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My Journey from Male Lobbyist to Transwoman

Maria Konner on the main stage at Folsom Street Fair 2017

Guest post by Maria Konner

I was a male lobbyist, and now I’m a woman.  What I’m actually saying is that being a male lobbyist drove me to becoming a woman.

Let me explain.

Not all lobbyists are men, but characteristics of successful lobbyists are inherently male, and it was these qualities I became increasingly uncomfortable with. With that said, lobbyists are simultaneously the most disgusting people I ever met, yet the most honest.

Working with congressional aides is just about the only way to get anything done. Politicians themselves know very little – they just put on a smile, collect money and jockey for sound bites. However, if you speak with an aide about an environmental bill for example, they know next-to-nothing about the science and impact of the bill, but they know exactly who has given them how much money and what their position is. It’s much simpler than understanding the science – and greater rewards for less effort.

In this business, morality is overshadowed, if not entirely crushed, by the blatant focus on the flow of dollars. They’ll say, “I agree with you that this bill is stupid and ineffective, but I’ve got $2M behind this, and you only have $500K. I know some people you can speak with who might give you more support.” This is what we’ve coined “Hooker Ethics.” I would often visualize having a camera crew behind me where I can turn to them and say, “Did you capture that?”

And I wasn’t innocent in that. I was definitely one of them. I started on the oil and utility side, and then moved to green energy. I didn’t support the fossil fuel cause, but I found people there to be professional and very easy to work with. I later switched to green energy because I wholeheartedly loved and supported what they were trying to accomplish, but the activists were inefficient, disorganized, unrealized and unprofessional. I couldn’t stand working with them!  To make matters worse, there was no way to earn a living green energy lobbying. Who is going to pay a lobbyist to protect the planet?  There is no insurance company underwriting Planet Earth. This Matt Taibi quote explains the dilemma: “Organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.”

Maria on the set of her talk show Under the Golden Gate

I remember the point when everything started coming into focus. I was describing to this particular “gentleman” that a certain class of hyped technology didn’t actually reduce carbon emissions. He suddenly smiled when he realized that I was actually invested in the cause I was lobbying for. He was outwardly amused in a condescending sort of way, wearing an expression that basically said, “How quaint.”

I realized I was completely missing the point. Lobbying is just a job you get paid to do on behalf of your customers – big business. There are no heroes in that. This is what drives governing from Washington D.C. down to the state and local levels. Duh…I have an MBA from a top business school – why didn’t they teach this at any point in my schooling?

You have to experience it yourself to grok what is actually going on here. The world is at stake and yet, to most people involved, it’s just a job…just another power play. How much you can make takes priority over the “what” you’re doing. Have you ever met a sociopath?  “Government” is sociopathic. It’s disgusting, but at least it makes sense…this is what you need to do to wield power and get anything done. I looked that man in the eye and realized something profound…he was just doing what most men do, trying to win at all cost. And then I looked at myself and came to another realization: None of this world made sense to me. I was in the wrong place, in the wrong body.

The lobbying world has no soul, not a shred of “feminine” sensibilities. I once believed that a real man could be both principled and powerful, but I was quickly seeing the fallacy in that assumption. I suddenly felt like a different species from the men around me. I tried explaining this to my friends and family and they just told me to stop complaining. They didn’t understand – they hadn’t been to the sausage factory. I felt alone, frustrated and ashamed of my “feminine” qualities (i.e., my principles). And there were no virtuous dragons around to help me. It was too much, I quit…being a lobbyist and a man.

As a woman, the world and I now interact differently. Women aren’t emasculated for caring and that alone is a refreshing experience. The journey itself, although wrought with unique challenges, is a source of joy. In the world I created for myself, pride always comes before power and happiness always wins. I’m still not sure if my life as a female is an end-game or an experiment, but I’m having fun figuring it out. Regardless, I feel better about who I am and the role I play in society – and that’s a lot more than I can say for my past life as a male lobbyist.

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