Archive for September, 2014

The Next Step

A while back, I initiated a conversation with my employer to address a couple issues I noticed regarding a document targeted toward employees transitioning in the workplace. At the time, I wasn’t particularly sure what (if any) impact it might have. While I was mildly dissatisfied by the outcome to some degree, I also knew that it would take more than a couple conversations and emails to foment change. I said what needed to be said at the time and tried to figure out what to do next. A few weeks later, someone contacted me about using a quotation of mine that arose from those discussions for a somewhat updated take on the bulletin. When the updated post finally went up this week, it was nice to see that many of the items I’d mentioned in terms of phrasing and word choice had been addressed. I am heartened that happened as I wasn’t sure when that might occur given how long things like that can take sometimes. As I have stated before, I do feel like my employer on the whole is trying to be forward thinking about creating an open workplace for trans employees. But even in the places that like to view themselves as forward thinking, we have a lot more work to do to create those kinds of workplaces.

Model View Culture also recently published a piece that reminded me of one of the aspects of the “Transitioning In The Workplace” bulletin that I didn’t bring up then that still bothers me now. As a culture, even in supportive structures for trans individuals, we place a lot of emphasis on coming out and the immediate events that follow. Even if structures exist so that trans individuals don’t have to be their own advocate, we wait for those moments to educate, to make changes to corporate policies from HR or insurance. There’s so much focus on what to do at the point that changes are visible and apparent to others. I understand that it’s a tangible moment for others; of course, it was a significant and tangible time for me as well, but I had already been doing so much. For me, it was the fruition of a lot of planning, something I had been building to all my life. For others, short a few conversations, it was the first time they encountered the reality that I was trans as opposed to just the idea. In terms of the workplace, there was a flurry of activity, changing names on emails and name plates, updating gender flags in systems and such, but then there really wasn’t all that much at all. Most of that is a one-time event, and most of the support is focused on those sorts of one-time events and the immediate days before and after coming out.

Unfortunately, there’s so much more support that’s needed. Those changes are important, and obviously it’s nice to remind people to be sensitive about pronouns, what kinds of questions are inappropriate, etc. But where’s that reminder a year later? Where’s the support structure that continues to exist for that proactively, before trans employees have to complain about potentially distressing workplace situations? So far, everything I’ve seen has been voluntary. How hard is it to put a couple slides addressing some of these issues in the yearly required training? It might not reach that many people, but currently, the only training that seems to exist occurs when someone transitions, in the departments those employees are in. We’ve got better reach than that. Putting that information in front of people proactively can help show trans employees that they are valued. Putting that information in front of people can help illustrate that support exists. Putting that information in front of people can help show them that being authentic and being who they are is possible.

Beyond that, where are those structures to help employees who didn’t transition in that department or with the company when they take a new position that may not have had that education? What about structures to support employees who would rather handle their on-the-job transition with more discretion in terms of who it’s communicated to and how many people that information gets out to? What about the resources for the employees who do not want to be out on the job? What do those resources look like? What about resources for the employees that transitioned years ago who want and need support that is different than someone who just came out? What about the resources that proactively address these situations instead of reactively addressing them? I’m glad to see they listened, but there’s always something more to do, something more to learn, something to improve. Those are next conversations to start. As someone who wants to do more and would like to make a difference, who wants to push those conversations and ideas forward, that’s the next step. Let’s take it.

My Next Boyfriend Will Have To Sign Waivers

Stumbling across my old poetry reminds me I should write poetry again. I should work on that. Anyway, this one made me smile and I hadn’t thought about it in a while:

My Next Boyfriend Will Have To Sign Waivers

Poetry is a savage art, he tells me as we lie in bed, I know
as soon as I get up you’ll be finding some new diction to dissect me.
I run my fingers through his hair and tell him that’s not true.
I’ve always been good at lying in bed and pretending
things are not going to change even though I know each time you get up
to put on your jeans, it’s one time closer to you never coming back
to this bed with me. I won’t cut your head out of pictures,
I don’t even know if we have any pictures together, and maybe I
won’t tell the other girls how you were in bed, good or bad, no I’ll
just pick up my pen and practice my savage habit and 200 people from
Portland to Murfreesboro will know exactly what I think, but don’t
worry, I would never use your name and besides, I warned you when
you first bought me a drink, and hopefully you won’t do anything
rash because I do like my furniture and I don’t want to have to change
my phone number, and it would do me credit to think of you as
something more than inspiration, but unfortunately you are not.

Dynamics

If I’ve learned anything as I’ve gotten older, it’s that I need to shut the fuck up a lot more. While there are occasions where I have something worth contributing, frequently I just need to stop and listen to what others have to contribute. Whether it’s being better about not interrupting others or challenging myself to listen or be intellectually curious about topics which make me uncomfortable because they force me to examine the ways in which life has been good to me just because of who I am, I always want to improve how I communicate. I can always be a better person. Hopefully I’m a better person now than I was ten years ago, and I continue to challenge myself in that capacity ten years from now.

