Natalie Egan, 40
Not many of us get to see what life is like on both sides of the gender divide, but for transgender activist and tech entrepreneur, Natalie Egan, that unique vantage point has sparked an inspiring business idea. To help combat harassment and prejudice for others, the brilliant innovator founded Translator, a game-changing software that helps increase workplace empathy. “There is a ripple effect,” says Egan. “If we can make someone a little more empathetic it can actually save someone’s life.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
Since I was age 5, I remember being obsessed with solving problems and trying to start my own businesses. So of course, that became my career path––I am an entrepreneur! My current company, called Translator, is a B2B technology company dedicated to helping large organizations positively manage human interpersonal differences while fostering a more open and inclusive culture.
I started Translator based on my experience coming out as a transgender woman after spending the majority of my life as a white man with access, privilege, and resources. Long story short; I experienced bias, discrimination, and hatred for the first time and became obsessed with building a for-profit company that systematically promotes empathy and helps people be themselves. And while our ultimate vision at Translator is #EqualityForAll, my greatest achievement to date is just finally having the courage to be me.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Ironically, my whole life I was told I could ‘be’ or ‘do’ anything I wanted, except the one thing that I wanted most: to be a woman. When I was born, I was “assigned male at birth” by a doctor and a society that never took into account my unique identity, how I want to express myself, my goals and aspirations, or who I am inside. I am not angry about it. We didn’t know any better. But we know better now and I won’t stand for it anymore. Not for me. Not for anyone. No one should be held back from living their truth and being their authentic self because of a body part, a skin tone, an ability, a belief, or anything. In my opinion, we are all humans and all humans are created equally.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
As a transgender woman, I now face stereotypes and challenges that I never experienced in my life. People openly and blatantly discriminate against me. Others refuse to look me in the eye or won’t sit next to me. They pull their children away from me when I enter the room. When I walk down the street I don’t know if I am going to be verbally or physically attacked. I am told that I am mentally sick or perverted and that I can't go to the bathroom. And these are just a few of the challenges I face navigating the real world––let alone pursuing my career dreams. But none of this slows me down anymore. When people doubt or judge me it actually make me stronger. I am no longer bound by the limitations of other people's expectations. When I first figured out I was transgender I was so scared, but I no longer see being trans as a weakness. It is now truly my competitive advantage. My experience and point of view gives me a mental toughness in the business world that very few people can match.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
For me, #SWAAYINGthenarrative was about taking the ultimate risk. What if I just tried it? What if I was just me?
The reality is that I was programed my whole life to believe that transgender people were somehow “less than” everyone else. So much so, that when I finally figured out I was trans, I nearly killed myself. I had lost everything at that point. My marriage was in shambles and I had been fired from the company that I started by the CEO that I put in. But suicide would have been the easy way out and put those that judged me in a position of power and control. The moment of clarity and opportunity came to me when I realized I had nothing else to lose. I thought to myself, who cares what other people think? I am just going to be me and see what happens.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
My advice to all women and all people in marginalized communities is the same: Just be you. Don’t be afraid. It isn’t going to be easy but when you do it and do it consistently and authentically, good things will happen. People will be drawn to you and people are portals of opportunity. You are never going to be or do everything you want by yourself, no matter how strong you are. You need people and the best way to do that, in my humble opinion, is to just be yourself.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.