A Case Study in Intersectional Identities: Autoethnography of Soltan Bryce

March 3, 2017
Soltan Bryce
Soltan Bryce / Photo courtesy of Soltan Bryce

On February 22nd, CSWR resident Soltan Bryce gave an autobiographical presentation titled “An Autoethnographic Case Study in Intersectional Identities.” Soltan framed his talk by tying his lived experience as part of the CSWR community to the Center’s founding principles and mission. By exploring his own intersectional history, Soltan contributed to a shared understanding of contemporary faith identities and the complex role that religion plays in modern societal structures. Further, Soltan’s presentation aimed to foster community life and intellectual exchange among the residents using his own experience as a resource for deepening shared understanding and conversation.

In the presentation, Soltan described his experience of navigating complex systems and transforming perceived barriers into opportunities as defined by both his personal experience and his professional aspirations. As a trans, queer, Muslim, Palestinian-American refugee from rural North Carolina, living fully and courageously in his intersectional identities was described as a necessity for expansive, meaningful and delicious personal growth.

Informed by both Soltan’s transnational and transgender identities, he described his mission to help build an American health care system that is connected, thoughtfully designed, resilient and compassionate. In support of his vision of systems that truly work for the people they serve, he currently works in health care technology implementing an enterprise analytics tool that allows providers to get paid what they deserve for the care they deliver. Soltan outlined the process of co-founding an LGBTQ+ employee resource group that scored his employer a perfect 100% on the Corporate Equality Index, a measure of HR and cultural inclusivity for LGBTQ+ employees in corporate workplaces. Outside of his professional role, Soltan serves on the board of a faith-based non-profit dedicated to Muslims living in the environmental spirit of Islam. He is part of both an LGBTQ Buddhist sangha and a queer Muslim community.

Having described his most powerful past experiences of thriving, effecting change, and leading as grounded in his foundational values of self-knowledge and authenticity that are inspired by his faith, Soltan shared about his Muslim and Buddhist practices as well as his interfaith relationship with his American Jewish fiancee. He described navigating his gender transition in his current professional role and on the board of a Muslim organization. As he traversed this terrain, he drew upon his experience growing up as an immigrant Muslim in the post-9/11 rural South.  Soltan outlined his heritage of many generations striving for survival: both sets of Soltan’s Palestinian grandparents brought their children to Kuwait in search of a better life during mid-century turmoil. During the 1991 Invasion in Kuwait, his immediate family was extracted by the U.S. Embassy, leaving extended family, belongings, and a culture behind.

This history passed on a visceral understanding of the transformative potential to be found in understanding and navigating unfamiliar systems. The ability to locate himself in relation to the boundaries of a system, be it political, legal, cultural, educational, or otherwise — and to imagine how the system might be otherwise — defines Soltan’s experience as an immigrant and as a trans individual. He stated that his identities are mutually inclusive and inextricably linked in shaping his unique worldview.Throughout the presentation, Soltan invited residents to ask difficult questions and engage in the shared learning medium of honest, personal dialogue.