By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Kris Janovitz of Kris Janovitz Photography
Book Cover by Jack Kinley
Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Gabrielle Claiborne and her younger sister grew up as fourth-generation Pentecostal preacher’s kids. Her upbringing came with the privileges of an education from Emory University and Georgia Tech. She married in her 20s and had three children by the time she was 30. Gabrielle had a successful entrepreneurial career in the construction industry and was a leader in a large, prestigious Atlanta church—until her life turned upside down ten years ago when she came out as a transgender woman.
Since then, Gabrielle has become deeply involved in the community as an activist and as an inclusion specialist. Now, she has taken yet another leap into what she defines as the ongoing journey of embracing her truth by publishing a candid and deeply personal memoir that also serves as guidance for anyone wanting to live a more authentic life.
As a very prominent and active figure in the Atlanta LGBTQ community and beyond, tell us a little bit about the many hats you wear – and how you find the time and energy for it all?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Transformation Journeys Worldwide, an inclusion training and consulting firm with a transgender focus. We help cutting-edge organizations position themselves to attract and retain the best talent, foster collaborative working environments, and drive innovation by creating fully trans-inclusive cultures. I’m also an author, TEDx and keynote speaker, and community activist. My volunteer work includes serving for five years on the Executive Board of Atlanta Pride, and currently serving as Co-Chair of the Mentorship Committee on the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s Trans Inclusion Task Force, as Co-Chair of the Trans Affairs Committee on the City of Atlanta’s LGBTQ Mayoral Advisory Council, as the Secretary and Inclusion Board Chair of the OUT Georgia Business Alliance, and a member of the Out Front Theater Group’s Advisory Board.
As someone who is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, I am a member of the Georgia Diversity Council, the Atlanta Diversity Management Advocacy Group (ADMAG), and the Georgia Chapter of the International Women’s Forum. In 2019, I was honored to receive the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Outstanding Voice for Diversity and Inclusion Award.
I find the energy to serve in all these capacities by making sure that my volunteer work is in alignment with my community activism objectives and entrepreneurial passions. I believe that when working for equity for the trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) community—whether it’s within the LGBTQ community or related to employment, housing, healthcare, the arts, and beyond—having TGNC voices at the table is key to ensuring that our needs are not overlooked, and our visibility is front and center.
You have just published your book, “Embrace Your Truth: A Journey of Authenticity.” The book is not only a memoir of your journey as a trans woman but also offers some sound guidance for anyone who wishes to live their authentic truth. How was the journey of writing a book?
The journey of writing this book has been one of the most raw and vulnerable steps I have ever taken. More than once, I asked, “Should I be putting myself out there like this?” But I kept going because I believe there is a real need to get more stories about TGNC individuals into mainstream media in hopes of educating our culture about TGNC people and normalizing our existence as just another beautiful facet of the diverse human experience. And while I have done much personal growth work over the course of my journey, writing this book provided opportunities for me to grow even more and to process deeper layers of grief around losses I thought I had finished grieving. Fortunately, my business partner, Linda Herzer, is not only a published author, she’s also an amazing life coach. Thanks to her writing assistance and emotional support, I was able to navigate the many ups and downs of this authoring journey. At the end of the day, while the process hasn’t been easy, I’m grateful for the additional growth in my own life that’s resulted from taking this courageous step of vulnerability and putting this book out into the world.
How has the process of writing this book helped you on your own journey of authenticity?
Writing this book has given me a whole new perspective on the value of my past. The things that I once perceived as failures, those things I felt the most guilt and shame around, have now become a part of my story that no longer keeps me bound or entangled. In chapter 4, I talk about an important lesson I learned from Brené Brown, that “when we speak to shame, it begins to wither.” The process of writing this book has been a continuous effort of speaking to the shame of my past and reframing it as something that happened “for” me rather than something that happened “to” me. Doing this has allowed me to own my story for the first time in such a way that my story no longer owns me. I can now share my experiences, trusting they will be an inspiration to others and that they will help people navigate their own challenges, whatever those are for them.
Without revealing too much of the book, what are some important lessons about living your truth that are universal to us all?
