the philosophactivist

Monday, September 3, 2012

Winning or Woes in the Workplace?

In starting this new, non-profit job I said to myself that I would bring all of me to the table. I said that now that I've got a position that I really care about doing work that I'm committed to in the community, that I wouldn't hide parts of me. I would be who I am. I stressed about this for days before I went to my first day of work. I thought about it constantly throughout that first day of training. I couldn't figure out how to say..."by the way...I'm trans." It just didn't seem to lend itself well to learning about food systems and food justice programming.

" Hey, do you have any trans people that come to your farmer's market because...I'm trans."


" Interesting thing that you should mention local food insecurity - I'm genderqueer."

So, I waited until the last possible moment as I was leaving work to catch my supervisor and basically...blurt it out. I think it was coherent for the most part. I had told myself that I was going to do this on the first day and that I wasn't going to wait around. As I began to talk about wanting my co-workers to know who I am and not wanting to have to leave parts of me at the door, I wonder what he thought I was going to say before I blurted out that I was gender non-conforming/ transgender. I saw his eyes kind of glaze over when I said gender non-conforming so I also volunteered the word transgender. He sat back in his chair as I continued to tell him my preferred pronouns- anything but she. His eyes were still kind of glazed over so I said "I prefer for folks to call me he, they, or just by my name." He mulled it over in his mind for a few moments and I didn't know how it had been received. He then thanked me for being comfortable enough to come out to him and said he'd ask a co-worker for guidance about how to deal with this as a director/supervisor. 

Then he said something that would continue to stress me out for the next 2 weeks+.  He said that he was going to follow my lead and leave it up to me to come out to the other 21 staff members. At first that seemed great. It took me a week to figure out that it was a lot of pressure to figure this out on my own. I thought about sending a mass email -

" Hey guys- I'm trans! Call me he or they. Thanks in advance!"

No...that wouldn't work.

I thought about telling a department at a time...or maybe one person at a time. The more I thought about this, the more tedious it seemed. And really stressful. Having to come out to one person at a time. Anticipating their reaction. Wondering if they were going to tell others- which would be welcomed if it would speed the process up a bit.

Last week my supervisor dashed to my desk before I could leave the premises to say that he wanted to walk me out of the office building. Hm. He walked me to the bus stop and we talked about my "coming out process" and how he could support. I said that I knew it was my responsibility to provide resources after coming out, and that I was working on that...but that I had no idea how I was going to come out to 21 people. I went over my ideas with him and he agreed that coming out through email wasn't a good idea and that there might be some legal issues with that.  I told him that I had also thought about coming out at the going away/welcoming party that didn't end up happening or at a staff meeting but that I felt that that would be awkward. I'd be completely on the spot and I'm sure I'd have so many questions directed toward me. That could be overwhelming.

We left the possibilities floating in the air. He reiterated his support. And as I sat waiting for the bus...I felt really alone. As I talked to friend after friend I continued to feel alone because who can really understand how crushing it feels not to be recognized for who you are (your gender!) day in and day out. 

Some days during meetings I am what I call "she'd" to death. She she she...her...blah blah...and I zone out. I zone out and shut down because I know that I should have just come out that first day to everyone so that I wouldn't have to deal with that. In my mind I have this inner dialogue about where I went wrong and then I say that I shouldn't be so hard on myself and that I'm doing least I'm out to two people and that I should be patient with myself. A few of my friends have said the same thing. But it's still hard to have two out of twenty-one who know that I'm not down with being called "she." And even the ones who know my preferred pronoun(s) use the wrong pronoun(s) when we're in mixed company, though they stay away from any pronouns when it's just us. 

I know that it's going to take time and that I'm going to have to educate people if I want to create a safe space for myself. I feel overwhelmed with having to figure out how to come out to everyone and having to provide resources on top of training and gauging the office politics.

I also feel at times that I'm asking too much of the staff or like I'm inviting them into them to join me in my fairytale or something. I say this because I know I'm not what the average person would expect a trans person to look like. (I'm not on testosterone and I have a feminine face). I know it's a stretch for them to call me "he" and that asking them to use "they" is also a stretch. I'm asking 22 people to step out of their comfort zone so that I can be comfortable. I'm potentially creating an awkward atmosphere (at least when I'm in the office). I know that it could be a good learning experience full of teachable moments leading to more understanding about diversity or whatever...but...seriously, I just want to do this social justice work and go home sometimes. It seems daunting but I know I have to do this. I can't go on being "she'd to death" and not being my complete self. Living two lives. It's not just about proper pronouns, it's about me being whole in this place that I spend the majority of my time. It's about for once not feeling like I have this big secret that is weighing me down and trying not to wince when people make assumptions about my gender and who I am.

I thought it's important to blog about these types of battles because some people truly don't realize how difficult this is, even for organizers, activists, and other folks who may be out to so many others. It's not about "just" doing "x,y, or z". There are real threats in coming out at your workplace. I am fortunate in that my workplace is a non-profit with at least one queer person (other than me) and from what I hear from my supervisor, the staff is generally open/liberal/progressive. (But we've heard that before). You never really know how anyone is going to react and keeping optimistic about their reactions doesn't exactly curb your anxiety.

I'll keep you posted on my coming out process at work. For everyone who is dealing with this right now, I just want you to know I stand in solidarity with you and I know how difficult it can be, though I realize that my situation is not a worst case scenario. I hope that you have support from friends, family, or created family or some other support group. Feel free to reach out to me at, maybe we can reach a solution together.