Featured Voices: Genderqueer At Google

Since the early 90’s, Plymouth has been questioning their gender. Having not yet found a satisfying explanation to afford others, they remained in the closet. Today, Plymouth is out as their real self – in life and at work – and couldn’t be happier.

Genderqueer At Google

When I got my first shot of testosterone and a job offer from Google on the same day, I took it as a sign from the universe. It was time to finally be out everywhere as my real self.fv-plymouth-genderqueer

Day two of my Google orientation week I got an email from my boss asking for a short bio to introduce me to the team. After briefly asking for advice from some other trans and genderqueer Googlers I found through an internal email list, I sent in a bio with this line: “Plymouth is genderqueer and asks that folks please use ‘they/them/their’ pronouns.”

With that, I was “out” in a way I had never been in the previous 16 years of my career.

The people I work with every day range from extremely supportive to possibly still confused, but never hostile. My boss is my biggest advocate for getting other people to use my correct pronouns. Another genderqueer person I met up with through the trans Googlers list has held Trans 101 training classes, and I’ve had the opportunity to take part in Q&A panels at these sessions, helping to educate everyone from finance to HR to software reliability engineering about what it means to be transgender.

I still need to remind people about my pronouns frequently. I still need to come out to new people constantly. Sometimes I don’t bother, such as when the people at the IT support office use the wrong pronouns and I figure I’m unlikely to see them again and I just want to get my laptop working again and not have a discussion about gender. Sometimes I do anyway, such as when the server at the cafeteria calls me “Miss” and I ask them to please not do that.  Things aren’t perfect. I still need to cross the courtyard from my building to find the nearest gender-neutral restroom. There are some places I still have to use a binary gender or use my legal name (such as health care coverage). But overall it’s pretty awesome. Things are about as good as I could realistically imagine them.

It wasn’t always like this though.

fv-plymouth-beforeMy history of having not identified with my birth gender goes back to the early 1990s when I was in high school. Yeah, a lot of people seem to think non-binary genders are new, or something just for people in their teens and 20s, but we have been around much longer than that. I’m 40 now and I’m not the oldest non-binary gender person I know by a long shot a genderqueer discussion group I attend includes people from their teens to their 60s. In the early 1990s, though, I didn’t even have the most basic frame of reference the only kind of transgender I knew of was people who had been men and “became” women or who had been women and “became” men. I briefly explored the idea that that might be me, but it quickly became clear I was something else.

The people who told me I was confused were right but not in the way they thought how could I not be confused in a world that denied that I could even exist? How does one come out as something people don’t believe in?

When I got to college in the mid-1990s I found a group called the “Freedom From Gender Society” and learned the word “agender”. I finally had a name for what I was and I tried to explain that to people. But it didn’t go well. They still mostly seemed to think I was confused, or just echoing sexist rejections of womanhood and feminism. One time during a group project meeting for one my my mechanical engineering classes, a fellow student suggested that “as the only woman in the room” I should be the one to take notes. I was more angry at the misgendering than at the sexism. Gender-neutral pronouns existed but it seemed like no one could agree on which ones were best. Lacking any kind of consensus, I continued to let people use gendered pronouns for me. I couldn’t seem to make any progress on explaining to people what it means not to have a gender. Lacking some of the language I know now, I think I barely even understood it myself.

At my first job out of college, the administrative assistant to the head of my department invited me to a “Women in Engineering” event for young girls, so that we could inspire the next generation of women engineers. I sent back an angry note about how offended I was to be invited to such a sexist event. This earned me a meeting with the department head in which she explained to me how important these kinds of events were. I didn’t even know how to explain why it bothered me, how I wasn’t a woman, how she had it all wrong. I admired her as a person and as an engineer but her views on gender confused me. I went to the event. I stopped even trying to figure out how to be out at work after that. I spent the next decade or so almost completely in the closet.

fv-plymouth-2Then sometime in the early 2010’s I finally started finding other people who related to gender (or rather didn’t relate to gender) like I did. I discovered that it was even possible for non-binary gender people to undergo physical transition and decided that testosterone treatment was something I wanted to pursue. I changed my name and I changed my pronouns socially, but not at work.

When I decided I was going to start testosterone I realized I was going to have to come out at work at some point – the physical changes would be too obvious after a while. But also, after a year or so the stress of having a different name, different pronouns, a completely different social identity than the one at work, was becoming too much.


A few things I have learned over the years:

  1. It’s a lot easier to come out to new people at the beginning of a job than it is to explain to people that you have known for years that what they have assumed about you has been wrong from the beginning. You fear that they will think you lied to them or that they will simply not believe your new (to them) truth at all.
  2. Community is important. At my previous job I never met a single out trans person. At my current one I was able to find other out trans people and genderqueer people on my second day. They gave me the courage to come out and the support structure to deal with the occasional problems with being out.
  3. Cultural shift is slow but accelerating. Trying to be out as something you don’t even have words to explain is nearly impossible. It is so much easier to be out as something people have actually heard of (though many still have not).
  4. The tech sector may have some latent sexism but it is actually pretty welcoming for a large portion of trans people. There’s a respect for creativity and going against trends that means alternative interpretations of gender don’t feel as out of place as they would in other industries. I feel really lucky to have ended up here.
  5. Being “out” means I don’t have to worry as much about what people think as my voice and my appearance change with testosterone. I do still wonder what they think (and sometimes they even tell me!) but it is with curiosity rather than fear.

I know there are many places in the world it is still not safe to be out as genderqueer. My life has been improved by being out at work, but only because it was the right time and place.


About Plymouth

Plymouth is a hardware reliability engineer working for the Google Street View Imagery team. They get to test cameras. On cars. And take pictures of the world. Which is pretty much their dream job.

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4 thoughts on “Featured Voices: Genderqueer At Google

  1. As a closeted nonbinary person also in tech, it’s really inspiring hearing about others coming out and still having successful careers. Maybe I’ll get there someday, too.

  2. Wow! First, it is amazing to even know that someone has had an experience like this with coming out at work. It sounds about as positive as it could have realistically been. Second, whuuut, you had heard of agender in the 1990s? Mind = blown, since I heard of it like….two years ago?
    Third, engineers FTW! Seems like many of us are engineers (hardware, software, mechanical, civil, whatever). I wonder if it’s because we are attracted to careers where there is, at least theoretically, a concrete criteria for assessment (did bridge collapse? yes/no) rather than careers where success = making people “happy” or “comfortable”, so difficult if we make them uncomfortable just by showing up and being ourselves…Or perhaps if it’s something corollary to the differences in our brains that make us so uncomfortable with the gender binary. Statistics, please! Are people who are good at math more likely to identify as genderqueer? 🙂

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