In a world filled with greed, capitalism, and a never-ending desire for more, it’s all too common for us to find ourselves trapped in the grip of trauma. Think about it – who among us hasn’t experienced some form of childhood trauma?

I, too, share this experience. Throughout my upbringing, I was always told that many aspects of my identity were inherently wrong and needed to be changed. I vividly remember the pressure to conform to societal norms of masculinity, purely to avoid becoming a target for mockery and bullying. Simply being myself became a constant battle, filling every part of my being with anxiety. These were the most traumatic emotions a child could bear. As I navigated the challenges of growing up, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of the world, without a single safe space where I could truly express my authentic self. These conditions resulted in the development of various anxieties and mental health conditions that I continue to cope up with as an adult.

A little child smiling into the camera
Yaewon in the 90s, playing in the playground in South Korea © Yaewon Hwang

Navigating the challenges of work life is never easy, and it becomes even more difficult for individuals with a history of trauma. However, Greenpeace has provided me with a safe and supportive environment where I can thrive and truly be myself. From the very beginning, during my initial interview for the role of Greenpeace East Asia’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion partner in 2020, I felt that working at Greenpeace would be different. The hiring manager assured me that I could answer their questions in whichever language I felt most comfortable with, as they had both Korean and English speakers on the panel. This small gesture made me feel at ease, especially in an interview setting where one can be very nervous.

A woman is holding a banner that says "Destroy Transphobia, Not The Earth" on the street
Yaewon participating in the Amsterdam pride 2023 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands © Yaewon Hwang

In order to heal from trauma, it is necessary to confront and acknowledge our past, including the mistakes we have made, so that we can learn from them and avoid repeating them. One aspect of my Greenpeace experience that I value the most is the organisation’s commitment to creating safe spaces where people can openly discuss topics that may be considered uncomfortable or “taboo” in other workplaces such as white supremacy, the dominance of English-language-centric working cultures, and other justice related topics. In any organisation, the ability to ask questions, challenge existing assumptions, and engage in difficult conversations is incredibly important. And I appreciate that we are collectively learning from the past and looking forward to creating an inclusive, equitable community by providing spaces to have these conversations and explore ways to improve ourselves and our organisation.

Marginalised individuals often internalise self-hatred and self-doubt as a result of societal pressures, making it difficult for us to believe in our own potential. Throughout my upbringing, I encountered doubt and judgment from others who considered me “abnormal”, so being able to openly engage in “controversial” discussions and question the dominant narratives has provided me a sense of justice and validation, just as it would for other individuals who have experienced marginalisation.

Two women are holding up banners for Greenpeace Japan on the streets
Yaewon holding a banner at Tokyo Pride 2023 in Tokyo, Japan © Yaewon Hwang

As an Asian trans woman who has faced bullying and grew up in a toxic household, I craved an environment where everyone including those from marginalised backgrounds could freely express their thoughts and opinions. Since starting my role here, I feel accepted for who I am, and what made this even more incredible was that all of the acceptance was happening in a professional setting, which is typically a challenging space to be one’s authentic self. And by having those securities, I’m empowered to believe in and deliver my capabilities more than ever before.

Obviously no organisations are perfect as there is no such thing, and if anything perfection is so overrated and boring after all. Greenpeace is committed to continually improving to become a more just, inclusive, and equitable organisation, and recognises that achieving justice is an ongoing, collective effort that requires tremendous amounts of dedication and hard work. While we have some ways to go, the organisation’s collective efforts are tangible, and as an employee from a marginalised community, I personally feel the impact of those efforts, and I take great pride in being a part of this imperfect yet transformative journey.

A quote from Yaewon that says "What I have gone through as a transgender woman taught me what the core of my activism should be and that is love. Love is stronger than anything and I will always overcome hate with love."
2023 International Women’s Day post with Yaewon’s quote © Greenpeace / Yaewon Hwang

Yaewon Hwang is Greenpeace East Asia’s Senior Partner for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.