Month: August 2018

Being a ‘part-time’ GNP user

louziphir asked:

“I’m moving into a career in academia, and I’ve noticed that I really don’t like when people refer to my work with gendered pronouns. I don’t have discomfort being called daughter or hearing myself referred to as she/her/hers in regular conversation. On one level I feel guilty claiming they/them pronouns in professional settings, almost like I am performing being gender queer. On the other hand controlling the narrative of people reading my work as non-gendered makes me feel empowered. Thoughts?”

Hi louziphir! Thank you so much for your question, and I’m excited to be in academia with you!

First of all, being nonbinary or genderqueer or somewhere on the non-cisgender side of things that isn’t M or F can be a tough slog precisely because we are inundated with messages about how we aren’t real. Well guess what. Hello! Kidding aside though, the gap between feeling like “I am gender queer (etc.)” and “I feel like I am gender queer” is hard to cover over in a world that is still figuring out how to welcome and support nonbinary-spectrum people. So, don’t be so hard on yourself. Rather, the sense of discomfort that you articulate is how many of us start to figure out that our pronouns might have to change to match us correctly.

That all said, I think that what you are saying is that you are only noticing this discomfort in academic/work settings. It is true that most people who have they/them or other gender-neutral pronouns generally like to have them used in all the contexts of our lives (if safety etc. were a non-issue). However, the way that she/her and other F-gendered language play out in your workplace might be perhaps loaded more or differently than they are in the other contexts of your life, making their attribution at work more grating than in your regular life. What I’d encourage you to do is think about pronouns as part of a larger process of sorting people into gender categories, and reflect on how that sorting might be something that works for you in one context but not others. After all, we know that gender works differently across different times and places, sometimes including the different spaces where one person spends parts of their day. How does gender work for you more generally in your workplace? Are you uncomfortable beyond pronouns? What do you notice about how others work with or do gender where you are? Are there other things you are okay with at home, but not at work? I don’t believe that just because someone, for example, is a woman (cisgender or transgender), she has to do all of the things in every woman box. Woman boxes are shaped differently, and not all fit every woman. And of course, sexism and misogyny are alive and well, including in academia, sometimes making it very clear that F-gendered language is used in ways that are devaluing.

The last thing I’ll say is that I have known dozens of people who are in a reverse situation from yours: they do not come out with ‘they/them’ pronouns at work (in academia). Often this is because they aren’t sure of the reception they’ll get, or don’t have the energy to do what this can often require (I get that). At bottom, though, this is about people working with different thresholds and different needs in different parts of their lives. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to do or need or desire the same thing regardless of where I am, as that sounds a bit too demanding. Perfection is not the goal.

These are my thoughts for now. I hope they are helpful!

Thanks for writing, and take care,



Supporting a co-worker in retail who gets mis-gendered by customers

Anonymous asked:

“Hello, We have a new coworker whose name is masculine, appearance masculine and we use the pronoun “they”. They have said they are comfortable with female pronouns, not male. Things are going well on the coworker side, however recently the coworker came to me and expressed discomfort with the customers. We work in retail and customers often use male pronouns – that is what they see on name tag or appearance, they aren’t trying to be rude but they don’t know. How can we help in this situation?”

Hello Anonymous,

This is an excellent question, and actually I have a question before I get going (rhetorical I know because you’re Anonymous and can’t reply)! I’m wondering what you mean when you say “we use the pronoun ‘they’” if this person actually is comfortable with female pronouns. I don’t have more information, but this feels like something to check in on. What actually are the pronouns this person would like co-workers to use: she/her or they/them?

On to the bigger question: how can a workplace support an employee whose pronouns aren’t the ones that strangers would ordinarily apply when encountering them? Customers are kind of like friendly strangers (and sometimes unfriendly strangers): not terribly invested in getting to know the details of customer service representatives’ lives or identities. Retail interactions at their best are cordial, brief and truncated. This reminds of what I say in my book about how pronoun go-rounds don’t happen in places where people aren’t expected to engage with each other, like at restaurants or the opera. Retail might be a space like that. You also likely don’t have a repeat clientele who can gradually learn about your co-worker or your space, and begin using correct pronouns over time.

In a gender utopia, we wouldn’t always use each other’s gender expression to infer pronouns. We do not live in this utopia, and so moving about with a masculine name and gender expression but having she/her pronouns is a very exhausting life. My respect and empathy for your co-worker. When her gender expression is read by customers as meaning that he/him pronouns are appropriate, and that doesn’t reflect her gender identity, then I can only imagine how work must go for her: tough, tiring and frustrating. Chances are that she is mis-gendered all of the time and that work isn’t the only place where this happens.

This brings me to the first strategy I have for you. If you have a friendly relationship, literally just check in and ask how she is doing, and ask whether this happens elsewhere, too. Encourage her to think about how she manages this when it happens outside of work; chances are she has some tools and skills. Can these be applied in your workplace?

My second strategy is to suggest to your management – with your co-worker’s consent – that employees be encouraged to have pronouns on their name tags. This could help to clue in some customers, or even just give your co-worker a thing to do: point to her name tag.

In retail, there are all kinds of ways to work. I’d encourage your co-worker to talk to the management about having breaks from front-of-house to work in the backroom only because these are also breaks from being consistently mis-gendered on the floor. This is my third strategy.

A fourth strategy is to ask your co-worker whether she is comfortable with you gently (and I mean gently) correcting customers who mis-gender her. It might be a good idea to talk about safety here, as doing this would out her (my second strategy above also carries this risk). Sadly, this is a cost-benefit situation. The toll of being mis-gendered is something to weigh against her safety in the workplace.

Lastly, it might just be the case that frontline retail jobs with your company, for whatever reason, are not a sustainable fit for some trans people. Your management could offer your co-worker opportunities to train and develop other skills that could lead to positions that will entail less mis-gendering. This is not preferential treatment – it is equity. It’s also harm reduction: this shouldn’t be needed, but it might be because this is where we are.

I hope this helps, and thank you for a thought-provoking question!

All the best,