After 8 years of working as a Math and Physics tutor in a community college, DJ decided to come out as non-binary. Their colleague’s non-reaction was the most surprising part.
My name is DJ. The name has no gender and the letters stand for Donna and John.
I was assigned male at birth. I started to explore my gender identity after I graduated college;I studied applied physics and earned a bachelor’s in science degree. At that time I was in a lot of pain. I was very confused and very angry. As I looked for support in the transgender community, I wanted to be careful not to feel pressure to fit the standard binary model. I broke out of one gender box already, so I had no desire to give up that power.
One – or maybe the biggest – reason I wasn’t comfortable with the binary transgender model is that growing up I never had strong body dysphoria. What I remember clearly was being confused or scared about why they (society) were always separating boys and girls. I may have learned how to not stick out, but I never understood why. I had a whole world of gender that I couldn’t access – a world I knew I had every right to explore. I remember feeling extreme discomfort behind closed doors, and being shamed by my parents when I tried to explore that world. Bringing the story back to today, for me being a non-binary transgender person is about being free to just be me. Having the right to dress down simply in a male mode, or to dress up and be beautiful in a female mode.
For the past 8 years I’ve worked at a local community college as a professional tutor. I work with students one-on-one who need help with Mathematics or Mathematical Sciences (Physics, a little bit of Chemistry.) It’s a great feeling when students start to get the material they are working on.
Whenever there was some down time, I made small talk with my coworkers, but I always kept my distance. I started worrying that I could lose my job if I was outed as transgender.Even though I live and work in a US state with strong anti-discrimination laws protecting gender identity, I still wondered how hard it would be for someone to “find another reason” to fire me. I also worried that my gender identity as non-binary would be too confusing for others to understand.
One day I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s not that I disliked working while being read as male. What slowly got to me was being read as cisgender; I did not like hiding. I deliberately ignored possible friendships with coworkers and at rare times had to play dumb to keep my secret. Since I participate in the college’s LGBT pride club, it became increasingly awkward being open and closeted in the same building.
My 2015 new year’s resolution was to come out at work to my boss, and then to everyone else. Around fall semester finals, I began opening up to a few co-workers. As we developed friendships, I came out to them. Finally, I didn’t have to worry about keeping a secret.
I never got a bad reaction. Some colleagues still give me an awkward vibe, but that’s it. I was actually surprised how much of a non-issue it was for everyone. I changed my name in the tutoring center’s appointment software and on my name tag (however, the rest of my employment documents still use my official government designation). I wear male clothing at work, which is for both their convenience and mine. But during formal work training or parties, I am free to dress up as I wish, including dresses or skirts. My boss recently joked that I am taller than her in heels.
As I’ve gotten older and gained more support from friends and chosen family, I’ve been able to grow braver. Now while working, I hope to increase more trans visibility in the STEM profession.
DJ currently works as a professional Math/Physics tutor, and volunteers their time at LGB and Transgender programs and events in their community.
Featured Voices is a monthly series on NN where non-binary authors and allies share their stories. This month’s theme is Out At Work. Support this fine piece of work by donating your spare change to help create social change.
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