Coming out…again, and again, and again.

So, a few weeks ago I posted a note in the break room at work:

“Dear friends and co-workers:

Your co-worker Eli is transgender.  Being transgender can mean many different things for many different people.  For Eli, it means he would prefer male pronouns when referring to him.

Thank you for your support.

Your pal,
Eli”

And it was up on the board where the schedule is posted, so many people would see it.  It was there for a few days.

I still get pretty consistently referred to with female pronouns.  And I want to be patient.  And I do understand, that it is (for many) just a matter of breaking an old habit.  Some people, who knew me before the name change, sometimes slip and call me by my birth name.  They usually correct themselves immediately.  And I understand, really, I do.

But sometimes it just irks me, ya know?  Sometimes I just wanna say, “look, I went to the trouble to learn your name and call you by your pronoun preference, I would appreciate the same courtesy from you.”  Sometimes, I just wanna ask them to be a bit more mindful, and acknowledge that there are more than cis- people in the world.  I am not going to apologize for the space I take up on this planet.  And I am not going to apologize for being myself, finally.

They can now thank me for not requiring gender-neutral pronouns, or the much-lauded, grammatically-troubling “singular they” in place of “she.”

So, I get to have, in a very busy and loud grocery store, daily conversations about my gender, just to get the goddamn pronoun right.  I get to correct people who may or may not have read the note.  I get to correct people who have told me they “think [they] will never get it right.”  And I hate doing that.  I hate feeling like I’m being picky or up somebody’s ass all the time because I don’t know when I should or should not correct someone, so I just better do it all the time and what an ass I must sound like, patrolling everyone’s pronouns usage.

Ahem.  Ok, I’m done bitching.

Actually, the people I work with are great.  They want to do this the right way, and are trying.  I am just feeling a bit impatient, and a bit unnerved at the fact that I have to keep talking about being trans at work.  It’s not exactly the most comfortable subject to discuss in the check out line.  So I get a bit testy–because no one likes to feel exposed like that.  No one likes to discuss their personal gender shit at work.  But English does come with gendered pronouns, so I have to muddle through these shitty conversations, again and again, until everyone is on board.

And I hate it.  I hate that I’m the only trans person at work.  Why couldn’t there have been one to come before me, so I could just stroll onto the scene and be like, “Yeah, me too, see what that guy had?  I’ll take one of those: proper gendered pronouns and complete understanding of my singular experience to go with it.  Thanks.”

I am thankful that my co-workers are good-natured about it, and do want to do right by me, and are trying.  I suppose the least I could do would be to give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them a few “she/her” get out of jail free cards.  And I do allow them the space to fuck it up: in fact, I usually don’t correct them, because I know many of them slip-up and realize the second it leaves their mouth that “she” was wrong.

But some of them don’t know, some of them were on vacation when the note was up, or didn’t see the schedule board during those few days, or whatever.  So as they refer to me with female pronouns, on the sale floor, surrounded by customers, I get to decide on the spot: do I just cringe and take it in the hopes that they figure it out, or do I correct them on the floor and have that “Um, you just called me by female pronouns and I go by male pronouns now” conversation punctuated by “Excuse me, where is the cream cheese?”

I think this would be easier for them, for my friends and co-workers, if I was on T.  Right now, they look at me and I look the same (minus the tits) and I sound the same as when I was going by my birth name and using female pronouns.  But they don’t realize that back then, in that body with that chest and those pronouns, I didn’t see myself the way they saw me.  I was always a guy in my head, and so nothing has changed for me.  I have had all this time, over 30 years, to see myself as male, and many of them have only had a week or two.  So how long does it take?  Some are calling me by male pronouns and using Eli really easily, and some have even told me that this makes more sense to them, that referring to me as male is easier for them than it was to refer to me as female.

So, trans friends out in internet-world, tell me about your trans-related work woes: did you come out?  How did it go?  What advice do you have for me?

Or, cis-folks and work friends, tell me, how can I make this transition easier for you?

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

18 thoughts on “Coming out…again, and again, and again.

  1. I’d been at my current job for 7 years when I started transitioning. For me, stealth was not an option, for a variety of reasons. I emailed my bosses and met with HR. Last September I took a short vacation. While I was out, it was announced that David would be returning to work as Constance. That was a year ago, and things have been mostly positive.

