Maddie Morris is a Trade Commissioner at The Consulate General Of Canada in Seattle. She works on creating economic ties between Canada and the Pacific Northwest USA in the aerospace, defense/security, and advanced engineering sectors. She is the embodiment of walking how you want and a symbol for personal freedom and expression. We are proud to share her story for Zvelle In Conversation. Read to find out.
Maddie: As we’ve all learned during the pandemic, sometimes we can’t stop our personal and professional lives from crossing over. Transitioning genders in the workplace while holding a public-facing role is no exception to this. My LinkedIn post was meant to be an honest explanation of how this change in my personal life was going to directly impact my professional life and close circle of professional contacts. Ultimately though, this was a long-awaited, incredibly-significant moment in my personal life, which I think came through in the post. No matter how you package it, telling people you have transitioned genders is an incredibly vulnerable experience. While I am surrounded by open-minded and supportive folks in my daily life- the Internet is a big place. It was scary clicking ‘post’. I certainly wasn’t expecting the response that it received. To see the outpouring of support from people (even strangers) and how sharing a small glimpse into your life can make an impact on conversations surrounding ‘gender in the workplace’ and ‘what it means to be professional’, is both incredibly validating and humbling. I hope seeing the reaction to my post can help other folks transitioning genders or considering bringing their whole selves to work to know that they are supported by so many other people.Elle: Understandably there are many layers of emotions and changes of all kinds one goes through while transitioning. I cannot fathom how challenging the emotional journey must be. What anchored you through this process? And what did you learn about yourself?
Maddie: First and foremost, the people in my life have anchored me; friends, work colleagues, and a long list of strangers that were willing to sit down over a cup of tea and share their life experiences and insights into the evolution of the LGBTQ2 community. To not mention the people in my life first would be a disservice to my appreciation for the amazing, caring, and supportive people that have stood by my side throughout the transition process. It seems like every day I am still learning something new about myself. I have never really viewed myself as an especially strong person, but going through this process has shown me that, in the hardest moments, I am stronger than I ever imagined.Elle: In your post you shared that "To some people, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is more than just a meeting or values statement, it is a source of hope that one day, they too, could bring their whole selves to work. I am so happy that I get to now too." Can you please share the moment you first decided to be your full self and the first step you took towards honouring your most authentic self?
Maddie: During undergrad I had a health scare where my family was told I would likely not survive because of encephalitis of the brain. I was fortunate enough to make a full recovery. Upon recovering, I recognized that clearly I only had one life to live and wanted to spend it living a fulfilling life as my most authentic self. Due to the prohibitively high cost of medical care related to transitioning in the United States, policies and regulations in some parts of the country that are meant to ‘gate-keep’ this care, and general public attitude towards the transgender community over the past decade- it took me over 7 years from making the initial decision to live my life to starting hormone replacement therapy. I am lucky though, this timeline is a lot shorter than many other members of the transgender community in the US, and is a sign of privilege in its own way. There are many young adults in the US faced with the choice of whether to have a roof over their heads with their biological family or to be happy in life as themselves. One of my biggest dreams would be for the next generation to grow up in a world where not a single child is forced to make that decision.Elle: You have an interesting professional journey, can you share some highlights about your current work as Trade Commissioner for the Canadian Government and previous work with the British Government.
Maddie: During my career in diplomacy, I have been privileged to be a small part of a few big moments in international governance. I worked in Scottish Parliament during their referendum for independence, for the United Kingdom’s Department for International Trade during Brexit, and currently have the pleasure of representing the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service out of the Canadian Consulate in Seattle supporting continued cross-border trade. In addition to my professional career, I wrote my Masters dissertation on the Lebanese economy- spending time in Beirut speaking with government representatives in the early years of the Syrian refugee crisis. My greatest highlights from all these experiences are the ability to travel and the countless conversations I have had with folks from around the world. Learning about other cultures and customs has taught me to be a more respectful, open-minded, and inclusive person.
Maddie: It feels weird to be called a role model for the LGBTQ2 community when there are so many other people that have spent much more time publically out and discussing issues of gender and sexuality at a higher level than myself, but one piece of advice I can offer to well-meaning allies from my personal experience is to be patient and to not push folks for additional information too much during the coming out process. Commonly, well-meaning allies will want clear directions on how to approach a specific situation or address a certain topic with their recently out friend. Though asking members of the community to identify their preferences is a great baseline for folks outside the community (especially pronouns), also being willing to accept that sometimes members of the community don’t have the answers is important. Sometimes we don’t know things, or there isn’t a particularly simple answer, or we don't feel comfortable sharing, or, even sometimes, we’re still trying to figure it out for ourselves. I am asked almost daily from other people how they want me to approach a situation that I had never even thought of until the question was asked!Elle: What brings you joy?
Maddie: Watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race! Shout out to my favorite queen Kylie Sonique Love. I grew up in South Carolina, and always try to support my Southern queens. Beyond how fun the series is to watch for entertainment purposes, I also greatly appreciate the series for illustrating the stories of young queer Americans (and now Canadians, Brits, and others) to the wider public. For those in the LGBTQ2 community that may have never seen their story portrayed on television or in the movies- it means the world to see someone like you depicted on television in a positive way. Watching Drag Race with my then partner made a significant impact in the early days of my own journey to self acceptance. As Ru says, “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”Elle: What are you still learning?
Maddie: Living life openly as woman is such an incredibly challenging experience when you haven’t lived that way for 30 years. In the last six months, things I have had to learn that most women have figured out by middle school include: how to use a hair tie, a crop top isn’t always appropriate, three-in-one conditioner/shampoo/body wash doesn’t work… the list is embarrassingly long but since this is on the Internet, I’m going to cut it off there.Elle: What is the last thing you did that scared you - other than sharing your true self with the world the way you did. And do any other fears measure up to this anyway?!
Maddie: Transitioning itself never stops- as such, almost every day has brought it’s own ‘scary’ new action or conversation. I had my first manicure/pedicure last week. I used a tanning bed for the first time the week before this. Honestly, it is amazing how different genders can interact so regularly yet live such completely different lives.Elle: What's the one thing you want people to take away from your story?
Maddie: I’ve learned that in the worst times, when every motion feels heavy and labored, when your efforts seem useless, when life feels stacked against you; there is hope. There is hope to live the life you want to live. There is hope for a better future. There is hope to find happiness. There is always hope. Know you are loved just the way you are, and everything will be okay. Being vulnerable is scary, but with just a little bit of courage, I promise, there is a whole new world waiting for you.Elle: What does Walk How You Want mean to you?
Maddie: To me, ‘Walk How You Want’ means being unapologetically you, to have the courage to be your most authentic self to others; to your family, to your friends, at work… If you want to present more feminine, be feminine, if you want to present more masculine, be more masculine. Be you, whatever that means.