I was at Lake Issykul, a pristine mountain lake in Kyrgyzstan, when the current occupant of our White House deemed that responding to climate change is a bum deal for America and pulled us out of the Paris Agreement. All around me I could see snow-capped mountains with glaciers melting at ever accelerating rates. The countries I’ve lived in for five of the past 10 years are looking at a desert future when those glaciers are gone, perhaps before the end of this century.
You see, I’m a Foreign Service officer with the Department of State and covered the environment, science, technology and health portfolio for Central Asia from a base in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital on the northern steppe. For three years, in 2014 to 2017, one of my priorities was to convince the countries of Central Asia to join the Paris Agreement and push for significant nationally determined contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was my job. In one morning, my work of three years went poof.
“When I sat at those negotiating tables as a U.S. diplomat, no one on the other side knew I was transgender. Why would they?”
But it’s OK. No need to worry about my three years of effort. I woke this past Sunday morning to find that the same administration that decided climate change does not exist has also decided that I and a million or more other Americans do not exist. Poof, we’re gone also.
Are you surprised to learn that America has diplomats who are transgender? You shouldn’t be. We’re in every branch and every level of the government. In my 14 years with State, I’ve served at our embassies in Moscow, Astana, Bucharest andTashkent, Uzbekistan, not to mention on the Russia Desk in Washington and in our bureau that oversees day-to-day implementation of our nuclear arms treaties with Russia. I’ve supported high-level visits with foreign leaders, advanced U.S. policy, participated in bilateral and multilateral negotiations, and reported back to Washington on the issues of the day in the countries where I’ve served.
When I sat at those negotiating tables as a U.S. diplomat, no one on the other side knew I was transgender. Why would they? I look like, behave like and in fact am a middle-aged American woman born during Eisenhower’s first administration. I was there just to do the job of representing this country that I love. But I guess that if I don’t exist, those negotiations never took place either?
Before coming to State, I worked for over 25 years on NASA projects. Much of that was on the Hubble Space Telescope with a “mostly math most of the time” responsibility for pointing control systems. You know those pretty Hubble photos? We were the group that got Hubble on target and held it there so the science could happen. But, hey, since I don’t exist, perhaps Hubble doesn’t exist either? You can do wonders with Photoshop, you know.
So what is a transgender U.S. diplomat to do when she wakes one fine Sunday morning in October to find that she does not exist? Time to call it quits, I suppose. Fortunately for those who would see me erased, I am about to retire. We still have mandatory retirement for age in the Foreign Service, and I’m about to hit that magic date.
Where then? I think I’ll return to Central Asia. The people there seem to think I’m real. Together we’ll sit by Lake Issykul and contemplate the soon-to-be-erased glaciers and the disappearing America that once was a beacon of hope in this world.
Robyn Alice McCutcheon is a Foreign Service officer who has served in Washington, Astana, Bucharest, Moscow and Tashkent. Although McCutcheon is employed by the U.S. Department of State, the views expressed in this column are strictly her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the State Department or the U.S. government.