She shares her experiences with Louise Sinnerton from myGwork
BY MYGWORK, IMAGE BY TAMSIN WALLACE.
Tamsin Wallace has worked at Enterprise for three years in pre-litigation non-fault recoveries. She has absolutely loved working there, stating: “It has been fantastic. Getting to really be myself alongside my day job liaising with insurers on behalf of customers means the confidence I have gained has been monumental”. During her transition, Tamsin had a huge amount of support and she praises how management and colleagues have always rallied around her and been inclusive: “Enterprise’s main ethos is to look after your customers and your staff. Do that and the money will look after itself. We’ve gone from strength to strength and for me, that is a testament to those attitudes and how they come to fruition.”
Tamsin has been asked to speak on panels for IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia) and Mental Health Awareness Week, with other industry professionals and charities, and has subsequently organised and presented a webinar by herself.
“I gave a webinar called In My Shoes as part of Enterprise’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee, speaking about my childhood, coming out as trans, my experiences in the workplace and what great allies have done to be so supportive.” Tamsin stands strongly for education, helping others to learn about areas they may not have any direct experiences in. She freely shares her lived experience and research to help get the right information out there: “If there is information that is wrong that comes from a reputable ally, that can be as damaging, if not more so, than misrepresented information, or information with an agenda coming from a more dubious source that deliberately seeks to harm or undermine. The best thing you can do is be properly informed.”
For Tamsin, it was a long journey to arrive at Enterprise with the confidence and tenacity to help educate others. University was not an obvious choice for her because of social reasons, though her path may have been different had she had the chance to attend. “At the time everyone was heading to university, I felt so lost in myself. I had no real direction or drive for any one particular goal. I grew up in quite a conservative Christian household with my grandparents and father. Part of the reason it took me so long to discover who I was is that I didn’t see any trans people, and actually, didn’t know of any LGBTQIA+ people growing up. Growing up in the wake of Section 28 meant anything LGBTQIA+ was not discussed or allowed to be taught in schools. I was quite sheltered, so I had to really look into myself to figure it out.” Tamsin spent a decade of her career after college working in both retail and sales. Not long before joining Enterprise, things started to fall into place for her.
“My ‘egg’ cracked not long before joining. I had had a big falling out with my partner at the time and was left racked with panic attacks and, overnight, with nowhere to live. I realised there was something clearly going on and going wrong to have got to the point where things ended so explosively. I had been deeply unhappy for a long time, through no fault of my partner, and I elected to spend five or six years single, no matter what, to really work on myself and get the support and help I needed. It was in that time period when I started educating myself and acknowledging the importance of my mental health and past traumas I had repressed and neglected”.
What finally put the pieces of the puzzle into place and revealed the big picture was when Tamsin, an avid reader, stumbled upon a piece of fiction online about a young man who was unwilfully transformed into a woman. The themes really resonated with her: the distress of the character coming to terms with a body that initially didn’t feel right to them, the social transition and issues with identity, family, being a teenager anew from an entirely different perspective, internal and external conflict, new discoveries, eventual acceptance and liberation into a life that was dramatically different from before.
“From a few chapters in I was totally hooked and didn’t know why. It was written well enough but hardly a masterpiece of prose. Still, there was something undeniably compelling about the story, tugging at me insistently. It was all about him growing into the new life that had been thrust upon him, now her, and having finished the story I sought out others. The more I explored the topic, the more it made sense. The more it made sense, the more I read. I branched out, reading not just stories but articles and other factual, less fanciful accounts of similar experiences.”
Tamsin read studies, forum posts, research and scholarly debates – anything and everything she could get her hands on. “I devoured it all. Eventually, I had to acknowledge that there was something there, whether I wanted it or not, and that my research was more than mere ‘curiosity’ in an interesting and complex subject.”
That being said, it was far from easy and Tamsin adds that she repressed her feelings for a while. “It was a Pandora’s box situation. Even when I tried to put the lid back on, the pressure kept building. Eventually, something had to give”.
After a year, Tamsin decided to explore who she was seriously, rather than keep pushing her burgeoning self-revelations down. After coming out to friends, and then family, she found out about the support that Enterprise offers and felt that things slowly started clicking into place. “I came out as myself on IDAHOBIT day and was overwhelmed with support. From then on, it has just been me.”
This year the spotlight has fallen on her with opportunities she didn’t expect but is immensely grateful for, and she wants to use it to help people understand how to be an effective ally. Having supportive friends who listened and took her particular daily struggles into consideration made such a difference to her that Tamsin suggests that others make their allyship very public and invitational.
“That can really help people to feel confident, and come out and be themselves. This matters so much because being transgender isn’t just some passing fancy or a fetish or anything shallow, and it’s not something we get to choose to be. This is our identity, who we are, our very lives, and we should have the ability to be able to walk safely down the street without persecution just for existing. And so we have to fight for it. We need people alongside us who understand, who accept, who protect and speak out, particularly while there are influential people pushing anti-trans, anti-LGBTQIA+, and anti-POC agendas”.
“I feel like trans people now are, broadly speaking, where gay, lesbian and bisexual people were, say, 20 to 30 years ago. It’s all recycled bigotry and erasure. The same arguments that were made about lesbian, gay, and bisexual people back then, were made about people of colour before that.”
Tamsin goes on to provide more advice for potential allies and the public at large, as she is keenly aware of how people who hold harmful views can misrepresent narratives to make dangerous concepts seem like “reasonable concerns”.
“This is often why if you scratch the surface off of one type of bigotry, you find more underneath. A good way to identify it is to reskin the argument. Change the topic from being about trans people and see how dubious the narrative seems then. Fairweather allies are all well and good but it is the active allies that make the biggest difference. If you are in a war zone – and it is sadly something of a war zone legally and societally for trans people at the moment – you need everyone armed and fighting alongside you, not firing blanks or just waving flags from the sidelines.”
Tamsin tries to gently steer people away from the everyday superficial questions, encouraging people to consider the tougher topics and educate themselves on the facts, so that they’re equipped to support their LGBTQIA+ friends and family. She also relays how it can be the little things that make a real difference, such as people gendering her correctly when she’s not in the room. Those seemingly small acts are just as important as people who are willing to go away and have the presence of mind to be introspective and work on themselves, their unconscious biases, and seek to understand and grow. Tamsin explains that something as apparently trivial as someone instinctively gendering her correctly makes a difference, as it shows that people truly see her for her. Their correct use of her pronouns is not a performative or conscious effort, that to them she truly is the woman she is, that they accept her, and will have her back when she needs it.
Tamsin encourages people to inform themselves by reading GLAAD’s tips for allies and a guide to being a good ally, among other resources. Reflecting on her time with Enterprise, the panel, the webinar and sharing her story, Tamsin shared her final thoughts: “Yes, there can be pressure when you are spearheaded as some sort of arbiter of knowledge within a business or social circle about a particular group or education. I’m not going to pretend that I have all of the answers, nor that speaking up like this and putting myself out there doesn’t come with a certain degree of risk and the need for candor and sensitivity, but it is important to talk about these things. I view the chances I’ve been afforded to raise awareness this year as huge opportunities to bring a topic that matters so much to me to the mainstream. I strive to be an approachable source of information, unashamedly myself, and if someone wants to take my words away and think about them, and/or reach out, that’s great! I can ask for nothing more. At the end of the day, however dear to my heart this is, I’m only one tiny voice. All I can do is try to help where I can. But, one pebble can be all it takes to start a landslide. One person taking a stand can end a regime. And one voice, however tiny, can be the aria that preludes a chorus of change”.
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