One of the universal lessons I share is about having the courage to acknowledge the fears in our heads but act on the truth of our hearts. To do this, we must understand the five languages through which our hearts speak to us –more about those in chapter 1—and then take courageous first steps, often without knowing where they will lead. Another universal lesson I share with readers is that stepping into our authenticity is a journey, not a destination. As we realize one aspect of our authenticity, our hearts will call us to embrace yet another beautiful facet of our truth. This may require creating a vacuum, that is, opening up space for new things we desire to come into our lives by letting go of old things that no longer serve us. Readers can learn more about all this in chapter 7.
We are experiencing a renewed and extremely important focus on trans folx’ stories in entertainment and media. Why do you think that is?
I believe we are experiencing a focus on trans stories because, for the first time, our stories are being produced, directed, and portrayed by TGNC individuals. The hit TV series, POSE, and the documentary, Disclosure, are two examples of recent productions that have allowed our community’s storytelling and acting skills to emerge and be valued. They have also provided opportunities and invitations for non-TGNC people to engage in our deeply nuanced and authentically textured stories with empathy and compassion, to feel our shared humanity. As our visibility continues to increase, I trust it will also inspire TGNC individuals who are just starting out on their journey of authenticity to embrace their truths fiercely and live them courageously.
And yet, trans folx are still being targeted and even killed at an alarmingly high rate. What do you think it is about being trans that can be so threatening to some people?
I believe that the very existence of my community challenges our cultures deeply held, but unconscious assumptions about gender. The reality is, TGNC individuals have existed though out all time and across all cultures. Nonetheless, it hasn’t been until the last 10-20 years that we have become consistently visible. Our increased visibility has brought the complexity of gender to the forefront of our culture’s consciousness. People are now aware that one’s gender identity (that is, one’s internal knowing of their gender) may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. And this reality challenges those who were domesticated to believe that gender is a binary: that there are only two genders, male and female. This confrontation to bedrock beliefs results in TGNC people becoming the “them” in an us-and-them paradigm. Once a group becomes “them,” history shows how easy it is to make that group bad, wrong, and even expendable. It is this thinking that leads parents to disown their TGNC children, spouses to divorce their TGNC partners, and adult children to walk away from their TGNC parents. Even more alarming, it is also what leads to TGNC individuals, especially my trans sisters of color, to not just be killed, but to be brutally murdered at alarming rates. To overcome this “us-them” polarity, I encourage people to sit down face-to-face with a gender diverse person, read a TGNC memoir, or book a transgender speaker for your workplace or organization, to get to know us. It’s only by sharing stories that we will come to see that we’re all unique members of the same diverse human family.
Your book “Embrace Your Truth: A Journey of Authenticity” is such an important book and story to shed even more light on the trans experience. What are your hopes and dreams for this book?
From the beginning, I’ve had two clear goals for what I want this book to accomplish.
First, I want it to give readers a glimpse of the TGNC experience in hopes of normalizing our existence. I want cisgender (non-TGNC) people to recognize that what we have in common, as human beings, is much greater than our differences.
Secondly, I hope readers will be inspired to embrace their own truths more fully, to ask, “What’s next for me?” “What aspect of authenticity is my heart calling me toward?” I also hope they will use the exercises included in the book, and the universal lessons shared to help them take steps toward living more authentically – for their own well-being and for the healing of our world.
How has it been to release a book during a global pandemic?
It’s been challenging, to say the least, and I’ve definitely had to get creative with the book’s launch. But I’ve been surrounded by an unbelievable support system that has allowed this experience, from start to finish, to be one of the most rewarding seasons of my life. I’ll be excited when I can have my first safe book signing. That will be another celebration to look forward to!
What is next is next for Gabrielle Claiborne? Any new and exciting projects you can disclose?
The release of my book is allowing me to step into even bigger arenas than I ever imagined. I’m now booking more keynote speaking opportunities where I share wisdom from the book. Another door opening up for me is advocating for women’s equity to ensure that all women’s voices are included in the conversation. I’m also entering into the dating scene after a recent divorce, looking for that tall, handsome man who is looking for that special woman in his life! More on that to come!
“Embrace Your Truth: A Journey of Authenticity” by Gabrielle Claiborne is available on Amazon and all other platforms.