A day of trans needs
Today is Trans Day of Visibility, a day that sometimes makes me, as a trans person and activist, roll my eyes a little bit. Many of us are always visible, whether we want to be or not, simply because we don't fit certain norms of how women or men should look and behave. Many others would like to be more visible, but can't - for fear of prejudice and violence, or because they can't get access to the measures they need. And that's a good keyword: I would like to see a day of trans needs instead, because while most people have, by now, realized that we exist, unfortunately we are still rarely asked what we need.
There is a lot of talk about trans identities, but that doesn’t mean change for the better
Given the increasing coverage of gender-affirming language and gender-neutral restrooms, some may now say "What more do you want, the issue is everywhere! Why make such a big deal out of such a small community?" Except, unfortunately, presence does not necessarily equal representation. There is much discussion about us and little with us. That's also why, despite my ambivalent feelings about today, I decided to write a post: to make a small contribution to getting our needs seen more in the workplace. I could also write a long essay about what is going wrong for transgender (and non-binary) people in society as a whole right now. About why it makes me so incredibly sad that feminists are projecting their fears and anger onto trans people while the patriarchy is laughing up its sleeve. Why I'm running out of patience for the repetitive anti-trans "arguments" that usually refute themselves if you apply a shred of logic. Why it takes so much energy to read yet another news story every day about how people like me are being denied their self-determination - so much so that, to be perfectly honest, I sometimes seriously consider moving to a remote farm and just staying out of this society entirely. But since remote farms tend not to have home-office-ready internet connections, and since other people have written better articles about all of these points, instead of moving, here's this blog post, and instead of an angry essay, here's something on the world of work. More specifically, what you can do to make trans people feel comfortable in your company.
It’s not just about trans people, either.
Unfortunately, feeling comfortable at work is not a given, at least not for trans people. Studies show that about half of all trans and inter people surveyed experienced discrimination at work and when looking for a job - from transphobic comments from colleagues to a silent promotion freeze after coming out. And that's just the people who are visibly trans - once again, many people don't even dare to openly show their identity at work for fear of discrimination. As an aside: all of this affects not only trans people, but also intersex and non-binary people, and in some regards (such as access to restrooms) even cis people whose bodies, for example, don’t match certain gender norms for one reason or another.
What to do for inclusion of trans people in the workplace?
So, what can you do to change that? Here are my top 3 tips on how you can individually, regardless of your role in the company, support trans people in the workplace. Are you ready?
1-3: Treat us the way you would treat cis people.
Okay, that was a little mean - but honestly, that's really the whole trick. What exactly can this look like?
Use the right names and pronouns. This should go without saying, but still, I see colleagues give up after a few slip-ups and just complain about how difficult it is to talk to trans people. But it's really just a matter of practice, and if you make a serious effort, hardly anyone will be angry with you if the wrong word slips out. (By the way, if that happens, a short "excuse me" and a correction is enough - please don't make a big deal out of it).
Don't ask intimate questions. What exactly is too intimate depends on the context and your relationship with each other, of course, but a good rule of thumb is: no questions about body parts, bodily functions or medical procedures. That being said, ask yourself honestly if you want to know something because you’d like to get to know the person better, or just to satisfy your curiosity. For example, would you find it appropriate to just ask a cis colleague about her genitals?
Signal support. As a trans person, I immediately feel more comfortable and safe in a place if I see signs that people there have engaged with gender and are open to trans people in principle. This can include, for example, using gender-inclusive language, including one's own pronouns in the signature or mentioning them when introducing oneself, or beginning letters not with "Dear Mr." or "Dear Ms." but with something like "Dear (first name) (last name)."
Managers can make a big difference
If you're in leadership positions, there's a lot more you can do to bring trans, inter, and non-binary employees on board and make their day-to-day working lives easier.
Create a trans-friendly hiring process. This can mean, for example, using gender-inclusive language in the ad and explicitly encouraging trans people to apply, providing at least one option beyond "man" and "woman" on forms, and being sensitive when it comes to gaps in resumes and documents that include someone’s deadname (the name they were given at birth that doesn’t match their gender).
Include trans, non-binary and intersex people in your company’s understanding of diversity and explicitly communicate that discrimination based on gender is not acceptable. For example, make it clear that everyone is allowed to use the names, restrooms, locker rooms, and work clothes that are right for them, regardless of their birth sex or official gender marker. Remember that not all people can easily change their official name and gender marker.
Raise awareness among your employees. Inclusion policies only work if everyone is willing to do their part - if there are regular transphobic comments, all the pronouns in your email signature won't help. So offer workshops on trans in the workplace, or inputs on gender-sensitive language, or info materials and guidelines on how to be an ally to trans, non-binary and intersex people. This goes double if your employees could come in contact with trans customers.
Why your company needs trans people
And why go to all this trouble when trans, non-binary, and inter people, even counted together, make up a relatively small portion of the population? For one thing, it's a pretty simple cost-benefit calculation: making the work experience more inclusive, as you've seen, often requires very little effort on your part, but can make a huge difference for affected individuals. By doing so, you'll not only improve satisfaction and performance among your trans, inter, and non-binary employees, but you'll also pave the way for recruiting them. And that's reason #2: you need trans, inter and non-binary employees because we bring perspectives and expertise that your company probably doesn't have yet - we have unique insights on entrenched gender relations and power structures because we've experienced them firsthand from multiple angles. And last but not least: that's what makes us resilient. Trans, inter, and non-binary people often have to learn to deal with everyday discrimination on a scale that many people can't even imagine. Some may think that makes us more susceptible to stress - I would argue that in an appreciative work environment, it makes us strong.
And ultimately, that's what we need as trans people: Appreciation, as a human being and as an expert on our own identity - not just on Trans Day of Visibility, but every day.
(By the way, if you want more detailed information about how to include trans and non-binary people in the workplace or need advice on how to make your work environment more trans-friendly, feel free to write to us - I would be happy to support you with an input, workshop or consulting).