Being A Better Ally to Trans* Colleagues
As trans people begin to be forced into the center stage of American politics through violent legislation, more people may start becoming aware of the trans experience, and the likelihood of trans people being in their lives. Choosing to become an ally and being more mindful of trans people around you, closeted or out, can be a big step, but one that is greatly appreciated.
Transphobia is unfortunately rampant in the workplace. A 2015 survey reported that 77% of trans people took steps to actively avoid mistreatment, including staying closeted at work or even quitting their jobs. 66% reported negative circumstances such as being fired or missing promotions, and another quarter of respondents reported workplace harassment.
The same survey also found the unemployment rate for trans people was three times higher than the national average.
That said, if you’re looking to be an ally and make your workplace a more comfortable space for trans people, here are a few basic steps you can take:
1) NEVER misgender or deadname someone; correct yourself when you do
A “deadname” is the name a trans person formerly went by and subsequently got rid of after coming out.
In many circumstances it is still their legal name, meaning it is still documented and sometimes necessary for official use. If you know someone’s deadname, it is imperative you keep it to yourself. Human Resources departments especially need to make an active effort to keep that name hidden from all other employees, and it should only be used for payroll and other formal purposes.
(As an aside, it lifts a burden off of trans people to have a field for legal and chosen names on forms, as it avoids the debate of wondering when and where to distinguish the two.)
If you misgender a person, the most common circumstance being the usage of incorrect pronouns, quickly correct yourself and carry on the conversation. Don’t make it about you, don’t comment “how hard it is” or that “you’re trying,” and if you apologize, don’t expect the trans person in question to say “it’s okay,” because even without malice it is still unacceptable.
2) Never out somebody as trans, no matter the circumstances
Deadnaming and misgendering can “out” somebody, which is another reason to avoid it at all costs. However, it is inappropriate to introduce somebody as your “trans coworker” or “trans friend” even if you trust the person you’re introducing them to. At best this could make your trans colleague uncomfortable, and at worst it could put them in danger as it increases their odds of being harassed.
Let trans people come out on their own terms, for the sake of their safety and wellbeing.
3) Encourage exchanging and presenting pronouns in the workplace
Over the past few years, it has become increasingly more common for people to put their pronouns in their social media bios. If you are one of these people, then you are already on the right track.
Sharing and presenting pronouns breaks down at the assumption of gender, and helps make trans people who may have to share their pronouns to be gendered properly be less “othered.”
By no means should you stop at social media, though! Pronoun pins are for everyone. Additionally, pronouns should be listed in email signatures, desk placards, business cards, and anywhere someone’s identification and contact information can be found.
4) Don’t make trans people your Google
Some trans people love to share and discuss their gender identity, others don’t. For one, always avoid invasive questions (like asking if they’ve had “the surgery,” which is all sorts of wrong), and also don’t keep pressing if it seems like they are uncomfortable or avoidant with whatever you’re asking. Not everyone wants to talk about the latest anti-trans bill.
If you want to ask trans people questions, approach them with good faith, and do some research beforehand. Even for trans people that do like to have discussions on gender, rehashing the same basic points over and over again can be exhausting. Asking more in depth questions based on research you’ve done is refreshing, much more engaging, and is more obvious that it's done in good faith.
Google is free, and also your friend.
In all, these are a few basic things you can do to help create a more trans inclusive work environment. Communicating with your trans colleagues about their specific needs is a very productive conversation, because trans people are not monoliths.
Additionally, organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center and industry specific groups lsuch as the Trans Journalists Association can offer more in depth guidance.
And as always, diversity, inclusion and equity organizations like Awesomely Authentic can be excellent resources as well. 😉
In all, being a trans ally in the workplace is very simple. In the words of Zach Anderson, founder of Zaddy Solutions, “the number one thing is providing a calmness in a sea of noise and calamity… treating people with respect and dignity and removing the anxiety around having something that's different.”