THE DIFFERENCE IN A NAME MATTERS
A few years back, I worked at an organization who employed Drew who at the time was 25 years old. Drew was brought to me by her Manager asking what would be the best way to work with her employee who was transitioning. My first interaction with Drew was heartwarming. I could tell immediately that she is a good person, with good intentions who wanted only to work, be welcomed at work and to be treated as one of the team, nothing more. But Drew truly was going to be going through some tough times. Tough for her and tough for her co-workers and management. If management has not worked through an employee transitioning before, it can be a quagmire of mistakes and tough times for everyone involved if not handled correctly. It doesn’t have to be tough, really we all are our own worst enemies when it comes to what we do and say. This can be easy. It can be professional. It can be appropriate and it can be educational for everyone. But ask the right questions, not the inappropriate or unprofessional questions, especially in the workplace.
Below, are the questions I asked…these questions were posed to hopefully help others who are transitioning at work, or to help the management or even HR in understanding. Drew shared her thoughts with me openly and honestly. She had immediate responses, which told me she has thought through many of these questions before. Whereas I knew many of the answers she gave, I asked them and documented her answers so that they came directly from her.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m Drew. I am from Amarillo Texas and I moved here to Denver 3 years ago. I work in the healthcare field as an administrative
When did you know change was needed to feel comfortable in the workplace?
When I left my most recent job in Amarillo, Texas, 4 years ago, in 2014. I worked in registration where I was advised by my female
supervisor (which was unfortunate as she seemed indifferent and non-supportive), if I continued to act as myself (recently started
wearing makeup that I had asked, would it be OK to wear makeup? I was looking for validation) or if further confusion occurred in regard
to my gender, I would be moved to a department with zero patient interaction (being patients were getting confused by my gender, or
mis-gendering me) and where there would be a private bathroom that only I would use. Often, when elderly patients would confuse me
as female, refer to me as ma’am, which I liked, it made me happy. I felt like I was being recognized for who I really am, the true me. It felt
right. I continued to wear makeup, even knowing that there may be retaliation. Although I was not moved to the other department, I
could tell things were not the same.
Tell me about a negative work experience being a trans person.
During an employee meeting/monthly staff meeting. I was mis-gendered by the Director in front of the entire department, referring to
me as “he” literally one week after HR came and discussed with us what needed to happen, pronouns and words and how to ask
questions. Instead of letting it go and moving on, co-workers went to the Director and told her about her mistake. I got called into her
office where she apologized with an extremely fake and sugarcoated apology. After working with her for as long as I did, I could tell the
difference. I just wanted to move forward and did not want to be the center of attention, and certainly to not have her treat me in a way
that is just as disrespectful.
When moving to a new building, instead of using my name Drew, the name plate had my given name (Andrew). I had told my
Supervisor as this was surprising and not correct. In front of everyone, the Director said, “they would not let me change your name from
Andrew as that is the name in the computer.” In essence, outing me in front of co-workers who did not know I was trans.
Using my “Dead Name” is as offensive as nick naming someone or creating a name out of thin air. A Dead Name is a given name that is
no longer a representation of me.
I was recognized as the Top Registrar bringing in half a million dollars of collections. My name was misspelled, I was told that it would be
corrected, they never did. I felt that a simple name correction would have been done for anyone else, but that for me, it was not
important to the management or the organization.
Tell me about a positive work experience being a trans person.
I was working to get my preferred name changed, this was the most visible to co-workers or new people that I would interact with. HR
was able to get that changed even before I was able to get the legal change. To some people, a name change is not a big deal, but for me
and for other trans people, a name change brings less judgement, more acceptance (first impression), equality. When I received emails
that confirmed the name change had happened, I felt validated, equal and respected. Equal, in this case, is where people who have long
names that are shortened or were nicknamed got theirs done with no questions asked, an example might be Rojsheesh and they go by
Roj. Me asking as a transgender person felt unequal when I was initially told NO and that the computer had me as Andrew and that was
what the name had to be. By doing so, it is absolutely not treating employees as equals, but changing it as could be done for others
made me feel not only equal, but respected.
What words should never be used to describe a transgender person?
Transsexual, Trannie, Cross Dresser, It, Drag Queen
What are the best questions to ask a transgender person at work?
First, there should be no questions about trans people. We are all people, it should not matter.
Start off with a positive to the person, help them to let their guard down.
