job

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,

Lee

Advertisements

Lee wrote a book! It’s a beefed-up TIMP that you can hold in your hands.

Hello TIMP readers! I am delighted to share some news: I have a book coming out with Adams Media and Simon & Schuster in October!

cover

Gender: Your Guide is basically TIMP x 1000 in terms of depth and breadth. There is some expanded content from the blog within it, but also personal stories, research data and tools for hands-on pronoun practice. I’m delighted with how it has turned out.

I wrote Gender: Your Guide to do exactly what I hope TIMP has been doing: to be a thing that transgender and/or non-binary and/or gender non-conforming people can give to our people to help them understand and also meet our gender-related needs. It also helps our people to think about how they, too, are affected by the rigid ways that gender can play out in the places they spend time, and how they can do something about it not only for us but for themselves too. Coalition!

I hope that you can get your hands on it when it comes out in October, and you can pre-order it now. And if you have questions or inquiries about the book, the best way to ask is my sending me an email at lee.airton@queensu.ca.

Warmly,

Lee

 

Toward a gender-neutral customer service experience for everyone

blucitrus asked:

I work at Starbucks and I’m always trying to find ways to connect with the customers but it is very difficult for me because I never know which pronouns to use. What gender neutral pronouns could I use instead of ma’am and sir and things of the sort? It’s been bugging me for quite some time. Help!

Thanks for your question blucitrus!

I (and other Starbucks-frequenting GNP users) truly appreciate that this is something you are concerned about. It shows that you’re committed to making your workplace somewhere that every client will want to come back to. And believe me – this is something that is noticed and communicated among GNP users and other trans* / non-binary folk: that your place is a good place for us.

As far as pronouns are concerned, if you have to refer to a client within their hearing range (e.g., to a co-worker), I suggest using singular they or ‘this/my customer’ or ‘this/my client.’ This takes practice, but can also be a fun daily challenge to yourself and a co-worker who’d also like to get on board. There many tips on this blog to help you out.

Regarding single-person address, avoiding the use of sir or ma’am is a great place to start but, as you say, it’s hard to know what to do next. Sir/ma’am are used to convey respect and welcome, but these can be conveyed to someone without using words. Think about how people use their body language, vocal pitch and intonation to convey respect and welcome. We incline our heads, make eye contact, listen intently, nod, smile and speak clearly in order to indicate that someone has our full attention. Of course, what ‘respect’ and ‘welcome’ look/sound like differ across contexts, but they can be performed. I’d argue that sir/ma’am are frequently used as shortcuts in busy customer service environments when these other more intentional strategies could do the job even better and more authentically, all without gendering.

Regarding plural address (i.e., to refer to groups of customers), avoid ladies, gentlemen, guys, girls, etc. and instead use terms like everyone or – if you are working in a casual customer service environment or with younger clientele – friends or folks. As above, I believe you can also welcome/show respect to groups of customers without using any of these terms at all. Think of a server saying “Good evening and welcome to our restaurant” while acknowledging each member of a group with brief eye contact and a warm smile. This is likely much more effective at conveying respect/welcome than a disinterested “Hello ladies.” Consider trying these strategies for a few minutes or a few customers every hour and seeing how they affect your (and their) experience of your interactions.

Other helpful gender-neutral phrases that convey respect (when paired with attentive body language, vocal pitch and intonation) include:

Can I help the next guest?

And for you?

What will you be having today?

Will you all be having dessert (etc.)?

These are not revolutionary or terribly insightful – just a starting place. With all of this being said, however, I have a caveat to share.

In the quest for gender-neutral public space and language practices, one casualty is affirmation for people who thrive on being (correctly) gendered by others. There are many people who enjoy being ma’am-ed or sir-ed; this is of course true of some cis-gender people but also of some transgender spectrum people. At times when I am identifying as more masculine and signalling this to the world with my grooming, clothing and behaviour, it is tremendously affirming to be seen and addressed appropriately as “sir.” However, I know many people with similarly masculine gender presentations who do not like this at all. There are also many transgender spectrum people who are in the process of or have completed a medical gender transition; for some (by no means all) of these folks, casual correct gendering by strangers can be a daily affirmation. Some years ago I heard a hilarious monologue by transsexual stand-up comedian Red Durkin in which she is yelled at by an irate cashier for moving too slowly in the check-out line: “MA’AM?? EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? HURRY UP!” Instead of being offended by this rudeness, Red replies with a swoon at the sound of this (to her) beautiful word: “Ma’am…you could scoop the honey out of that word with a bucket…”

Sometimes when I meet someone making a clear effort – e.g., with grooming, clothing, behaviour, etc. – to be readable/read as belonging in a particular gender category despite some physiological dissonance, I make a conscious choice to use the gendered title and pronoun that correspond with his or her deliberate gender presentation. However, this is an imperfect strategy to be used only with considerable caution and mindfulness, as well as humility if one makes a mistake (as are all of the things that I offer on TIMP).

So, I offer what I know to be true (for me and many others) with the caveat that these strategies won’t meet the needs of all people.

I hope this helps, blucitrus!

Warmly,

Lee

 

 

 

Clueless yet well-intentioned: Tips on changing pronouns at your office

vulvalove asked:

“hello! i currently work as a low-level staffmember (& only employee doing LGBT work) on a progressive college campus with a bunch of moderately conservative administrators. many are very well-intentioned, & all lack education about trans* communities & gender. students get it, but staff/faculty/admin are clueless. i’ve begun to shift my pronouns in my personal life & want to use “they” at work. how would you recommend i “rebrand” myself where i work with hundreds of clueless people? TYSM! :)”

Hi vulvalove!