  2. Oh, you also asked for advice. That’s a trickier thing. Where I am there are laws protecting me against being fired for being trans. But with the “at will clause,” there are ways around that. I’ve just been myself and taken things one day at a time. I also saved copies of all emails pertaining to my transition, including the emails I received. I felt the virtual paper trail was a good idea.

    -Connie

    • Thanks for the response, Connie.

      Yeah, before I decided to come out at work I checked our non-descrimination policy, and thankfully, gender identity is covered. I am low man on the totem pole, just a worker bee, essentially, so I have basically just talked to my immediate supervisor about this, and he is super supportive. The company I work for is pretty progressive, so I don’t anticipate any friction here. And I believe if I had any problems with my co-workers, that upper management would back me up.

  3. It was really hard. I was in college, working as an RA, and was the first publicly self-identifying transgender person (having started there perceived as female) on campus. People got pronouns and the name change wrong over and over again. And even though I knew many were actively trying to get things right, it did irk me.

    It was hard because I knew who I who I was for years, and when I asked people to see me- to see that person, they kept messing it up. And it seemed like such a simple request. But I suppose identity, how people perceive others, is so deeply ingrained in us, it’s hard to change. “I have had all this time, over 30 years, to see myself as male, and many of them have only had a week or two. So how long does it take?” I, too, had that moment of wondering when the mistaken pronoun and gender identity mistakes would be done.

    I’m terrible with advice, and saying “it get’s better” does little to help in the now sometimes. I will say that it’ll take more time than you’d like, but there will be a day that will come (hopefully soon) where you go through the whole day with people recognizing who you are and it’ll be exactly in line with how you’ve seen yourself all this time. And that day will totally be worth all the frustration of the days before it.

  4. I came out at work (teacher) over two years ago. Since I have been pushed out of my job and am pursuing a legal case of discrimination but (and this is the positive bit!) somehow, someway the gender mistakes seem to have almost tailed off to a place where they no longer register. There was a time where (like you) it drove me mad and I would try to be patient and understanding of their mistakes it still I side I screamed get it right – she, she, her, her!
    Now that seems a long way back and it possibly helped gently reminding people along the way and not taking it personally. There was a time when I took their mistakes to mean that I wasn’t being convincing, I wasn’t passing. That almost drove me mad, judging myself by the pronoun mistakes of others. Anyway now I just accept that occasionally people slip up and that is no reflection of me.
    You seem to have done everything in a really open, inclusive manner (the note in the break room) and I am sure that give it time things will slip into place.
    Juno

    • Thanks Juno,

      This bit resounds with me, “There was a time when I took their mistakes to mean that I wasn’t being convincing, I wasn’t passing. That almost drove me mad, judging myself by the pronoun mistakes of others.”

      And that is part of it, allowing myself to be made to feel bad in some way by their misuse of pronouns. And that is something I can control.

      Thanks.

      -E

  5. I am the President of a non-profit LGBT organization that Angel and I founded in our town. I have always told people I am transgender and even joked many times about the size of my chest. “Don’t let the chest fool you, I am male through and through” is what I would say to people at countless meetings, interviews and social gatherings. And I have been doing this for a year. I still have people refer to me in female pronouns, (fortunately no one calls me by my birth name because all of the people here I know have never known it. I have been going by Storm for almost 15 years now (it started as a nickname). The way it is handled in my case is like this. I will be listening to a person talk, they get the pronoun wrong and I just insert the correct one. For instance.
    person talking about me to another person. “And then she said”
    Me listening. “he said”
    and I let the conversation continue. If Angel is there, or our kids are there they usually get the jump on me and correct them.
    But trust me I know how you feel. Even though I am very calm about it on the outside, inside I am screaming. It has been a freakin year, you should know this by now.
    So, when I realize that a person who hardly ever sees me has been referring to me in the male pronouns the entire time I am filled with joy and continue on, but I have to say, when I have my chest surgery I am probably not going to be patient anymore especially since by the time that happens they will have known me for a very long time.

    • Thanks Storm. I am going to start just correcting the pronoun, and leave out the long-winded explanation (which is starting to feel like an apology, which is what irks me the most). Your insight has been invaluable!

      -Eli

  6. I came out as a teacher about a year and a half ago. I sent a letter with the support of my headmaster. The teachers were respectful. Parents and students were not informed, because I was just beginning my work there. I ended up leaving that job to take a better opportunity and have gone in stealth (with only administration and a few people knowing).