However, I’ve also learned I need to speak up more in the context of what matters, at times when I do have something to say. Because I can’t count on anyone to do it for me; because rights are not guaranteed; because it deserves to be challenged, even if no one is listening. It’s always important to speak when I’ve got something on my mind that deserves to be said, especially within the framework of my experiences as a trans woman. It’s just one experience and one voice, admittedly a pretty fortunate one and definitely not an authoritative one (nor should it be), but there are occasions I may be the only trans voice in a discussion that desperately needs it. I encountered such an occasion recently, when a friend shared something that has been floating around I wholly endorse and I thought I should share a few words after someone else left a couple comments that deserved to be challenged. As I interpreted his words, the crux of his argument centered around the fact that it was important to be able to discern other peoples’ gender in the sense of how to treat them. The example given involved honorifics and pronouns, which is a topic I already find tired. While my comments were admittedly pointed, I did not think they were excessive. I do not see discerning someone’s gender when I encounter them as an important determinant to showing them respecting, nor do I desire to live in a world devoid of gender. They are not mutually exclusive ideas to me. I am female, and my ability to express my femininity is important. I do like it when people recognize that. That does not mean I need every stranger I encounter to call me ma’am, though it’s certainly preferable to constantly being called sir.

The idea that anyone needs to be able to determine someone else’s gender is predicated on the assumption that gender is privileged information. Or that our outside interpretation of someone’s gender is more important than their personal experience with gender. If you need to know someone’s gender to know how to treat them, it doesn’t seem like much of a step to say that you are going to treat someone different based on that information. I don’t see why it matters in terms of how we interact with people in terms of just treating them with respect. Given how frequently people misgender trans and non-confirming individuals, it seems reasonable to say the assumptions people make regarding gender are for their own comfort, not for the individuals they interact with. I believe the way to avoid that is to not make those assumptions at all. I understand that runs contrary to how our minds work, organizing all the information we’re constantly taking in. But we can change how we process that information.

These thoughts mostly pertain to meeting strangers or individuals we have limited experience with, not people we have an established relationship with. None of this means gender doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. I never said gender doesn’t matter though in this instance I was accused of it. But in the context of treating fellow people with respect, it shouldn’t have any affect. If you treat someone differently based on how you interpret their gender, why? I know it has an effect, and I know there are reasons. Women speak differently around other women than they might when a man is present because of the dynamics of such differences. Women get interrupted by men, or have their basic competence questioned by men because men can do that; women can just as easily do those things (we have the ability) but there’s a different social gradient, and definitely a higher social cost due to the way we treat women in society. It doesn’t mean women shouldn’t speak up more; we should. It shouldn’t be a consideration anyone has to make, but it is. People speak in a freer manner in an environment they perceive as safe, and part of what makes an environment safe can be that gendered breakdown. So of course gender matters in how we interact with people. To say otherwise is a lie.

As I stated above though there’s a dynamic gendered interactions, a dynamic gets at the way we discriminate; that dynamic is power. One of the other points he made, the point that really angered me because it read as if he was wielding it to simultaneously ignore and invalidate what I said was that he understood the distress of being misgendered because it happened to him when he was younger due to his long hair. This ignores a major issue: if someone perceived as cis is misgendered, the reaction is different. Because the dynamics are different. Just because a cis person is misgendered doesn’t magically connote an understanding of the constant dissonance, struggle and violence of dealing with being trans. Of course it can still be a negative experience. I am not trying to denigrate the experience. I know it isn’t pleasant when it happens to me. Certainly people apologize to me, but just as many people remain indifferent toward trusting my own experience with gender. Some even become openly hostile when I challenge them. But there’s a degree of false equivalence lurking there. If you are cis and you have had genuinely distressing experiences where you were misgendered but everyone sees you as cis after that, then people will react differently, and most likely in a more deferent way in regard to your gender since it is still more privileged in our society to be perceived as cis (whether you are or not). I am left wondering why those kinds of experiences seem to frequently elicit the opposite reaction. Why wouldn’t they engender empathy? Isn’t the lesson that we should be more careful when relying on gendered assumptions based on looks, mannerism, dress, etc.?

Why do we not trust people when they tell us their experience with gender? Why do we not respect individuals if they don’t want to share that experience or information? It is their story to tell (or not). Why is it something that we need to be able to determine when we are meeting people? Why should it have any predication on how we treat each other in those initial interactions? I feel like this need to know prioritizes our comfort over theirs when we do it. It’s still something I need to challenge myself about as well. Being trans doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of transphobic thoughts and actions, and that’s something I constantly need to challenge myself on because I definitely don’t want to do that. That is not who I want to be. Shouldn’t we be more busy trying to break down the orthodoxy of a patriarchal society that leads to differences in how we interact based on perceived gender instead of worrying whether it’s ma’am or sir (or something else entirely)? Isn’t that time better spent?

One of the things I have picked up as I’ve gotten better at listening is sometimes people don’t have much to say at all. I am fond of noting I can’t change anyone’s minds; I can only talk about my experiences and let them make their own decisions and conclusions. The same is true of anyone. If someone doesn’t want to listen, there’s not much I can do about it. But I don’t have to keep talking with those people, I don’t have to share my space with them, and I definitely don’t have to listen when someone is loudly talking but has nothing to say, especially when it’s coming from someone who’s shown no capacity to do the same courtesy. I will still challenge transphobic thoughts and attitudes when I see them. But I’d rather listen to the more interesting voices in the chorus, so I’m going to spend more time focusing on that. Even if the dynamics are currently such that they are harder to hear. Hopefully one day those voices will be nice and clear.

 
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