I really appreciate this question, particularly because I too work on college campuses. I don’t think that many people who are fairly conservative about gender would describe themselves that way, particularly because ‘gender’ is something so ordinary and ingrained that most don’t even think they have views or feelings on it at all! Good intentions are nice, of course, but they really have no effect on what comes out of one’s mouth.

First, I’d suggest taking an audit of your supports and options, if you haven’t already done so. Is there a diversity officer on campus? Is there a ‘safe space’ etc. organization on campus (e.g., McGill Safe Space) that could come in and do (some of) the heavy-lifting for you in the form of a workshop for your co-workers? (Um or given what you said about your job, is this you?) Do you have the support and understanding of a supervisor? Would that supervisor be open to learning about gender diversity and inclusion issues as a springboard to making change more broadly? Would your organization like to contract me to come in and give a workshop on shifting pronouns (joke)?

Second, I’d consider how overt you want this ‘re-branding’ (love it) to be. My suggestions above are all about education, and that can be helpful. However, you want people to use your pronouns and not just expand their minds – the first is a practical goal and the second is a nice incidental benefit of working with you (yes, they are fortunate). On the practical goal front, I’d suggest putting it on the table at a staff meeting and telling people what it means (with the support of your administrator, if possible, who stresses it as an equity issue). You can give them options like just using your name, and guidelines like (if appropriate) ‘don’t include me in events, photos, messages, etc. that are just for women / just for men’ and ‘don’t refer to me as a woman, man, etc.’ depending on your needs. I believe that being as practical as possible with otherwise non-knowledgeable people is key. At the meeting, you can have some resources ready (like this blog) to hand out, too.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, the options are limitless in terms of other more direct action point-of-service things: make a sign for your desk, wear a button, give out candy for a correct gendering (I’m an extrovert so I might try this one as people usually enjoy a bit of camp). Of course, these suggestions all depend on what kind of environment you work in, how safe you feel there and how many strangers you see on a daily basis. Are pronouns your first/worst problem or is it the ‘hello young lady / hello young man’ variety of comments that also trouble you? The first is probably a co-worker issue, and the second probably more of a public issue.

Please keep asking questions or Tweet me or whatever you like. TIMP and I are here for you.

Hope this helps,

Lee

Mr. or Ms. or Mx? Formal titles for gender-neutral pronoun users

Anonymous asked:

“I hear tons of talk about pronoun sensitivity, but what about a gender neutral word Mr. or Ms.? I work in a very formal environment, and so titles are a big thing.”

Thank you for asking, Anonymous!

I think that formal work environments are a major ‘frontier’ for gender-based language changes, particularly because formal authority structures are so wrapped up in the correct use of language and related protocols e.g., you can’t just revert to using someone’s first name when you don’t know their gender preference regarding formal titles (or honorifics, as they are sometimes called).

Many people have started to request Mx. to be used when they don’t feel like identifying either way in a titular sense, but I also am unaware of whether this is a verbal or just a written form of address. The UK city of Brighton has this year announced its intention to add Mx. as an option for those accessing city council benefits and services. Wikipedia tells me that Mx. is pronounced ‘mux’ or ‘mixter’ (??) but it’s clear we are a long way off from having something widespread and workable.

If this is a situation that affected you directly, i.e., you would prefer to be called something more they-ish than Ms. or Mr., I wish you the best of luck and can only say that your personal level of comfort at work (professionally and personally) will have to be weighed with your need for gender recognition. I am currently applying for tenure-track jobs, and I have been split down the middle on whether to ask my referees to write letters with ‘they’. Some have done wonderful backflips with language and written letters without any pronouns at all, even after I told them that I’m tending toward using a gendered pronoun and beginning the work when I get there in terms of educating my (fingers crossed) future colleagues. But this is entirely up to one’s field and one’s own preferences.

Thank you for your question, and please ask another anytime!

Lee

Pronouns at work: Coming out as a ‘singular they’ user

One of the reasons I started this blog about practical gender-neutral pronoun usage is because in about eighteen months (if all goes well) I’m going to find myself on the market for a tenure-track academic job. I have had mixed success with people using my pronouns professionally, whether in queer networks or no.

What I am most worried about is the blank look I will receive when I request my pronoun from people who do not know me or who are not in my milieu, or when I feel compelled to correct someone in a position of power in my job search. I wonder whether I will be able to hold on long enough to get a job and then begin the project of changing my pronouns at work. Once people begin using one pronoun, the transition can be slow and painful.

I am worried about being perceived as strange or as having needs that no one understands as needs. But I am constantly reminded that people do.

One of my students used my pronoun when referring to me in my presence (like, telling me howI had come up in conversation with another student) and I kind of died. I pointed it out to her and she said that she had a friend who used ‘they’ who reminded her of me. I had not requested my pronouns of my students, something which I will do this year (probably by referring them to this blog, in fact). But her use was conscious, intentional and seamless (except that it jumped out at me for its sheer loveliness).

This made me wonder whether people who use he or she actually notice when ‘they’ is used for them instead: when it functions as a default. I doubt it. I do know that users like me notice, and that it makes a big difference.

So why do we imagine that ‘they’ always sticks out like a sore thumb? The ordinariness of singular they – it is everywhere – is forgotten, when in fact it might be less noticeable than you think.

Perhaps we could do an experiment. Practice using ‘they’ for he-or-she-using people in your personal or professional or other lives. See if anyone notices. If no one does, maybe let people know you have been using a gender-neutral pronoun for them/others all day long, and point out that no one noticed.

If this happens a great deal, worries like mine – about the future, about leaving the nest or the bubble where people use the language I need – could be a little more unfounded.