    People were generally respectful, and if a mistake was made I would simply insert the correct pronoun in after they made there comment. This became very frustrating for me in my current job when people didn’t know, but still made mistakes. I decided that they simply needed to figure it out and I kept doing my thing. Stay strong and be clear about what you want.

    • Thanks for the support, A. I am following suit and am just going to start correcting pronouns, without any more discussion, unless they ask about it.

      -E

  7. You already know all about my gender tribulations at work – from the initial doubt of changing pronouns (which I chickened out from) to the capital B Bathroom Issue (cue ominous music) to post pronoun pronouncement and name change which had absolutely no effect on my co-workers because I didn’t feel comfortable coming out.

    Needless to say this situation never reached a resolution, and I don’t think it would have. I left that job for a new one and couldn’t be happier. I am “pseudo-stealth” in that I came in with male pronouns and new name. While they all slip once in a while (which makes me wonder what they do/don’t know), I don’t think it would’ve been that easy had I come in with female pronouns and switched mid-way.

    Sorry this sounds like a bummer… you’re past that “coming out” part anyway so hooray!

    The point is, you have to be very explicit in what behavior you expect from people, and very persistent (to the point of nagging) when they don’t get it right. I’ve found that in-place reminders are awkward for everybody (especially for me); it’s best to set aside time to focus the issue on its own. Intercept them during their break and talk to them 1-1 for 2 mins. Send them a FB message or an email, and explain stuff (again).

    In the end there will always be a few that don’t change, but they will soon start feeling like fools for being the ones that treat you differently, especially if everyone around them points out that they are wrong. So another pro-tip: enlist some solid allies!

  8. yay! i love this post!

    i interrupt almost every time somebody misgenders me. i just quickly say, “they” and let them carry on. if they already know what’s going on, they just go with it. if they’ don’t know what’s going on, we usually have a chat about my gender. i find that consistent correction works best for getting people to use my pronouns.

    good pro-tip, maddox! my allies correct other people for me a lot of the time and it’s awesome. i think it makes people less likely to laugh at me or brush me off.

    “They can now thank me for not requiring gender-neutral pronouns, or the much-lauded, grammatically-troubling ‘singular they’ in place of ‘she.'”

    most people use singular “they” anyway; it’s sort of embedded in the lexicon. i will never apologize for insisting on non-gendered pronouns. just saying.

    • Yeah, there is something to be said for not apologizing for being ourselves.

      And you’r bit about a simple correction within the conversation seems to be the most effective, least confrontational, way to correct the speaker.

      Thanks for your 2 cents. 😉

  9. The biggest challenge right now is that the people who’ve worked with me for a year or so saw and heard me every day, so they don’t see the changes and see me as male. People who don’t know me, generally default to male. I don’t know how to change the perception of my coworkers short of taking them to lunch and letting them see strangers all call me, “Sir.” I don’t have the money to do that, so I guess I’m stuck doing the correcting for now.

    Try to find an ally at work who can also chime in with “Eli” and “he” when necessary. It really does help having that external voice that isn’t your own to remind people. Plus, it makes you feel less like you’re being picky (which you aren’t, by the way; but, I totally get how you feel like you are just for standing up for yourself).

    • Yeah, it’s great having K at work, too. She is quick to correct people and everyone loves her, so it’s really the best way to handle the situation. It’s not that she’s fighting my battles for me, but like you said, having another person on your side makes a world of difference.

  10. I’m happy that for some of your co-workers, it’s been an easy transition from female pronouns to male pronouns for them, it must be great. But there are going to be “irks”, I get that sometimes when even my close friends or housemates slip up. I feel too embarrassed to correct them.
    I haven’t crossed that hurdle yet though, with telling work. I’m still pre-everything. And I’m privately employed by two female clients, as their personal assistant. However, due to the nature of the role, ‘Gender’ is a Genuine Occupational Qualification existing under Sect. 7 of the Sex Discrimination Act. And they required a female PA when I started for them. Soon it’s going to be hard to hide it from them, and I hope I don’t lose my job. We’ve got good working relationships, hopefully that will be too much to lose over a gender change…

    • Embarrassment, that’s it! That is the feeling I get when correcting people–I felt like the other ways I was trying to label the emotion were inaccurate, and they were.

      Thanks, Smash.

      And good luck to you on the work front!

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