Continuing this month’s Out At Work theme, Fred gradually comes out at work with an affirming stance across the board. Nevertheless, Fred still worries about coming out again at their next job.
Low Key Activism in London
When I started work in my current job five years ago, I was identifying as a genderqueer woman. I was going by my female-coded birth name and ‘she’ pronouns, and I was sort-of-out. I was definitely, visibly butch: I attended my interview in a suit and had a male-coded hairstyle. I didn’t tick a gender on the diversity monitoring form, although I can’t remember for sure now.
I work in technology management for an international NGO, which in my experience (in the UK) tend to prioritise diversity and inclusion more than private-sector firms, so I was confident in the base-level desire to be accepting. Another advantage was that I already had a friend in the organisation, who knew I was genderqueer (and bisexual and polyamorous…) so I’d have backup when conversations arose.
For some time my default policy was to answer any questions honestly, although I didn’t feel a need to explicitly discuss my gender at work with many people. There weren’t many questions, but my gender identity had been noticed enough that when my manager was organising a big survey of all employees, he asked me how any additional gender options should be phrased in the demographic questions. I was delighted, and that gave me the confidence to be a little more obvious about my gender. When we were preparing to move to a new office, I was confident in asking for reassurance that the washrooms would remain mostly all-gender (they did).
During the time I’ve been in this job, my understanding and expression of my gender identity has developed. I no longer describe myself as a woman – I’m genderqueer and non-binary. I’m trans: my gender doesn’t match that assigned to me at birth. A couple of years ago I took time to see a counsellor to help me hold these aspects of myself up to the light and make decisions about what to do with them. I found the experience very valuable: my gender identity and decisions about my gender expression are worth the investment of time, money, and care. My understanding of my identity didn’t change as a result of the counselling, but it helped me give myself permission to take practical steps of transition.
Early last year I came out explicitly to my manager and a couple of other close colleagues, and told them that I was seeking referral to a gender identity clinic and hope eventually to have chest surgery. My manager and colleagues have been infallibly supportive through this process so far, asking me for resource recommendations while being willing to do the work themselves to make my life as easy as possible.
About a year ago, I changed my name to a more masculine-coded one and my pronoun preference to ‘they’, which was the most obvious single point of coming out at work. Again, my manager’s been great – correcting people if they mis-name or mis-pronoun me in his presence – and all my (fifty or so) colleagues have been trying really hard. It’s been interesting to see who gets it more or less quickly – not always who I’d expect for either – but my experience in general has been incredibly affirming. Not many people at work ask questions about my gender, but when I sent an email that briefly explained the reason for changing my name, several people thanked me for it.
Why have I chosen to be so open?
For starters, in a context where I know it’s safe, it’s a lot less effort! I don’t have to check or edit conversations with my colleagues about my life outside of work. I can have a single, public Twitter account without having to anonymise it or keep work and the rest of life separate. If I run into a colleague outside of work they’ll be using the same name and pronouns for me as the friends I’m with.
It’s good low-key activism: knowing a trans person makes someone less likely to accept problematic stereotypes when they come up in conversation or in the media. And I might be the only out trans person that many of my colleagues know.
Trusting people with potentially vulnerable parts of oneself can strengthen one’s relationships with those people. I think this has held true for me at work, as my colleagues demonstrate that they’re worthy of the trust. I’m out to my close and extended family (of birth and of choice), my religious community (I’m a Quaker), my friends, the whole internet… it would be a bit odd to have work be an exception to that. Quakerism places high value on truth, integrity and equality: my outness is part of my living testimony to those values.
I recognise that I’m very lucky. I’m in a sector and an organisation that are pretty well set up to deal with diversity, and the individuals who had most influence over my experience have been helpful and supportive. My job’s fairly secure and stable, and while the organisation has grown a lot in my time there, staff turnover is fairly low so I’m not constantly having to come out to new people.
By coincidence, part of my organisation’s work involves a requirement to understand gender at a more complex level than the default binary, so a lot of my colleagues have a baseline grasp of what non-binary gender could mean. This is an incredibly fortunate situation for me: I don’t have to worry about constant explanations or misunderstandings; I can just get on with my job.
I do worry about what might happen when the time comes to find another job. If I still haven’t had top surgery by then, will people see me as a butch woman by default? How much explanation will I want or be allowed to give as a new employee? Will a new set of colleagues be as supportive as the ones I have now? Will I feel pressure (internal or external) to present as a trans man to ‘simplify’ things? Coming out is not a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I realise these are ongoing decisions I’ll have to make.
For now, though, I’m grateful for the group of people I work with. I tell people about my experience so others can learn what ‘trans-friendly’ looks like, and trans people can see that they don’t have to settle for less.
Fred is a genderqueer, non-binary, bisexual, polyamorous Quaker who very occasionally blogs. They live with a partner in London, UK, and do administration for fun.
About Featured Voices
Every person has some unique attribute to add to the mix, and often this attribute gets lost in the shuffle of the collective narrative. Using my blog as a platform to highlight these diverse stories, guest authors write a post around a monthly “theme” relating to non-binary gender. Help lift these voices higher by donating to the cause.