Asking questions if close, it makes more sense. If not close, it can be intrusive, especially at work.
Look up gingerbread man transgender on line, it is a great quick read! http://sjwiki.org/wiki/Genderbread_person
Often, I start to fill in the blanks to ease the tension. Give me the opportunity to give my truth.
What does Transsexual mean?
It’s very negative. I feel like this is a reference to being a sex worker. When the word sex is used to describe someone, it makes them
more into the act. Also, the word is very outdated.
What are the worst questions or comments to ask a transgender person at work?
Do you still have it?
Are you going to have surgery?
Have you had surgery?
Does your family care?
Does your boyfriend or girlfriends parents know he/she is gay?
Is your boyfriend or girlfriend gay?
What’s your old name?
Can I see old pictures of you?
I didn’t realize you are trans!
You’re pretty for a trans.
What is the most offensive thing someone can say or do to you at work?
Mis-gender me as he, him, it…if mis-gendering, don’t make a big deal about it in front of others, silently apologize later, not at the time.
Or, use a sentence to properly use she or her. Make it positive, do not be negative.
Call me by my dead name, especially when the person knows, seems purposeful and hurtful.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Or to someone else that is “coming out” as transgender in the workplace? Or, what would you do differently in coming out at work?
Break the ice as early as possible and don’t look back. There were plenty of times that I wanted to go back. Simple things were not
complicated before. I did not have to correct people in regard to my name, or correct pronouns. But it’s worth it. You will be happier
than you have ever been when you do not go back. Eventually, you will get to a place where you are treated with respect and dignity and
addressed as you want to be addressed. You will not get anywhere if you do not start NOW.
What advice would you give to your future managers regarding being transgender in the workplace?
Be respectful, do not go too deep or personal. Verify the preferred pronoun and name, as you should with every employee. Be ready for
questions from other employees. Treat trans people as you would everyone.
If transitioning, talk to your manager. Be honest, tell them what is happening and when it is happening. The manager should
acknowledge and congratulate. The manager should ASK what the employee needs. Reassure the employee that you will do everything
in your power to make this as seamless as possible. Communicate with HR immediately to get name changes accomplished quickly.
Perhaps together go meet with HR in the event that HR could be an advocate as well during the process.
Figure out your obstacles immediately and communicate with the employee. “This is my first time in working with this subject, I want to
do everything I can to help. Please give me a couple of days to research, I will be in touch and meet up again on DATE.” And follow-up
and make the date and time happen.
What kindness could others bestow upon you at work?
Treat me as any other co-worker, with respect. No special treatment is needed.
There is no need to talk about me being trans, there isn’t anything to discuss, I am a human being.
Be a supportive ally by correcting other co-workers when they use the wrong pronoun.
Not taking part in negative conversation about me, but rather correcting the information.
What is your opinion on the controversy of workplace restroom use by transgender people? What would you like people to know about this subject?
Society views people in general needing to go to their genders bathroom. I went into the mens room once because I had not “come out”,
but I was mistaken as a woman and the male in the bathroom felt that he was being tricked with me going in there. He said, “are you
serious? Is there a joke being played on me?” I was embarrassed and I ran out, still had to pee. I felt like there was no bathroom for me.
It’s a bathroom. The person feels safest by going into the bathroom that they most identify with. People should not treat anyone
differently, it’s a bathroom, move on with your day, get over it. We all have to pee.
People should pretend the men’s restroom is broken and I have nowhere else to go.
What else would you like to add?
Trans people are absolutely willing to accept mistakes such as mis-gendering or using the incorrect pronounces. as long as there is some
sort of trying, we appreciate it.
Transgender people want to be employed with an employer where they can live as themselves, their true self without it being a regular
discussion or issue.
We just want to come and do our jobs. I am happiest when I am able to do my job without being reminded of my gender identity.
Drew taught me a lot in this interview. I enjoyed our time together and consider her a friend. I hope that she will continue to be a mentor to others, a bright and shining light to the community and continues to live her truth. I love that term, “live my truth”. I think more of us need to use this, live by it, grow by it and educate others through it.
Through my 25 years of work in Human Resources, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to assist others in getting along, or to follow the rules of the organization or to follow the state of federal laws, or to work with management as to the process of documentation and why it is so important. Working in the industry that I do, I often also have the pleasure of meeting some amazing individuals. Below, I have compiled interviews which have inspired and taught me.