written by Ortensia Èstelle de Loren (she/her), Manager of Content & Digital Marketing
My interest in the arts emerged at a young age. At the end of each summer trip to Brooklyn, my grandmother would take me into Manhattan and peruse through The Met or attend a New York Philharmonic concert. Born and raised in Haïti, she didn’t get her high school diploma until she moved to the United States much later in her life. She never knew the names of painters or composers, but you could see in her face how the arts moved her. I still remember listening to classical music on the radio as she cooked griot (fried pork) and diri ak pwa (rice and beans). The styles of Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, and others transported us to a world that was far different from our 14621 neighborhood. But it was part of her mentality to never let adversities overcome one’s dreams and destinies – a sentiment she instilled in her children and grandchildren.
Education was seen as a tool to overcome any adversity. History was my forte. I loved learning about female figures of the past. Cleopatra. Elizabeth I. Rochester’s own Susan B. Anthony. Eventually, my love of history turned into a study of the subject at The College at Brockport. My initial idea was to continue on for a Ph.D. and lecture at a university. Fortunately, I learned much early on that I had very little patience with undergraduate students.
But I had known since childhood that my body didn’t match with how I actually felt. ‘Transgender’ was not yet in my vocabulary. Growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, there were no transgender people breaking barriers in the fields of business or politics. We didn’t have trailblazers in classical music like Breanna Sinclairé, Mari Ésabel Valverde, and Tona Brown – the first Black trans woman to grace Carnegie Hall’s stage. But representation and trans-inclusivity in the past decade and a half have opened the doors for so many. Myself included.
My transition began while embarking on my professional journey here as a Patron Services Representative. I was nervous, initially. Portrayals of orchestras belonging to a stuffy, monocle-wearing monied class dominated my perception. But the fears of being an openly Black trans woman in the workplace quickly dissipated. The RPO family firmly believes that the workplace, like the art of music, should be accessible to everyone regardless of background. My thoughts and opinions carried as much weight as my peers. I’ve never felt discouraged to interact with patrons or musicians. And I never felt my gender identity was a barrier when applying for opportunities in other departments.
Fear is an interesting thing. It can limit us from realizing our potential. It can discourage us from taking chances or accepting opportunities. Fear deprives us of living. Fear is the greatest enemy of freedom. And I refuse to let fear take hold of my destiny.
I was raised in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the City of Rochester. The child and grandchild of immigrants. A person of the transgender experience. Today, I am the Manager of Content & Digital Marketing, with two master’s degrees and charm to boot. I am forever indebted to strong characters like my grandmother, who encouraged me to never give up or give in. And I am incredibly grateful to have the support of my RPO family, encouraging me every step of the way. But not every transgender individual is so fortunate or lucky.
Every second week of November, Transgender Awareness Week raises awareness and visibility for transgender people and address issues many continue to face. Transgender individuals statistically face issues when it comes to housing, employment, safety, healthcare, and social stigma. For BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) transgender people, the dual pains of transphobia and racism often result in a higher percentage of unemployment, inadequate housing, and violence. The week concludes with Transgender Day of Remembrance, honoring the memories of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence – more often, BIPOC trans women. Many transgender Americans continue to suffer under unfair and unjust conditions, despite living in a country founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Over the years, I’ve come to learn that Rochester has taken immense pride in supporting institutions like the RPO. And as the city of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, Rochester has also been a torchbearer for social justice. I hope our community never lets that flame go out.
For this Transgender Awareness Week, I encourage you to consider how you can foster trans-inclusivity in your daily lives. From creating a safe space to campaigning for equal rights, I hope you consider your part in ending anti-transgender hate, fear, and violence.
Be an ally. Be a supporter. Be an advocate. And watch what wonders a transgender person can create.